- (a) In subsection (1) of that section:—
- (i) in the first line thereof, for the words "chief officer of police" there shall be substituted the words "a local authority, after consultation with the chief officer of police for the district concerned and ",
- (ii) in line seven thereof after the words "serious public disorder" there shall be added the words "or is likely to occasion incitement to racial hatred";
- (iii) in line seven, thereof for the words "he may" there shall be sustituted the words "the authority may recommend to the Secretary of State that he should",
- (iv) for the proviso to the subsection shall be substituted the following:—
- "Such conditions as aforesaid may include conditions restricting the display of any flags (including the Union Flag) or banners or emblems in circumstances which are likely to provoke or incite racial hatred".
- (i) in the first line thereof, for the words "the chief officer of police" there shall be substituted the words "a local authority".
- (ii) in line three thereof, for the words "in any borough or urban district" there shall be substituted the words "in the district of that authority";
- (iii) for the word "him" in lines 4 and 5 thereof, there shall be substituted the words "that authority" in each case;
- (iv) in lines 7 and 8 thereof, for the words "he shall apply to the council of the borough or district for an order", there shall be substituted the words "the local authority may after consultation with the chief officer of police for that district, and with the consent of the Secretary of State make an order"
- (v) in line 10, for the word "application" there shall be substituted the word "order".
- (vi) from the words "as the case may be" to the end of the subsection shall be deleted.
- "(3A) The local authority may require that 24 hours notice be given to it and to the chief officer of police in the district concerned of any intended public procession.
- Provided that the authority may, for good reason shown, accept shorter notice or dispense with the giving of such notice". '.—;[Mr. Lawrence.]
§ Brought up, and read the First time.
Mr. Deputy Speaker
With this it will be convenient to take the following: new clause 15—Distribution of literature in schools inciting racial hatred.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I make no pretence that this is either the most convenient or best drafted of new clauses, and seek only that the Government should accept that the two evils referred to should be dealt with by Parliament and that, since public order is being undermined constantly and the Government are perceived as the party of law and order with little time left before the next election to deal effectively with such problems, this Bill is a ready instrument for action. Even if the Bill is not considered to be the most appropriate vehicle and the local authority is not considered to be the most appropriate agent for such action, at the very least our deliberations may bring the Government to make a commitment that action will shortly be taken in another Bill.
The two evils of which new clause 14 speaks are separate but not necessarily wholly unrelated. There is the sickening abuse of the union flag by the National Front on its marches, particularly at the annual Remembrance Day parade at the Cenotaph. The Standard, in a short leading article yesterday, supports the new clause and states:One of the nastiest political perversions around is the attempt by the National Front to turn the Union Jack into their private hallmark, prominently on display at their ugly marches and meetings.It goes on to say that the Home Secretary should give the new clause his enthusiastic backing, and adds:It would still allow the Union Jack to be used in all the traditional ways. But no one should be allowed to turn the national flag into an emblem of fear and disgust for the many people who live here.We say amen to that.
There are still, thank goodness, many patriotic people in Britain who believe that the union flag should be honoured and respected as a proud symbol of all that is decent and honourable in our great country. Many people think that it is appalling enough that the flag should so often be trivialised for commercial purposes. Our American friends do not stand for such trivialisation. Few public gatherings in the United States begin without a prayer and a salute to their flag.
443 But far worse is the hideous mockery of those who fought or died fighting for their country against Hitler and Nazi Fascism when the union flag is paraded annually by the National Front at the nation's greatest memorial for the fallen. I was too young to fight in the Second World War for my country, but had I been of age, that would have been what I would have most wanted to do. However, my relative youth does not prevent me from also feeling the insult and distress that that generation feels at the sight of Fascists pretending that they are true Britons.
Nor does it prevent me from remembering that, in all probability, I would not be here, nor would Britain be free and subject to parliamentary democracy, had those who died for Britain not forfeited their lives in the cause of freedom. Nor does it prevent me from realising that my generation has a responsibility not to forget the loyal dead and to do what we can to honour and not disgrace their memory.
