HC Deb 27 April 1988 vol 132 cc485-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Kenneth Carlisle.]

1.28 am
Mr. Geoffrey Dickens (Littleborough and Saddleworth)

The purpose of securing this debate is threefold. First, I wish to warn parents to be vigilant and to impress upon their children the dangers of dabbling in black magic and other obscure occults. Secondly, I wish to call on all Christians to unite in prayer, word and deed to condemn Satanism and to provide kind and special support for those possessed by the devil who turn to the Church for help. Thirdly, it is necessary to ensure that the Home Office is aware of and alert to the rapid growth in the United Kingdom of black witchcraft and Satanism.

The fear of the devil is being put into children's minds, and that is evil. This black magic influence is so strong and dangerous that the power and command over adults and children is total. Disgusting ceremonies are held, in which children are sexually abused by Satanists. Paedophiles are joining such groups because they have found yet another way to get their hands on children whom they know will be too terrified to talk. It is within my knowledge that children who have escaped are under treatment and are still receiving psychiatric care and help from their local priests.

There have been other disturbing reports recently of the desecration of 100-year-old tombs. Bodies have been removed, heads cut off and fingers sliced away. Coffins have appeared at dawn on cemetery roads. In another location, 250 miles away, graves have been dug up. People have been charged under the Burial Act and the truth may never be established, but many local people are convinced that it was the black magic occult.

How can we be sure that our facts are accurate? Having spoken to parents who have alleged that their children have been assaulted, and knowing that police charges have been brought against several accused recently, we must await the court hearings, because of the sub judice rules. Other cases involving over 20 children alone have been brought to my notice and are under investigation. A child's diary confirmed the parents' fears, and interviews with children have been tape recorded.

Librarians have written to advise me that books on black magic and the occult are in great demand. Magazines on witchcraft and black magic are being used for contact advertisements. Videos on black magic are being made in abundance and hire shops report constant requests for such material. Shops selling witchcraft regalia or paraphernalia are springing up. Vicars, priests and preachers have contacted me, expressing support and deep concern. Hundreds of letters arrive each day supporting my efforts, and some provide new information. It is nearly impossible for me to reply to so many, but I intend to try.

In the city of Leeds alone there is to be found the Flashmail order centre of The Sorcerer's Apprentice. Just up the hill there is a large store called Astonishing Books, under the same control. This business is founded on books on witchcraft, black magic, Satanic rituals and other occult practices. On sale are false altar images, such as a Phoenician goddess statuette, a Satan skull ring and many others things.

The growth of this business and other such shops reinforces my warning that we could soon follow the path of the United States of America. Some felt that I had exaggerated the scale of the problem and were very amused when I suggested that witchcraft was nationwide. Since then witches have written from every corner of the United Kingdom to advise and warn me. Only today a rural dean has written to tell me of the distress inflicted on his family and to reinforce my campaign with first-hand experience. Children were sexually and mentally assaulted in that case. In a telephone conversation with his wife today, the harrowing chapter of events was revealed. Those involved have not fully recovered to this day. This week I have received the testimony on tape of a former witch who has turned to Christianity for love and support. Another lady became steeped in clairvoyancy from the age of 10 and has found peace of mind only through turning to Christianity.

The Witchcraft Act 1735 was repealed and replaced by the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951. I shall be interested to learn how many convictions have been brought and have succeeded under that Act over 37 years. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Minister will write to me, because I cannot expect him to provide such information now. The provisions of the 1951 Act would be unlikely to check the spread of witchcraft, Satanism and other worrying occults. The defence would say that reward was not involved. Strictly speaking, it seems to me that the Act is tailored to control spiritualists, clairvoyants and those practising telepathy.

Never again can it be claimed that our Law Officers are unaware of the growing menace. I have now warned Parliament, and that warning is duly recorded in the Official Report of our proceedings. It is my intention in a few weeks' time to hand a dossier to the Home Office, compiled by Childwatch and me. We must then discuss how best to proceed to safeguard children. There will not be an easy answer, but we may learn from discussions with certain American states. It is certain that black witchcraft and Satanism will not go away unless we unite to drive it away.

1.36 am
The Minister of State, Home Office (Mr. John Patten)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Littleborough and Saddleworth (Mr. Dickens) on securing this Adjournment debate. I share, as I am sure does the whole House, a deep concern for the welfare of children. If my hon. Friend has evidence that certain organisations and individuals are indulging in practices that are harmful to children, it is only right that he should bring up the matter. I understand from what he has said that in a few weeks he will forward to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary a dossier compiled by him and by the organisation which is assisting him.

