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Home Department

Volume 529: debated on Thursday 8 July 1954

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Committee On Homosexuality (Terms Of Reference)


asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is now in a position to announce the membership and terms of reference of the committee which is to inquire into the existing laws relating to homosexual offences and prostitution.

The terms of reference of the committee are to be:

"To consider—
  • (a) the law and practice relating to homosexual offences and the treatment of persons convicted of such offences by the courts; and
  • (b) the law and practice relating to offences against the criminal law in connection with prostitution and solicitation for immoral purposes;
  • and to report what changes, if any, are in their opinion desirable."
    I am glad to be able to inform the House that Mr. J. F. Wolfenden, C.B.E., Vice-Chancellor of Reading University, has agreed to serve as chairman. I hope shortly to be in a position to announce the names of the other members of the committee.

    While thanking my right hon. and learned Friend far that answer, may I ask whether he will be able to announce the other names before the House rises for the Summer Recess?

    Obscene Publications


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will refuse the request of certain organisations of book sellers that he supply them with a list of books and periodicals which have been held by the courts to be obscene, since the circulation of such a list would greatly assist persons seeking obscene literature.


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, Booksellers and Stationers is anxious to prevent the sale of obscene books and if he will consider giving this organisation the list of such books which is in the possession of his Department, so that local agents could be informed by the national organisation, and the flow of such books be curtailed.

    I have no power to declare a publication obscene. There exists a list of books condemned by the courts in recent years, but the publication of it would be misleading apart from the mischief to which the hon. Member for Lincoln (Mr. de Freitas) calls attention and I am satisfied that it would not be in the public interest to make it public.

    Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that I certainly did not ask whether he had any power to declare a book obscene, which was the suggestion made in the Question of my hon. Friend the Member for Wallsend (Mr. McKay)? I referred to decisions in the courts.

    Is the Minister aware that magistrates are coming to different decisions on the same book, and would it not be better to decide whether a book is obscene before it leaves the publisher rather than leave the question in the hands of the magistrates?

    I know how much the hon. Gentleman feels about this, but, with respect, I disagree. His first suggestion would lead to the establishment of a centralised censorship and his second would take away from the regional magistrates the right of expression of their views. Both of these I consider to be important points.

    Is it not a fact that many books which, if brought before the courts a few years ago, would have resulted in a conviction, are now published and read by the public at large?

    Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman indicate what general standards, if any, prevail among people responsible for dealing with these books? What standards are current in the determination of obscenity or non-obscenity?

    That is a question which would require a careful statement, and I should like the hon. Member to put it on the Order Paper.

    Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider circulating to clerks to magistrates the recent remarks of Mr. Justice Stable?


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will appoint a committee to inquire into the working of the law relating to obscene publications.

    No, Sir. I am not satisfied that the appointment of a committee would serve any useful purpose.

    Would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman agree that the present state of the law, under which respectable publishers go in grave peril, is almost universally condemned by those who are interested in the development of English literature, and that the time has arrived for an inquiry into this matter?

    As I have indicated, I do not agree, but I should be very grateful if the hon. Member would submit some of his considerations. I should willingly consider them.

    Dr Joseph Cort (United Kingdom Residence)


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what considerations led him to delay by one month Dr. Joseph Cort's departure from Britain; and on what date and at what hour this extended permit will expire.

    Dr. Cort asked on 24th June far an extension of one month in order to enable him to complete his personal arrangements before leaving the country. He had been told as long ago as 24th March last that I was not prepared to grant a further extension of his stay in the United Kingdom, but it was suggested to me that his arrangements for leaving had not been completed, pending the consideration which I had been asked to give to representations made more recently on his behalf, and, in the circumstances, I agreed that his stay should be extended for a further month for the purpose stated, on the understanding that no further extension could be expected.

    Dr. Cort's permitted stay will expire at midnight on 30th July.

    While thanking my right hon. and learned Friend for making it public, may I ask whether he will now ensure that this alien leaves the United Kingdom on that date?

    Has the Home Secretary noticed that the university at which Dr. Cort has worked with such distinction has given him three months' salary? Does he not regard that as a very fine proof of confidence in the work and character of this man?


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if, before the expiration of Dr. Cort's permit to stay in this country, he will, in conjunction with the authorities of the United States of America, take steps to ascertain whether, on medical grounds, Dr. Cort would be liable for service with United States forces.

    Is not this really the acid test of the bona fides of Dr. Cort? Does not the Home Secretary really want to find a method of extricating himself from an unworthy position?

    On the general point, I really do not think that I can add to what I have said.


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether, in reaching his decision not to grant political asylum to Dr. Cort, he took into account the victimisation of Dr. Cort's student friends, following upon their interrogation by the congressional investigating committee.

    I took fully into account the statements which Dr. Cort had made about his friends who had appeared before a Congressional Committee, but I could find nothing in these statements which would justify the conclusion that Dr. Cort's circumstances qualified him for political asylum.

    Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that three of Dr. Cort's friends who were with him at Yale University in the Communist Party were dismissed from their posts following Congressional hearings, and that Dr. Cort had withdrawn four offers of assistant professorships in famous universities after his name was mentioned and two other of his colleagues were inducted into the Army and instantly court-martialled for semi-political offences?

    As to the first two points, I was aware of them and I have had put to me a description of the third point. I have only qualified it because I am not sure that it was in exactly the same form as the hon. Member put it. I took those points into account.

    Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say why he has refused to see a deputation on this subject from the members of the trade union to which Dr. Cort belongs, led by my hon. Friend the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (Mr. Skeffington), who is a member of that union?