Since I raised the matter in the House last November, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of State assured me that he shared my repugnance and that the Government were thinking about the matter in the context of the Public Order Act, I have had many letters from those who support this abuse of the union flag. Some of the writers say that they were among those who fought in the war to keep Britain for the whites and preserve us from alien infiltration. However, their Britain is not the Britain that most decent people would want to live in. Under them Britain would be, as all Fascist countries inevitably are, a brutal, intolerant and oppressive place, a place where hatred and inhumanity to one's fellow man would be accepted as normal and good. Instead of being a respected and admired nation, Great Britain would become an international outcast.
Fortunately, the National Front's performance at elections is derisory, and its numbers small and insignificant. On the other hand, I am sure that in this part of the proposed new clause we speak for many millions of British people. An acceptance of this part of the new clause would be as popular as it is, alas, necessary.
The second evil is that of offensive marches and processions, and particularly the fact that there is no uniform law throughout the Land that gives the police sufficient warning of such marches. We debated this issue recently on the West Midlands County Council Act 1980 and other similar measures, and at this late hour there is no need to rehearse the arguments again. It is clear that some marches and processions are violent, offensive and an affront to good public order. It is clear that at present there is a tendency for such marches to proliferate. It is also clear that where no existing law requires that the police be given adequate warning, they are sometimes extremely embarrassed and restricted in their work.
Not long ago, a Fascist march in Coventry was banned and the marchers moved on to Burton-on-Trent, where they were not banned. The police had little or no warning. They reacted with great speed, efficiency and good sense. Had the marchers been more aggressive, there might easily have been trouble in Burton. Alas, such a harmless result is not guaranteed in all cases, as long as the police forces of too much of Britain remain burdened by an outdated and senseless restriction.
Urgent action is necessary. This Bill again provides a ready vehicle, since local authorities are not an unreasonable agency to take the decisions which 444 democratically reflect the public's desire for peace and quiet and good order, when appropriately advised by the chief of police.
In our debate on 25 November on the Scarman report, the Home Secretary said that he was prepared to make progress on the banning of marches. I ask that this most ready and eminent instrument be used for such progress.
New clause 15 could not be said to have a better home in a Home Office public order Bill. In fact, if it were raised in such a Bill, I imagine that the Government would argue that it was a matter for a local government Bill. So I hope that the Government will consider the new clause seriously now in this Bill. Is the distribution of literature in schools inciting racial hatred a sufficient evil at present to require action from the Government? I am afraid that the answer is undoubtedly "Yes".
There is now a growing volume of evidence that the extreme Right-wing organisations are targeting their operations on schools. In June 1977, in the magazine Spearhead, Mr. Derek Holland called for the formation of a National Front youth wing. He said:The fight for the control of the minds of British youth is taking place continually in the seats of learning. We can, if we are determined to do so, make major inroads into the Technical Colleges, Universities and above all the schools of Britain.12.15 am
Within two months the Young National Front had been formed as a department of the National Front directorate and had taken over the youth-oriented newspaper Bulldog as its own organ. The new Young National Front developed a special operation aimed at "stirring up interest" among school children. The second edition of Bulldog urged without circumspection thatall youths should take part in Operation NF—spread the racialist word, distribute Bulldog or any other National Front literature in schools, and help the Front to keep Britain white.On 19 January 1978 the National Front officially launched its "Schools Campaign".
The National Front and the British Movement are not the only organisations disseminating racist literature to school children. The November 9th Society has been mentioned in the House recently. There is the equally overtly Nazi group, Viking Youth, which targets its activities upon the Scout movement. There is the group known as the Association of British Ex-Servicemen, or the Board of Anglo-Saxon-Celtic Deputies, led by Kenneth McKilliam. A member of John Tyndall's breakaway New National Front, he distributes literature addressed to the youth of Britain saying:Your country…is being taken away from you and handed over to the Khazar Jews, Asiatics and Negroes.That betrayal, according to the leaflet, is being accomplished by a number of means. For example, it says that there is a plan forthe sperm of other races to be implanted in white women.The National Socialist Party of the United Kingdom is conducting on Merseyside a "white revolution" in "Jew-run" schools. Its leaflets proclaim that that organisationis looking for young, white people who are sick of being pushed around by niggers and Jews and who are ready to fight for white power with the Nazi Party …We are now operating inside Merseyside Jew-run schools and all white people are welcome to join our white revolution. So if you are young and white and support our spiritual leader, Adolf Hitler, then support or join the Nazi Party.I could go on with a long list of equally revolting examples of literature that is being printed and distributed outside and inside British schools. It cannot be denied that 445 a rising body of racist literature is increasingly being circulated in our schools with the idea of subverting our children. How long is this to be allowed to go on? The short answer is that it should stop immediately, and it will stop only if there is legislation. The amendment would be such legislation. I readily concede that the other two measures to which I referred might properly be considered in a Home Office Bill, but it appears that this provision does not fall under that heading. I shall be most grateful if my right hon. Friend will say that he is prepared to accept such an amendment, so that we can put a stop to something which is both vile and spreading.
