HC Deb 26 October 1944 vol 404 cc331-2
22. Mr. W. J. Brown

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been drawn to the action of the watch committee at Altrincham in banning a spiritualist meeting, on the ground that the holding of it would violate the Witchcraft Act; and what steps he is taking to prevent this local police force denying freedom of worship to spiritualists.

Mr. H. Morrison

I have made to inquiries and am informed that in August last Altrincham town council agreed, subject to the consent of the justices, to let the Stamford Hall—which is owned by the corporation—for the purpose of a lecture on spiritualism on the 8th October and that the justices gave their consent to the opening of the hall on Sunday for this purpose. Subsequently posters were displayed in the district which indicated that at the meeting an address would be given at or about 3 p.m. by the spirit of a dead person, and that the audience would be invited to contribute to a collection. The police received a letter from a member of the public suggesting that the organisers of the meeting would be guilty of an offence under the Witchcraft Act, 1735, and that in view of the grief and mourning caused by war casualties the meeting was most inadvisable in the public interest. The police thought it right to bring this letter to the notice of the town council, who decided in the circumstances to cancel the agreement for the letting of the hall. It will be seen that there is no question of this meeting having been banned either by the watch committee—there is, in fact, no watch committee at Altrincham—or by the police.

Mr. Brown

Whether one agrees with the spiritualist view or not, does not the Home Secretary recognise that seances are a normal feature of spiritualist services? Are they not allowed to hold services on the ground that those services may be an offence against a 210-years old Act; and cannot the right hon. Gentleman protect this minority from this sort of thing?

Mr. Morrison

I think I should be taking on a great responsibility, if I undertook to say whether each particular meeting is to be held or not, or whether the owners of a hall are to let it or not.

Mr. T. Brooks

Would it not be better if the police attended to the suppression of crime, and left the religious bodies to continue their work of educating the people on higher moral and spiritual standards; and, further, is not religious freedom one of the great principles for which the Allied Nations are fighting— —

Hon. Members

Order, order.