HC Deb 27 January 1969 vol 776 cc937-41

The following Question stood upon the Order Paper:


To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what further consideration he has given to holding an inquiry into the practice of Scientology.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Mr. Richard Crossman)

I will with permission, Mr. Speaker, now answer Question No. 74.

In consultation with my right hon. Friends I have decided to set up an inquiry with the following terms of reference: To inquire into the practice and effects of Scientology and to report. The hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) has kindly consented to carry out this inquiry. The existing restrictions on foreign nationals proposing to study or work at Scientology establishments will continue in force while it is in progress.

Mr. Hordern

May I express my appreciation to the Minister for his decision to set up this inquiry? It is something for which I have been pressing for two years.

May I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether my hon. and learned Friend will be empowered to take evidence from overseas countries in which Scientology is practised, as many of the permanent staff of this organisation come from overseas? Secondly, will the proceedings of this inquiry be privileged and, finally, can he say how long it will be before the inquiry will make its report?

Mr. Crossman

The terms of reference will clearly enable the hon. and learned Member to study the problem overseas—indeed, it would be quite unrealistic to study Scientology without studying it in aspects other than those of Great Britain.

The inquiry will be semi-privileged. It is the type of single report which I, as Minister of Housing and Local Government, set up to deal with problems at Bognor Regis. Evidence will be taken privately and not on oath. I have done this for a very special reason. The kind of evidence we want will be from people of a nervous nature, who will not face cross-examination or any public examination. This way we are more likely to get them to talk than in any other form of inquiry.

Mr. C. Pannell

May I inquire why it is that, first, Scientology is characterised as a fraud, and then we set up an inquiry into it? Would it not have been rather better the other way round?

Mr. Crossman

I would not have thought so. There are a great number of frauds in the country against which we do not feel we have to take measures, or investigate any more thoroughly. Stupidity is something which we tolerate in ourselves and others.

Mr. G. Johnson-Smith

Fraud or not, may I say to the right hon. Gentleman that many people, particularly those in the constituency of East Grinstead, where this organisation has its world headquarters, will warmly welcome the Minister's statement?

Mr. Thorpe

Without expressing any view on the merits, one way or the other, of Scientology, may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman can say why we banned people coming to this country to study something which we now admit we know so little about that we have to set up an inquiry?

Mr. Crossman

I would not draw that implication from what I said. We banned people coming in, as my predecessor reminded us, because the Government had come to the conclusion that it was an undesirable practice, and that we should not permit people to come in and set themselves up as being able to educate each other. We banned them coming in for teaching purposes. We banned them partly because we knew so much about them. However, it is now highly desirable—after six months we have seen some remarkable changes taking place—that we should now have an inquiry and publish its results.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon

May I congratulate my right hon. Friend on setting up this inquiry, if only so that the public at large should know the full facts about Scientology, and be able to come to their own judgments about it, although this would have been desirable at an earlier stage?

But may I express some concern about the decision to hold this inquiry in private? I see the reasons for it, but would it not also adversely affect people who may be criticised during the course of the hearings and who may not be present to hear the criticism and therefore to reply?

Mr. Crossman

One of the reasons I delayed announcing this inquiry for some weeks, to consider the possibilities, was precisely because of the problem which my hon. Friend poses. Unfortunately, as we all know, the choice is very limited for the Government. We either have to have a formal inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act, 1921, or we have to have the sort which I have proposed. I thought that to use the former would be to take a sledgehammer to crack a nut.

Mr. Maurice Macmillan

May I thank the Minister for setting up this inquiry, perhaps a little belatedly, and ask him, in view of the last question, whether he will assure us that its findings will be published?

Mr. Crossman

Yes, Sir, Officially, I should say that we will wait to see the report, but it is pretty definite that, unless something very unusual happens, the report will be published.

Dr. Gray

Is my right hon. Friend aware that many people, like myself, were dissatisfied with the action taken against Scientology before, on the evidence that the Government published? Will he ensure, if this inquiry is to be held in private, that sufficient evidence will be published to justify any conclusion that the Government reach?

Mr. Crossman

We shall publish the results of the report by the hon. and learned Member for Northwich whatever the repercussions are. He is an absolutely free man in the inquiry, and we shall not try to influence him in any way.

Sir G. Nabarro

As one who was extensively lobbied by these people about the Government's earlier decision—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."]—as we all were, but I more than most—may I now be told by the hon. Gentleman what has caused him to relent and to change his mind, or to change the Government's mind, and why is he now doing exactly the opposite of what it was endeavoured to persuade him to do a few months ago?

Mr. Crossman

I am a little bewildered by the hon. Gentleman. We are not doing exactly the opposite. We are continuing in force all the limitations on the activities of these people which were proposed by my predecessor. In addition, we are now having a thorough investigation into the nature of Scientology, which I am sure will edify the hon. Gentleman as much as the rest of the public.

Mr. Pavitt

Will the investigation include an examination of the terrible campaign conducted against the previous Minister of Health and the assassination of the characters of several hon. Members by that organisation?

Mr. Crossman

No doubt the hon. and learned Member for Northwich will note my hon. Friend's question. He should see things in proportion, however. The subject I am mainly concerned with is not hon. Members of the House, but very innocent people with weak minds. I was gravely alarmed at what was happening. Now we shall find the truth.

Mr. Gordon Walker

Would my right hon. Friend consider publishing not only the report, but at any rate as much of the evidence as ought to be published?

Mr. Crossman

I must await the reception of the report.