§ Mr. Greville Janner
I congratulate the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) on his eloquent and helpful speech. There are, happily, some issues that have nothing to do with party and that unite all hon. Members. I should like to think that one such issue is our total, united repugnance of Nazism, Fascism and racism in all forms. Hon. Members are anxious to see an end to any form of extremism that destroys the peace in our streets and the decency of our communities. The question that arises is how this can best be achieved. We are discussing means for putting an end to the sort of behaviour that the hon. and learned Member for Burton has described. I wish to make a number of points to supplement his remarks.
The proposal in new clause 14 would leave chief officers of police with their power to consider what it is best to do, but the burden of recommending the banning of a march would be placed on the local authority, a political body, following consultation with the chief officer of police. I came upon this clear belief following a march on St. George's Day in Leicester during a general election campaign. The candidates of all the decent democratic parties had agreed that the march should not be allowed. It was a Fascist march through the streets of our decent city, aimed deliberately at causing trouble with and for Asians, black and whites in a city where there was no such trouble. It was a march through streets chosen so as to cause the greatest unpleasantness and misery, a march that could only have the effect of placing the police in the middle of a battle.
The chief of police, as he was fully entitled to do, decided to allow the march to continue—and the inevitable happened. There was a battle, with the police in the middle. Vast numbers of policemen took part in a brave enterprise to preserve the lives and safety of our citizens but only at great cost to themselves and to the ratepayers. There occurred a break-up of peace that should not have been permitted.
These are difficult decisions. Chiefs of police have to decide whether a march will occasion serious public disorder. A police chief who asks for a march to be banned, admits, implicitly and impliedly, that if it takes place he will be unable to prevent serious public disorder in his area. It is no criticism of the police or of the manner in which they carry out their duties to say that the decision should not be left in their hands. It is right that those who can be attacked publicly by those who have elected them—whether the local authority or Government Ministers—should take the responsibility from the chiefs of police. That is the purpose of the new clause.
446 I accept that the issue is under discussion and that it requires careful thought while possible amendments to the Public Order Act are considered. It is nevertheless right that the new clause should be moved and especially that the proposal that the words "serious public disorder" should be followed by the wordsor is likely to occasion incitement to racial hatred",because that is the undisguised purpose of these evil marches and processions. They are deliberately designed for such purpose. It is not enough simply to include the words "serious public disorder".
The hon. and learned Member for Burton dealt fully with the display of the Union Jack. As a former National Service man who saw again only a few weeks ago in Auschwitz the results of Fascist and Nazi activity, I cannot think of a more revolting use of the great flag of this free nation than its display by those who are busy stirring up racial hatred.
Nor can I conceive of a more offensive occasion for such use than at the Cenotaph on the day when we are remembering those who fell so that we might continue to enjoy the freedom of speech that preserves all in this House and in the country. I believe that the Government will need good reason for not accepting the new clause.
As to lines 31 to 35, a word should be said about the notice required to be given for marches. At the moment it varies throughout the country. There should be one period, and 24 hours seems reasonable,Provided that the authority may, for good reason shown, accept shorter notice or dispense with the giving of such notice", because there are occasions when this is reasonable.A Government in another Land may have taken steps that deprive its people of liberty, or a Government of this Land may have taken steps that attack human rights. In such a situation, people are entitled to protest immediately. To give another example, if a child is killed on a crossing, local people may wish to demonstrate there and then. There should be a sensible, reasonable provision giving the authority a discretionary right to accept shorter notice. That is why the provision is framed in this way. I hope that the House will regard it, too, as thoroughly reasonable and that the Government will accept it.
