In moving the Second Reading of this Bill the Minister emphasised the statement that every State takes powers substantially similar to those sought for under this Bill. Every Government, he said, must take note of and deal with tendencies— not alone overt acts, but tendencies. I took particular note of that because, in respect particularly to the antiseditious sections, it is in respect to the tendencies that I am in the strongest possible opposition to the Second Reading of this Bill. Progress in society arises from a conflict between tendencies—rival tendencies— and I suppose the stability which the Minister seeks comes from the supremacy of the advocates of one tendency over an opposing tendency, and that act of supremacy practically lays the foundation for further instabilities. I suggest to the Dáil that they ought to consider the effect in future—in this discussion I want to emphasise the future—by re-enacting in 1925 these anti-sedition Acts, of giving power to what may become privileged elements in the community to repress and contain within narrow areas the rising spirit of progress, or what is deemed to be so by the persons advocating certain progressive ideas. It is by the suppression which Ministries effect— the suppression or repression of popular movements—that revolution takes place.
I want the Dáil to bear in mind what the tendency of the moment appears to be. We have had a period, extending over a few years, of mental flux and unsettlement. It was hoped and believed that that period was passing and that there was a subsiding and, if one might say so, a consolidation, or tendency towards consolidation. If we, by a definite Act, help, in the reformation of public thought and ideas, to make it appear that this Legislature is assisting in reaction and the stabilisation of old, crusted Tory forms, then we are laying up for ourselves evils which, I think, it will cost the country a very great deal to overcome.
I think it is true to say that the history of society, in civilised countries at any rate, has been the history of struggles between popular movements and Ministries, as the authority representing privileged classes. What we are now asked to do is to give authority to Ministries for the present, and in the future, to use what power is contained in this Bill to repress popular tendencies. It always has been called sedition. Every movement of a popular character has been called seditious, and it only depends upon the character of the Ministry for the time and, one may say, possibly the lead that the legislature gives to the judiciary of the time, to decide whether the policy of repression is to be carried through and whether all popular movements are going to be driven underground. I said yesterday, that, in the main, the powers that are sought under this Bill do already exist; they have existed for more than a century, and, in some cases, for several centuries.
It may be said by the Minister that that is an answer to my present argument; but there is such a thing as the law becoming obsolete by disuse, there is such a thing as judges deciding in the courts that they will not urge juries to convict, and there is such a thing as juries refusing to convict in cases of obsolescent laws. We are now asked in this session to re-enact those old laws relating to sedition. The effect of the re-enactment by this legislature of those laws would be to raise the sign to the forces of the State, to the judiciary, and to all executive bodies, that we are determined that the law created one hundred years ago is what we desire to be the law for the present period. I have a small book of a popular character, written by an eminent lawyer, entitled "Elements of English Law." Amongst other things the book defines seditious libel in language which is very like—in fact, it is almost identical in some of its phraseology— the language of some of the sections in this Bill. In that book it is set out that a seditious libel is one "calculated to bring into hatred or contempt, or to excite disaffection against the King, the Government and the Constitution, either House of Parliament, or the administration of justice; to incite the King's subjects to attempt, otherwise than by lawful means, the alteration of any matter in church or state by law established, to raise discontent or disaffection, or permit feelings of ill-will or hostility between different classes." With necessary alterations, that is pretty well the description of seditious libel contained in this Bill.
The apology of the author is significant. The definition, he says, "is a wide one, but the decision as to whether anything published is or is not a seditious libel rests with the jury. The fact that such a decision rests with the jury prevents the Government from using the law for punishing expressions of opinion which meet with any considerable degree of approval among the classes from which juries are mainly drawn." That is the apology of the author of this book for a wide definition of seditious libel. Speaking as one who has had reason to read some of the proceedings of the law courts in respect to combination laws of the past, and as one who is interested particularly in the growth and development of working-class opinion, whether in trade unions or in political or social life, I say that if the only protection against repressive action under these sedition laws that are proposed to be re-enacted is that a jury, which will be drawn from the class from which juries are usually drawn, will think in terms of protecting the rights of the individual workman, then the chances of justice being done are not particularly good.
The power for the repression of popular movements that exists within this Bill is absolute, and it makes the authority of the Ministry so great that, in my opinion, it would be necessary, if this Bill becomes law, to challenge, at the very beginning, the authority of the Minister. The sections of the Bill dealing with sedition, seditious libel, seditious intention, and the like, are the very much more serious parts. They are most insidious and they are likely to have the most detrimental effect upon the growth of society and public opinion in the country. The evil effects of them will not be immediately obvious. The Bill, particularly in respect to those sections, is bad and ought to be opposed. It ought to be resisted and I hope the Dáil will look, not to the present nor the immediate future only but to the undesirability of handing over to any Ministry, by deliberate act of this Legislature, the powers contained in the Bill.
As regards the other sections of the Bill, which I have not yet touched upon, those sections which might be called the anti-Republican party sections, strike the public imagination more easily. They appear to be quite a blatant and raucous challenge to the opponents of the Ministry. We have seen steadily deteriorating, or declining, the activity of the militant opposition to the Ministry. A year, or two years ago we know it was constantly asserted, very frequently in this House and more frequently outside, that the opposition to the Government ought to confine itself to constitutional agitation and political party activity. By various means the Ministry succeeded in persuading the Republican party to cease its militancy.