HC Deb 22 July 1964 vol 699 cc479-81

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:

74. Mr. LIPTON

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will move to set up a tribunal under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, to investigate the extent and operations of the protection racket in London in relation to the owners of clubs and restaurants.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Henry Brooke)

With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I will now answer Question No. 74.

No, Sir. These are matters for criminal investigation by the police. It has been alleged by the Sunday Mirror, on 12th July, and again on 19th July, that a protection racket is being run by criminals among club owners in London, and that there is evidence of an unlawful relationship between a leading criminal concerned in the racket and a Member of another place.

The police are aware of protection rackets alleged to exist from time to time, and they strenuously exert themselves to bring to light and prosecute offences of blackmail, extortion or any other criminal behaviour. They have no evidence to support the allegations published in this newspaper. On 14th July a senior officer of the Metropolitan Police interviewed the editor and the reporter concerned, pointing out that it was the duty of any person who has information concerning criminal activities to bring it to the knowledge of the police, and asking them to furnish the information on which these allegations were based. This they did not do.

After the allegations had been repeated in last Sunday's issue of the newspaper, the Commissioner of Police wrote a letter on Monday to the editor, which was delivered by hand, repeating that if he had information in his possession bearing on crime it was his duty to inform the police of the details, and adding a request to be furnished with a copy of an allegedly incriminating photograph referred to.

As a result of this continued pressure the editor has now indicated his willingness to disclose the material on which the allegations were based, and the police will be making an immediate examination of it.

Mr. Lipton

I am obliged to the Home Secretary for making it known to me that he would answer this Question orally today. May I ask him whether he is aware that the protection racket is now very big business and is now operated on a more ruthless and menacing scale than ever before? Will he, in those circumstances, give a firm guarantee that anyone co-operating with the police by giving evidence will be given the fullest possible protection of the law against those criminal parasites and acts of violence or blackmail or intimidation to which those volunteering to give evidence may be subjected?

Mr. Brooke

Yes, Sir. I will certainly give that undertaking, but I would add that, contrary to the hon. Member's view, the Commissioner of Police advises me that the protection racket situation is less serious in London than it has been on several occasions in the past.

Miss Bacon

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that most people in the country regard with abhorrence this gangsterism in our midst, and that the important thing is that there should be speedy action to stamp it out as soon as possible? Could he tell the House how many of these rackets have been unearthed during the last year, and how many prosecutions there have been?

Mr. Brooke

I could not give information as to the number of prosecutions without notice, but the hon. Lady will realise that the great difficulty here is to obtain information, because people are unwilling to come forward to give it, fearing they may put themselves at risk. I hope that the answers which I have given today will result in bringing forward more information.