New clause 15 is separate. It is right to emphasise that, because I see no reason why this or any other Government should refuse to accept it. It has nothing to do with the Public Order Act. It is entirely separate. It enables local authorities to take steps to keep out of schools the kind of literature to which the hon. and learned Member for Burton referred. The existing powers are clearly insufficient. The House will know of the trial of the editor of the Bulldog journal on three occasions. On the first, the jury disagreed; on the second, difficulty arose from a technicality; and on the third, he was convicted on a majority vote.
That man had been editing the kind of unpleasant, evil racist rubbish to which the hon. and learned Gentleman referred, but under the law as it stands it is very difficult to obtain a conviction, because the prosecution must prove that the measure of guilt is within the precise terms of the legislation. Without going into details, the new clause would at least give local authorities the right to prohibit the distribution of such literature in their schools. That is a very simple, fair and reasonable right.
It is evil to distribute racist literature to anyone in any place or at any time, but it is hard to imagine a more disgraceful and vile evil than the distribution of racist 447 literature infusing hate into schools and to children at an age at which they may be impressed by it. The new clause merely enables local authorities, if they so wish, to introduce bye-laws making it a criminal offence to distribute within a school any literature that may tend to incite to racial hatred. It is an enabling provision. Local authorities do not have to do this. It gives them a power which they would necessarily have to exercise in accordance with the provision.
I therefore ask the Government to accept at least this new clause. To me, it would be unacceptable for them to refuse. There is no reason for postponement or dilly-dallying. There is no reason to say that the matter requires further consideration. It is a simple, short clause which does a job that should have been done long ago. I believe that it has the support of hon. Members in all parts of the House, and I ask the Government to accept it.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
In our detestation of violent doctrines, there is a danger that we may end up creating new tyrannies. I am afraid that that is just what my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) propose to do.
First, one must consider the existing state of the law and the Public Order Act, which breaches a fundamental principle in our criminal law. It is an exception which provides that, no matter what a person intended, if the effect is something that Parliament has said is wrong that person has committed a crime and is a criminal. That proposition came about through an amendment of the Public Order Act during the last Administration, which was opposed by the Conservative Opposition at the time. I very much hope that an opportunity will be given at some time during this Administration for matters to be put right and for the concept of mens rea to be re-inserted into that provision of our criminal law.
It is quite wrong that a person should be deemed a criminal even if he did not intend to commit the offence. That is my first objection to what my hon. and learned Friend and the hon. and learned Gentleman have just said. It applies to both new clauses, because in both cases it is suggested that, no matter what the person's motives for distributing certain Ianguage, if it is something of which we disapprove, they are criminals. I am, therefore, opposed to the new clauses.
There is a danger when arguing from a particular proposition. in this case, the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. and learned Friend have fastened upon their detestation of the National Front and its doctrines and policies. What they are proposing is not directed against the National Front alone or its doctrines and policies. It is directed, and will be so applied, against free speech. That is an entirely different matter that should cause us all to pause and not fundamentally change the criminal law of England at this time, in this place, without adequate deliberation and consideration of the effects.
I take processions as an example. Both the hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. and learned Friend referred to processions by people of whose politics they disapprove. What about people of whose politics they approve? Is it not possible that the law could be applied against them? When we are considering transferring responsibility for the banning of a public procession from 448 an independent, professional view to that of a politically-motivated organisation such as a local authority, we must accept that there would be great dangers in such a transfer.
§ Mr. Lawrence
My hon. Friend normally applies his mind with great care to the issues in hand. Will he direct himself to the particular matters that I and the hon. and learned Gentleman have raised? Is he in favour of the local authority, with the advice of the police, being required to be notified 24 hours before an intended public procession? I seem to remember that my hon. Friend went with me into the Lobby on at least one of the other measures I have mentioned for precisely that end.
Will he also direct his mind specifically to whether he supports the use of the union flag by the National Front at the Cenotaph? And will he say whether children should be protected from some of the wilder excesses of any political indoctrination?
