HC Deb 28 July 1964 vol 699 cc1207-11
5. Mr. K. Robinson

asked the Attorney-General why the Director of Public Prosecutions has advised chief constables to refer to him all cases involving homosexual offences between consenting adults in private for decision as to prosecution.

6. Mr. Abse

asked the Attorney-General whether he is aware of the lack of uniformity in the practices adopted by police authorities in the prosecution of homosexual offences committed by consenting adults in private, and of the extent to which blackmail is precipitated by the existing law; what is the nature of the guidance and advice recently given by the Director of Public Prosecutions to police authorities; what are the circumstances which have led to such advice being given; and whether he will make a statement.

The Attorney-General

The Director of Public Prosecutions told chief constables on 10th June that he would be grateful if they would report to him for advice any cases in which they are contemplating proceedings in respect of homosexual offences between consenting adults committed either more than 12 months previously or in private. The suggestion that the Director of Public Prosecutions should be consulted was made with a view to obtaining greater uniformity in the enforcement of the law. There is no question of any general change in prosecuting policy or law enforcement or of any restriction on the exercise by chief constables of their discretion to prosecute when they think fit.

Mr. Robinson

Is the Attorney-General aware that those of us who support the Wolfenden recommendations will welcome a small step forward, but will he tell the House why this modest reform, first put forward more than five years ago and rejected by his predecessor and twice by the present Foreign Secretary, has suddenly been adopted? Will he also tell the House why nobody troubled to tell the Home Secretary about this?

The Attorney-General

The first point is that the proposal was not rejected previously. The position was that in previous Bills that were put forward, it was proposed that the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions should be needed for a prosecution. That is not now the position. Since 1958, the Director of Public Prosecutions has advised chief constables and asked them to consult him about stale cases of homosexual offences—namely, those more than 12 months old—and those in respect of which there is a blackmailing aspect. The new Director of Public Prosecutions, who took office in May, thought that, in addition, it would be more satisfactory, to obtain uniformity, if chief constables also consulted him on the cases of consenting adult males in private. This is all that has happened. I quite realise that some hon. Members would like to see the law changed, but I cannot change it by practice, and the duty of the Law Officers and of the Director of Public Prosecutions is to enforce the law.

Mr. Abse

Is it not the case that the proposals now being made or the administrative action that is now being taken were in terms, precisely what I put forward in a Bill which was killed on a Cabinet decision two years ago? Does not the Attorney-General think that he owes it to the House to give the reasons, whatever they may be, which have precipitated this decision? In particular, why has a hole-in-the-corner method been adopted in this matter, welcome as it may be, to end, I trust, stale cases? Why is it being done in this form when only the Press is given the information and neither the Home Secretary nor the House is provided with information except in these terms? Is it not high time that this House was kept informed so that suspicions and rumours which are running through the country could be shown not to be the case?

The Attorney-General

The position is quite plain. It is the statutory duty of the Director of Public Prosecutions to advise chief constables about cases which he regards as of importance or of difficulty. I think that nobody would disagree with the view of the present Director of Public Prosecutions that these additional cases, in addition to stale cases and the blackmailing ones, are questions of importance and of difficulty. It is entirely within his responsibility to decide whether to advise chief contables on these matters. I have a power by which I can give him directions that anything which he has said should or should not be done. I certainly do not intend on this occasion to exercise that power, because I concur in what he has done and I do not think that it should be altered.

The hon. Member has raised questions of rumours. As far as I know, on 10th June neither the Director of Public Prosecutions nor I was aware of any rumours at that time in relation to the Sunday Mirror. Certainly, the Director of Public Prosecutions had nothing of that sort in mind when this was done.

Sir T. Moore

Does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that many hon. Members, and a vast number of people outside, are eagerly awaiting the implementation of the Wolfenden recommendations of homosexual reform? [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] Following on what was said by the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), does my right hon. and learned Friend appreciate that this step which has been taken by the Director of Public Prosecutions in our view marks a very hopeful step forward?

Hon. Members


The Attorney-General

I am aware from the reception of that supplementary question that there are different views on the subject, and the last thing that it would be proper for either the Attorney-General or the Director of Public Prosecutions to do would be to try to alter the law behind the back of Parliament by practice, and that is not what is being done. Anybody can form any opinion he pleases as to the implications of this step.

Miss Bacon

Can the Attorney-General say whether anybody told the Home Secretary, and, if not, why not?

The Attorney-General

The answer is "No", and I think that the Home Secretary has already said that. The Director of Public Prosecutions is responsible to me. He is not responsible to the Home Secretary. This is a matter within the ordinary discharge of the statutory duties of the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Sir K. Thompson

In view of this controversy, will my right hon. and learned Friend state categorically whether or not the law in this matter has been altered in any way whatsoever?

The Attorney-General

The law has certainly not been altered. It is not the position that every case that ever comes to the attention of the prosecuting authority has to be prosecuted. There is some discretion. It is a very difficult discretion, and it is thought that it is better, for the purpose of uniformity throughout the country, that the Director should be consulted, although chief constables will remain the prosecuting authority in each case.

Mr. Bellenger

In view of the doubt, and perhaps a certain amount of suspicion, in the minds of hon. Members as to the ultimate effect of consulting the Director of Public Prosecutions, will the Attorney-General undertake to give to the House at some later date a list, not, of course, quoting names or giving details, of the number of cases where chief constables have consulted the Director of Public Prosecutions, and the result of his advice to them?

The Attorney-General

I shall certainly consider how and when I can conveniently give it, if it is available, but, not having had notice of the question, I cannot say what is the exact position at the moment.