It is a basic tenet of an open society such as ours that a person must be free to hold the beliefs that he or she wishes, as I am sure my hon. Friend agrees, but that principle is certainly modified by a clear requirement that any acts arising from such beliefs must be within the bounds of the criminal law, and I know that I have my hon. Friend's agreement on that point.

If an organisation indulges in practices that are demonstrably harmful to others or incites anyone to do so, that is a serious matter and the Government would treat it seriously. For all of us, freedom means freedom from oppression and brutality and, above all, from physical or mental abuse. In those circumstances, the law can intervene. The law provides protection for individuals, especially for those least able to protect themselves—children. A wide range of offences already exists to deal with every form of ill-treatment and physical and sexual abuse of children. Serious and severe punishments are laid down for those who abuse children in this way.

Tackling the problem of child abuse goes beyond the Home Department's responsibilities. Indeed, it goes beyond the responsibilities of any official body. The law cannot expect to provide protection in a void. We must look to others as well. Parents, schools and all those who have a responsibility for children's welfare must play their part. But we must provide where those responsibilities are not met.

Children at risk can be taken into care or into a place of safety. We are always conscious of the need to do everything that we can to ensure that any cases of child abuse do not slip through the net, including the cases to which my hon. Friend alluded. One of the steps that we are taking is to encourage the police to work with the social services in the investigation of such cases.

I agree with my hon. Friend that it is important that parents and schools should introduce children at an early age to the rich tradition of religious experience and also warn them clearly and explicitly against the perversion of religious and personal beliefs by witchcraft and other cults.

No aspect of criminal law is set and immovable. It must be monitored regularly, and we must ensure that it does what it sets out to do. In the case of these offences, such reviews are particularly important. We must be alert to the need to amend and strengthen the law, if necessary, and we have been doing just that. The Criminal Law Revision Committee was asked to consider the law on assaults and sexual offences. It concluded that there were significant gaps in the protection afforded to children by the criminal law. I share that general view, but that is not to say that important changes cannot and should not be made.

For example, the Sexual Offences Act 1985 increased the maximum penalty for indecent assault on a young girl from five years' to 10 years' imprisonment. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 makes a husband or wife a compellable witness where the spouse is accused of a sexual or violent offence against a child under 16. The Criminal Justice Bill, a most important measure currently before the House, proposes a number of important reforms. As my hon. Friend knows—I have his support on this—a particularly significant reform is that it will be an offence to possess photographs, films or videos of an indecent nature involving children.

The law comes down hard on those people who abuse children where convictions can he secured. We are constantly monitoring and strengthening the criminal law. Abuse undoubtedly occurs in the course of certain practices. When such practices and abuse are reported to the police and convictions are secured, there are severe penalties for those who have been found guilty.

Any evidence of the practices described by my hon. Friend must, first and foremost, he taken up with the police and any dossier, such as that promised by my hon. Friend, should be presented to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary.

I should like to deal briefly with two other matters. The first relates to my hon. Friend's request for the number of people convicted under the Fraudulent Mediums Act 1951. He is right in his supposition that I am not able to provide those figures tonight. I do not have quite the fingertip control of the statistics that I should have, but I shall look into the issue and, if possible, provide the information that he wants.

The second matter concerns my hon. Friend's point about the disgusting and appalling desecration of graves and coffins. I shall consider the issue of improper rituals on sacred ground. The desecration of graves and such activities are distasteful to everyone, particularly the relatives of those whose coffins have been interfered with. The law exists to deal with such acts. Grave robbing is an offence against the common law. There are various enactments which cover riotous or violent behaviour in places of worship, churchyards and burial grounds. The 1977 order that applies to local authority cemeteries prohibits any disturbance or nuisance in a cemetery or interference with graves, vaults or tombstones. Even quite minor damage to a tombstone can be caught under the Criminal Damage Act 1971. Those who commit such acts can be properly punished if they are caught, and I share my hon. Friend's desire that that should be the position.

I hope that I have made it clear that the Government are keenly aware of the need to consider amendments to the law, if it appears necessary to do so, to give children full and effective protection beyond that which already exists. If my hon. Friend has material that he believes shows that such amendment is necessary, we shall consider it extremely carefully.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Two o'clock.