§ Mr. Stanbrook
My hon. and learned Friend has had his go. He made a long speech and read it from beginning to end. He now intervenes in the middle of my speech, just as I am about to tell him the reasons why I do not approve of what he has just said. If he is patient, he might learn something.
I object to the idea of transferring the fundamental power of decision from professional bodies, such as the police, to politically motivated, albeit democratically elected, public authorities. We have had plenty of experience in recent years of local authorities imposing bans and of the police opposing bans, not asking for them and not applying them. In those instances it could not be said that the decisions of individual authorities were better than those of the police, the police being fundamentally and primarily responsible for law and order and the application and enforcement of our law. Elected local councillors do not have that responsibility. That is the fundamental objection to the proposal that is before us.
There is some control over political demonstrations and procession, and there is room for improvement in the administrative arrangements for control, such as notice, but that is not the nub of the argument, which is the restriction upon individual liberty which is implied by the clauses.
It may be that the National Front or the Fascists, if they are properly so called, are misguided, at least in their views on the policies that should be carried out by a Government, but they are not misguided in their use of the national flag or in their pride in that union flag. It would be a sad day for us all if we made it an offence for anyone wishing to demonstrate his pride in the Union Jack and prevented him from doing so because of political connotations. Let us condemn those who commit crimes, if the law is such, for things that they say to incite racial hatred, but carrying a flag, especially the Union Jack, should not ever constitute a crime in this country.
§ Mr. Stanbrook
I had the privilege of fighting for my country in the Royal Air Force during the war. I am sure that those of us who did, volunteers and others, were conscious that Britain had enemies on all sides. We were not necessarily fighting against them all at the same time. We were prepared to accept an alliance with Soviet Russia during the war to achieve our primary purpose, which was the overthrow of Nazi Germany. The source of our 449 patriotism on those occasions was not party political and it was not purely anti-Fascism. We recognised the vile doctrine of Communism as well as that of Fascism. I hope that we shall preserve a balance when considering proposed restrictions on individual liberty.
The hon. and learned Gentlemen—no doubt for good reasons and understandably—want to pursue their battle and campaign against the National Front. However, the Bill is not a proper vehicle for such a restriction.
§ Mr. Pitt
I join the hon. and learned Members for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) and congratulate them on their new clauses. I tell the hon. Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) that I had the honour and privilege of losing my father when he was fighting in the war against Fascism.
We are talking about the use of the Union Jack in circumstances that are not patriotic. We are talking about the misuse and abuse of the flag. It is so far misused and abused that very few people nowadays want to use it for other than these activities. Therefore, the flag has been debased.
New clause 14 will clear up an anomaly about the Public Order Act. Members of the Joint Committee against Racialism, of which I am a member, and of the Board of Deputies of British Jews have been concerned to amend the Public Order Act. The new clause will provide such an amendment. It acknowledges that the crime of incitement to racial hatred can be prevented. Other attempts to do that in the past have failed. Therefore, we should welcome the new clause on that ground alone.
The new clause also acknowledges that specific marches and demonstrations can be banned. That will take off the blanket ban imposed on marches and demonstations merely because a group of Fascist thugs wish to march through the streets of our towns and cities and break them up.
I turn now to new clause 15. The basis of education in our schools and colleges should be directed towards a multiracial society, because that is what we are. We are a society of many races and creeds. I hope that will be the attack on our education; not the attack that is going on in a number of areas—specifically in south London, particularly Croydon—and at football matches where Fascist thugs of the National Front and the British Movement and other organisations deliberately try to pervert the brains and minds of young people by distributing their obscene literature. If pornographic material were being distributed, all hon. Members would be down on them like a ton of bricks and there would be laws to prevent its distribution. The literature that such people are distributing may not be pornographic, but it is certainly offensive.
We should support new clauses 14 and 15.
§ Mr. Raison
I share the strong feelings that have been expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and the hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West (Mr. Janner) about the odiousness of some of the things that we have seen in recent times and the importance of tackling them. It is right that we should express our sense of disgust at what goes on, but we must consider the right way to deal with it.
