HC Deb 03 December 1953 vol 521 cc1295-9
21. Mr. Shepherd

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department the number of cases involving male perversion in 1938 and 1952, respectively, and what complaints he has received from the police as to their lack of power to deal with this evil.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

In 1938, the number of unnatural offences known to the police in England and Wales was 134, the number of attempts to commit unnatural offences (including indecent assaults on male persons and cases of importuning for immoral purposes dealt with on indictment) was 822, and the number of offences of gross indecency was 320. The corresponding figures for 1952 were 670, 3,087 and 1,686.

Similar figures are not available for offences of importuning by males for immoral purposes which are dealt with summarily, but I would refer my hon. Friend to my reply on 19th November to a Question by my hon. Friend the Member for North Fylde (Mr. Stanley) giving recent statistics of proceedings taken in the Metropolitan police district for this offence.

The answer to the second part of the Question is, "None, Sir."

Mr. Shepherd

Is it not a fact that senior police officials have stated that they are not able to deal with these cases as satisfactorily as they would wish, owing to lack of power and to other factors? Is it not also a fact that if the police are willing to act, and the magistrates are willing to receive the cases, the number brought daily before the Metropolitan courts would be very much larger?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Neither of these points has been brought to my attention. In view of my hon. Friend's question about powers I ought to remind the House that the maximum penalties for these offences are as follow: Sodomy and bestiality—Life imprisonment. Attempt to commit unnatural offence, and indecent assault on a male person—10 years. Gross indecency—Two years. Importuning—Six months on summary conviction, and two years on conviction on indictment. There is no reason to think that these penalties are inadequate.

Mr. T. Williams

Can the House be told in how many cases, in each type of crime, the maximum penalty, or anything like it, has been imposed?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I should need notice of that question, but perhaps I could give the right hon. Gentleman an idea of the figures from memory—if he will not hold me to them. In 1952, there were 5,443 offences, and I think that about 600 offenders were sent to prison.

33. Sir R. Boothby

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether Her Majesty's Government will recommend the appointment of a Royal Commission to examine the existing legislation in respect of sexual offences and the present treatment of adult sexual delinquents, with particular reference to homosexuality; and to make recommendations as to what changes are desirable in the light of modern scientific knowledge and of recent discoveries in the fields of psychology and psychiatry.

44. Mr. Donnelly

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will recommend the appointment of a Royal Commission to examine the laws relating to sexual offences, and, in particular, those relating to homosexuality, and to make recommendations regarding any changes that are desirable; and what medical treatment can be provided in the light of modern scientific knowledge.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

The general question of the law relating to sexual offences and of the treatment of sexual offenders is engaging my attention, but I am not yet in a position to make any statement.

Sir R. Boothby

Is my right hon. and learned Friend satisfied that the law, particularly Section 2 of the Criminal Amendment Act, 1885, is really effective and workable? Is he satisfied with the present institutional treatment? Does he not think further research into the problem, perhaps beyond purely Departmental research, is urgently required?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

As my hon. Friend has raised the point I must make this clear. I gave earlier today figures of convictions and offences, and I must make clear to the House that one element in dealing with this matter is the protective element in punishment, because homosexuals in general are exhibitionists and proselytisers and are a danger to others, especially the young, and so long as I hold the office of Home Secretary I shall give no countenance to the view that they should not be prevented from being such a danger.

On the second point about treatment, I should like to assure the House, as I tried to do in the debate on prisons, as some hon. and right hon. Gentlemen still remember, that we are very much alive to the problem in our prisons today and there are arrangements made for medical attention, especially of a psychiatric kind, but, as I said then, I must remind the House that the difficulty in these cases is that for treatment to be successful there must be co-operation, and in many cases co-operation is refused.

The third point that one must always bear in mind is that, apart from the true invert, there are homosexuals who use that instead of ordinary sexual intercourse, and in addition to them, the male prostitutes who come up on these importuning cases and the sensationalists who will try any form of excitement and indulgence. These three types of cases, apart from the male invert, can, I believe be dealt with, and are being dealt with, by our prison system. These things must be rememebered when we consider this matter. As I have said, I am trying to study and give my careful attention to the whole problem, but it would be wrong not to stress these points today.

Mr. Stokes

Will the Home Secretary bear in mind in his deliberations the importance of impressing upon the authorities concerned that while respecting the rights of the defendants they will also regard it as obligatory to reduce to the absolute minimum the publicity and strain imposed upon juveniles who are mixed up in adult cases?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I entirely agree. It is a very difficult subject indeed, but one that must be borne constantly in mind. That was the idea behind my answer, as I am sure the House appreciates.

Mr. Donnelly

In view of the public disquiet about this matter, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman be willing to receive a deputation, consisting of the hon. Gentleman the Member for East Aberdeenshire (Sir R. Boothby) and myself, on this subject?

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

Yes, I am quite willing to meet anyone who has ideas on the subject, but I do want it to be clear that as Home Secretary I have the duty to protect the people, especially the youth, of this country.

Brigadier Medlicott

Is it not a fact that public opinion itself has been at fault for a great many years in treating the question of homosexuality as a fit subject for music hall humour—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—yes, and that if the public itself can be persuaded to approach this matter in the right way from both the criminal and the medical point of view much good may be done?

Mrs. Braddock

When considering these matters will the right hon. and learned Gentleman very carefully consider the medical aspect, because many magistrates who understand the situation are very reluctant indeed to give terms of imprisonment in these cases because of overcrowding in prisons where men are put two and three into a cell? It is considered that sending them to prison accentuates the trouble rather than cures it.

Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe

I am glad that the hon. Lady has raised that point. It is quite true that they are put three in a cell; unfortunately, owing to shortage of space, there are about 5,000 people who are three in a cell. This matter has been carefully examined, and I believe that the chances of increasing homosexual inclinations from that have been greatly exaggerated. Although, of course, homosexuality exists in prisons—as Sir Alexander Paterson said, you cannot help it in a "monastery of men unwilling to be monks"—I think the effect has been exaggerated. My experience is that there is not much increase of inclination. We have not been able to find any evidence of it.