HL Deb 05 May 1975 vol 360 cc91-3

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they propose to control the activities of individuals and organisations who profess to practise exorcism on patients suffering from mental disorder.


My Lords, Her Majesty's Government are not aware of any evidence that exorcism is being practised to any extent or on an increasing scale on patients suffering from mental disorder. If such evidence were to be forthcoming, we would consider what action needed to be taken.


My Lords, can my noble friend tell me how many cases the Government have to hear about before a patient is given the necessary protection?


Obviously, my Lords, there is no stated number. Like your Lordships, the Government are very concerned at what has appeared in the Press lately in respect of a particular case of exorcism and are very much exercised in their minds—




I think the noble and learned Lord would agree that I said "exercised"—exercised in their minds as to what is happening. This is a matter which is causing grave concern both in the medical profession and, I understand, in the Churches of all denominations. We hope that they will be able to take some initiative in getting together on this matter.

Baroness BACON

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in my part of Yorkshire there is a great deal of concern about this matter and a feeling that foolish people are dabbling in things they know nothing about? Is he further aware that, if he watched a television programme a week ago last night, he would have heard it stated by people in the Church that many exorcisms were taking place, and that a vicar in my vicinity described what had happened at Gawber as just a "one-off "? Will my noble friend not agree that a "one-off" is one too many and we do not want any more of these cases?


My Lords, I saw the programme to which my noble friend referred. I am aware of what she has said. All I can say is that this matter is causing some concern in the various religious bodies, and, judging from a statement made fairly recently by the most reverend Primate of All England, it seems as if the Church will themselves be doing something in this matter.


My Lords, while I suppose that everybody would agree with the undesirability of unqualified persons meddling with the psychology of mentally disordered people—whether in the name of religion or of anybody else—how could this suggestion be policed? How can one define exorcism? How does one find out when it is taking place if it is being done in private? How is a mentally disordered person defined, unless by certificate? And is it not precisely those who have latent mental disorder about whom the dangers are most acute?


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord. Members of your Lordships' House will remember that there was difficulty some two or three years ago in defining another matter perhaps not far removed from this one. The Department of Health and Social Security is undertaking—and this was decided some time ago—an inquiry into the whole question of psychotherapy. But, as I say, we would welcome the help of both the Church and the medical profession in this matter.


My Lords, is it not very worrying that high dignitaries of the Church not only accept exorcism and possession by devils as a fact, but also accept it as a therapy?


My Lords, does the noble Lord not agree that throughout the ages the Church, of whatever discipline, has treated this area with the very greatest caution; and that we may be now bedevilled—and I use the term advisedly after the noble Baroness has put her Question—by ignorant handling of this delicate subject by the media, who do not begin to understand what they are talking about?


My Lords, I am grateful for what the noble Earl has said. I am also grateful to my noble friend who has raised this matter. This is a serious question and obviously a good deal of careful thought must be given to it.

The Lord Bishop of SOUTHWARK

My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government aware that, while there are fanatics in every society, Church, and even political Party, the great majority are not fanatics, and this work has been going on in a very quiet way in the closest co-operation, as a rule, with the medical profession? Are they aware that, in most instances, what is called "exorcism" is a time of quiet and of peace when people who feel or believe themselves to be disturbed are asked to open themselves up in quietness and in peace to the spirit of love, kindliness and compassion? That kind of exorcism is, I think, an exorcism which might benefit many people, perhaps all of us, including the noble Baroness herself.


My Lords—


My Lords, with the right reverend Prelate's contribution to the discussion, I wonder whether we ought not to proceed to the next business.

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