I am sure that the House knows that the Government have been engaged for some time on a review of the Public 450 Order Act 1936 and related legislation. We published a consultation document, on which we received many comments, and we have had the benefit of a report from the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Last year we delayed pushing forward the review until we could receive and study the findings of Lord Scarman in his report on the Brixton disturbances. We now have the benefit of that report and some of the comments made in response to it. Our intention is to complete the review and to make known our conclusions later this Session. We plan to press ahead as quickly as possible.
The debate has been a useful further opportunity to express views on some of the complex issues involved in the control of public order. I do not think that the hon. Member for Croydon, North-West (Mr. Pitt) realises how complex some of these issues can be. We shall study the debate with care and take account of what hon. Members have said in reaching our conclusions on the review of public order.
This is a difficult subject. We must balance the right to express and to campaign for a point of view with the wish of almost all of us to preserve peace in our streets and to reject the odiousness of the various forms of racial incitement about which we have been talking.
There is little that I can say about the substance of new clause 14 without anticipating the results of our review. I must ask the House not to seek to add the clause to the Bill, because it would be undesirable to anticipate the results of that review and to legislate in this important and complicated area in a piecemeal manner. We must take a little more time and get it right.
I sense that there is a particular desire on the part of some hon. Members to push new clause 15 forward to legislation. Attention has been paid to the inadequacies of the law on incitement to racial hatred. My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has expressed to the House his concern about the operation of the provision. The House should also know, however, that the Government are reviewing the offence of incitement to racial hatred as part of their review of public order legislation. That is what new clause 15 is about. The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West is shaking his head. I do not know why. I know what is happening in our review, and that we are considering the question of incitement to racial hatred.
We should like to see the law operate effectively in this matter, but it is not easy. Among those who commented on section 5A of the 1936 Act in response to the Government's Green Paper on that Act—Cmnd. 7891—there was little agreement on whether changes should be made and, if so, what changes should be made.
Before long we shall be able to come to the House to announce our conclusions. To be more specific, it is appropriate for a public order Bill, rather than local government legislation, to tackle these matters, because the offence of incitement to racial hatred, to which new clause 15 is clearly related, is covered by section 5A of the 1936 Act. It would therefore be premature to support new clause 15 this evening.
§ Mr. Greville Janner
Has the Minister considered that new clause 15 is designed to add a subsection to section 235 of the Local Government Act 1972? This clause is not designed to alter the Pubic Order Act. That is why I regard it as reasonable to say, speaking for myself only, that I 451 would not press the amendment, but new clause 15 must go forward. Surely there can be no better or more appropriate lime to amend the 1972 Act than in a debate on a Bill designed to amend local government legislation that is different.
§ Mr. Campbell-Savours
I have listened to the Minister with care. Will he say whether, following that review, it is intended to end the provision relating to the distribution of literature in schools? The Minister will have formulated an opinion on that. This may be the wrong provision on which to deal with that, but we at least want an undertaking that he will take the appropriate decision.
§ Mr. Raison
The hon. and learned Member for Leicester, West says that his clause is related to the Local Government Act 1972. Of course, I accept that that is what is stated in the clause. He must consider, however, the crucial phrase to which I imagine he attaches great importance—the last few words of new clause 15:literature … which may tend to incite to racial hatred.That brings in the whole question of incitement to racial hatred. As the hon. and learned Gentleman knows, that matter is the concern of section 5A of the Public Order Act as it was revised by the Race Relations Act 1970. It lies plumb in the area which is covered by that Act, and with which we are dealing in our public order review. I shall say a little more about it in a moment. It might also help to meet the point made by the hon. Member for Workington (Mr. Campbell-Savours).
The question raised by the proposers of new clause 15 is whether it is appropriate to go further than we have and strengthen the criminal law in this one particular area. I say "strengthen" because section 5A of the Public Order Act 1936—which, as I have just said, was inserted by section 70 of the Race Relations Act 1970—already makes it a criminal offence to publish or distribute written matter which is threatening, abusive or insulting in a case where hatred is likely to be stirred up against any racial group in Great Britain by the matter or words in question.
Therefore, it is evident that, provided the statutory tests are met, the criminal law already extends to the distribution in a school of literature which is likely to stir up racial hatred. The proposed new clause would permit the application of separate alternative tests to the circulation of such literature in schools.
