HL Deb 20 May 1986 vol 475 cc127-30

2.43 p.m.

Lord Rodney

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

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government what steps they are taking to combat the increase in the influence of cults which undermine family life and have an adverse effect on the youth of this country.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Glenarthur)

My Lords, distress and unhappiness are often caused to individuals and families as a result of involvement with certain cults, particularly where young people are concerned; but when cults act within the law there is limited scope for direct government action. Both the Home Office and the Department of Health and Social Security will continue to keep a very careful watch on cult activities and consider any fresh evidence that becomes available.

Lord Rodney

My Lords, I should like to thank my noble friend for that Answer but I have to admit that I do not find it terribly encouraging. As he rightly says, those cults take great care to stay within the law. Is he aware that there are instances reported where some of them indulge in child sex abuse; that some of them use YTS for recruitment and that many of them that have charitable status go well outside the realms of the original terms of their charitable status? I ask him whether he can encourage or persuade his right honourable friend in another place to take a more serious view of those cults.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that my right honourable friend takes a serious view of what I know my noble friend and others think of as a serious matter. We are well aware of public concern about the activities of some of those bodies. If anyone discovers anything or feels that there is anything that could suitably be reported to the police, that may be a sensible way to take the matter forward. But I note my noble friend's concern.

Lord Denning

My Lords, in view of the evil influences of those cults, of which I personally have massive evidence from letters by distressed parents, is it not extremely urgent for the Government to do something, especially in view of the intimation that we have had that the final decision of the courts in regard to the charitable status of the Moonies will not be decided for some years yet? Is it not a possibility that we might require them all to be registered like any professional or trade association and then, if it is shown that they are involved in practices that are harmful to family life, they could be suspended or struck off? Is not a scheme of that kind well available to the Government to put into operation at once?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, so far as the charitable status of the Moonies is concerned, I am afraid that I have nothing to add to the reply of my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor on 28th April. As I understand it, certain of the "new religions" (in inverted commas) are registered as charities, but I note the point that the noble and learned Lord makes about general registration and I shall certainly look into it.

Baroness Seear

My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the noble Lord, Lord Rodney, has any evidence whatsoever of any cult taking advantage of YTS in the way that he mentioned he should report it immediately to the Manpower Services Commission? Nothing could do more harm to YTS than for such activities to develop.

Lord Glenarthur

Yes, my Lords. I agree with the noble Baroness. If anything like that has been known to take place, it should be reported to the authorities straightaway. I think that the difficulty in many of these cases is getting evidence that will stick.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, although I welcome what the Government propose and I support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Denning, in his comment about the courts, I ask the noble Lord whether he agrees that the best and most effective counter to those sinister cults is the work of the established Church and the other Churches in this country. Is it not up to the Church to take a new initiative to deal with that terrible problem?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I think that there is a helpful role that the Church can play. One of the other most effective ways to meet the concerns is to give the greatest possible public exposure to those undesirable activities; and some of them are highly undesirable.

Lord Peyton of Yeovil

My Lords, going back to my noble friend's original Answer, will he remind himself that for many years government departments have been watching things without that having a notable effect on the evil and wicked people who cause a great deal of distress? I hope that he will urge his colleagues to resort to action now.

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I shall pass on my noble friend's view. The difficulty is that the law must retain a balance between the freedom of belief and practice and the need to safeguard from abuse the other basic freedoms of members of society. The difficulty too is that one man's cult may be close to another man's religion.

Baroness Masham of Ilton

My Lords, may I ask the Minister roughly how many young people each year are sucked away from their families by those cults? Is he aware that one of the only ways to get them back seems to be by kidnapping, which can be expensive for their families?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I do not believe that there are statistics on the numbers of children who may be affected. I note the point of view of the noble Baroness.

Earl De La Warr

My Lords, in view of the fact that we suspect that the leaders of those cults come from overseas, will the noble Lord the Minister tell us whether there are many known cases of such people having broken the Immigration Acts?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, there is no evidence that any of them have broken the Immigration Acts, but that is no doubt a matter that is looked at in each case. If my noble friend has any evidence that any of them have, I shall be interested to hear it.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, is it legal for representatives of those cults to seek money on the streets by begging, to keep the cults going? If it is not legal, will he ask his friends in the Home Office whether they will make the police more aware of what is going on and tell them that the public are being asked for money on the streets of this country?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I understand that it is possible for house to house collections to be made. If they are being made for charities, they require a licence under the House to House Collections Act 1939. There is nothing to stop a collection which is not for a charitable purpose taking place.

Lord Elwyn-Jones

My Lords, is sufficient use being made of immigration control?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, in respect of the particular category in which we are interested here, as I understand it, they are allowed n only within the terms of the Acts. As I said to my noble friend, if anyone knows of any case where someone may have got in illegally or outside the Acts and has evidence to support it, they should bring it to the notice of the authorities.

Lord Sandys

My Lords, are Her Majesty's Government aware of and do they appreciate the serious risk that exists for sixth-formers, school-leavers and university students who are liable to be recruited into cults? Is it possible for my noble friend to advise his right honourable friend the Home Secretary that there is an urgent need for the production of a leaflet to warn teachers and parents of that risk?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, that is an interesting suggestion. I said that the Home Office and the DHSS consulted together about it. Of course, the Department of Education and Science is also involved. I shall certainly draw that point to the attention of those concerned.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, following my noble friend's question, does the noble Lord the Minister agree that it is young people, especially intelligent young people, who are being sucked into those cults and that perhaps that is the most worrying aspect of all?

Lord Glenarthur

My Lords, I agree entirely with my noble friend. I hope that if any evidence can be obtained to support some of the allegations that have been made, it will be a way to take matters forward.