Quite apart from the general undesirability of creating a new limited offence in a field which is already covered by the general criminal law, as I understand it, the proposed new clause would permit the application of far less stringent tests than those which are already contained in section 5A. The tests in section 5A would in any case be very difficult to define. In particular, how could one define literature which "may tend to incite" racial hatred? Those are, frankly, rather loose words. A tendency to incite is in itself vague enough; a possible tendency to incite is still vaguer. It would be difficult to say what sort of activity could not be encompassed by a loose formulation of that kind.
We already have provisions which cover this area. To provide alternative provisions in the way suggested would not help, and those provisions in themselves do not seem to be very adequate.
§ Mr. Lawrence
Can my right hon. Friend say how many prosecutions in each of the past few years have been launched under the existing law? When he has dealt with 452 that, can he give us some assurance—after all, it is the purpose of the new clause—that the law will be improved and tightened up so that the growing number of offensive acts which are being perpetrated will be covered by some penal law?
§ Mr. Raison
I do not know off the cuff the number of prosecutions, but I accept that the number has been small. I shall not quarrel with my hon. and learned Friend about that, but I do not think that we shall enlarge the number of successful prosecutions if we adopt a provision which is rather vague. The difficulty, as all hon. Members know, is to make prosecutions stick. In our review in the Home Office we are trying to find a more effective law.
Although, of course, one understands and supports the sentiments behind new clause 15, it does not seem to us to be likely to be an effective piece of legislation. do not believe that it is likely to do very much to help solve the problem about which the House is concerned.
I have demonstrated clearly that the scope of our review of public order embraces racial hatred. Of course we want to come up with effective provisions. There are well-known doubts about the efficacy of the present provisions. We want to come up with something better, but I do not think that what hon. Members are putting forward this evening qualifies as an effective provision. It is the old story. We must have regard not only to the sentiments which activate us, but to whether a provision is likely to work in practice.
§ Mr. Greville Janner
Does the Minister accept that at the moment there is no legislation that bans the distribution within a school of the literature at which the amendment is aimed? Does he accept also that such legislation as does exist not only leads to few prosecutions, but to fewer convictions, because it is too specific? The amendment is framed to ensure not the people are prosecuted or convicted, but the they do not distribute such literature in our schools.
§ Mr. Raison
I have already told the House that measures under the existing criminal law extend to the distribution of literature that is likely to stir up racial hatred in a school. Whether that is specific legislation, in the hon. and learned Gentleman's definition, I do not know. It does not deal specifically with schools, but it sets out to deal with literarure that is likely to stir up racial hatred. We are cosidering whether the legislation is effective, and I repeat my firm assurance to the House. We must get the law right and not use it simply as a vehicle to express sentiments which, I fully accept, are strongly and justifiably held.
We are trying to deal with this difficult matter. It is not right to take a piecemeal approach to the improvement of the law. There are deficiencies in new clause 15 and I cannot advise the House to accept either of the new clauses.
Mr. R. C. Mitchell
I agree entirely with the Minister's argument and reasoning about new clause 14. It should be part of the review of the Public Order Act 1936.
I found the right hon. Gentleman's comments on new clause 15 to be especially unconvincing. A problem has developed in recent years with the increasing distribution of such literature in our schools. We can see it in al parts of Britain. It is a definite campaign organised by definite groups to subvert—in their words—our children in 453 schools. If the Minister is saying that there is a drafting defect in the new clause, why do we not accept it and the Minister can amend it in another place later? I hope that the House will divide on new clause 15.
§ Mr. Lawrence
I accept entirely my right hon. Friend's arguments about the public order legislation. As a lawyer, I am reluctant to put on to the statute book anything that is manifestly less than perfect. However, I have noticed during the years that I have been a Member of Parliament that if one wishes to change anything one must sometimes get something imperfect past this House so that the other place or the Government will make it perfect. If, in the end, no one can make it perfect, at least there will be a respectable debate later explaining why the matter must be withdrawn before the legislation is enacted.
However, unless we get something to the other place for consideration, I am not wholly optimistic that it will be possible for my right hon. Friend to say later that the Government have the best intentions and that they are manifesting them by putting on to the statute book a specific protection for children. As I am not confident that that will happen, I shall withdraw clause 14 but not clause 15. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
§ Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.