    I saw three deputations. I do not think a further one could have added anything more.


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many other cases there are on record, other than the case of Dr. Cort, of the United States Embassy having advised his Department of the risk of an American citizen losing his citizenship while a resident in Britain; and if he will give details.

    There is no record of any such case. The United States authorities do not advise my Department of cases in which a United States citizen here may lose his citizenship, and did not do so in the case of Dr. Cort until a specific inquiry on the point had been addressed to them.

    Has not the right hon. and learned Gentleman admitted that this is a complete precedent and that it would be a very dangerous thing if the action of a foreign Government, by the operation of their own laws, were able to get the administrative extradition of one of their own nationals living in this country whom they could not get under the normal extradition convention?

    It was not a precedent. It would have been a precedent to have acted the other way. This does not amount to administrative extradition. As I have pointed out more than once, Dr. Cort can go to any country he wishes and need not return to the United States.

    Does the precedent the right hon. and learned Gentleman has quoted refer to such persons as Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians, whose passports are invalid since their States have ceased to exist?


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what reply his Department made to the request of Mrs. Cort to be allowed to stay in this country.

    Mrs. Cort has been informed that no objection will be raised to her staying in the United Kingdom until the end of this month, and that if she wishes to remain here longer she should apply setting out fully the reasons for which an extension is desired.

    Is not the distressing position of Mrs. Cort just an example of the human issues involved in granting political asylum? As this is not a political but a human question, will the right hon. and learned Gentleman consider the whole issue?

    I cannot reconsider the whole issue, but I shall be willing to look into this part of it, as I have said.


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department on what date it first became known to the Home Office that Dr. Joseph Cort had been interviewed by the British police, at the request of the American authorities, and had refused to make a statement; when, and where, this interview took place; when it became known to the Home Office that a second interview had taken place and that a full statement had been made by Dr. Cort; when, and where, this interview took place; and when a full copy of that statement was first received at the Home Office.

    A report from the Chief Constable of Birmingham dated 16th December, 1953, was received by the Home Office on 18th December. This covered two interviews with Dr. Cart at the Birmingham Police Headquarters, the first on 10th December and the second on 15th December, and enclosed a copy of a statement made by Dr. Cort on the second occasion.

    In those circumstances, is it not very deplorable that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should have stated, in answer to a Written Question on 24th June:

    "In December, 1953, it became known to the Home Office that Dr. Cort…had refused to make a statement."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 24th June, 1954; Vol. 529, c. 49.]
    Is not that statement so near to a complete falsehood as to be utterly indistinguishable from it?

    I do not agree with the hon. Member, and I am sorry that he should take that view. When Dr. Cort saw the Birmingham police for the second time he said he denied as nonsense the allegation, which he said was implicit in the communication made to him by the Birmingham police, that he did not wish to make a more detailed statement to the American authorities through the British police and that he was ready at any time to give the Home Office any information it might desire for its own use.

    It is clear that this was a refusal to answer the questions addressed to him by the American authorities, and in that way he was putting himself in the position of refusing to comply with the requirements of the United States Selective Service Act. It has, therefore, been his conduct which has created this position.

    Would it not have been fairer and have given the House full information if, after the line in the Written Answer which said that Dr. Cort

    "had refused to make a statement"
    the right hon. and learned Gentleman had subsequently added, "he did make a statement which is in my possession"?

    If the right hon. Member takes that view, it is, of course, worthy of consideration, but I thought that my answer to the Question dealt with the whole situation. After that, I had several opportunities, of which I availed myself, of hearing the fullest accounts of what had happened, and I did so.

    Is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that the education authorities of this country have allowed Mrs. Cort to obtain a British medical qualification here, and has not that served to allay some of the suspicions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman in this matter?

    I have said this afternoon that the position of Mrs. Cort is quite different because, so far as I know, there is no question of there being any danger of her losing her nationality or returnability and I am quite prepared to consider her position.


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why he never communicated with Dr. Joseph Cort to obtain a statement from him about his relations with the United States authorities before deciding not to renew his permit to remain in Britain; and why no action was taken on this after Dr. Cort, in a signed statement to the Birmingham criminal investigation department, had expressed his readiness to do so.

    The answer to the first part of the Question is that there was no reason to suppose that any statement by Dr. Cort on the subject could affect the decision.

    In his statement to the Birmingham police Dr. Cort offered to supply information to the Home Office for its own use, but since the Home Office was not involved in the procedure by which inquiries were made of Dr. Cort on behalf of the American authorities it did not require any statement from him.

    In view of the fact that Dr. Cort, although being, in effect, extradited, is denied any sort of hearing in this country, would not the right hon. and learned Gentleman have thought it a little fairer, before exercising his undoubted discretion, to have consulted Dr. Cort, either personally or by correspondence, about his side of the case?

    I must protest against the use of the word "extradited." After all, Dr. Cort issued a long statement of his own and representatives of Dr. Cort put all the points that could be made for him, and I considered them very carefully.

    While congratulating my right hon. and learned Friend on his handling of this matter, may I ask him whether he would not confirm that the opinions expressed in the House on the case of Dr. Cort, taken in conjunction with the close association of this country and the United States, and the wide reporting in that country of our Parliamentary proceedings, constitute the best and fairest assurance we can give that if Dr. Cort does return to the United States he will be justly and fairly treated?

    Does not the Home Secretary now appreciate that by his unfortunate decision he has delivered a shattering blow at this country's tradition of political asylum and his own reputation for fair dealing? Will he not now take this last opportunity of reconsidering his decision?

    Political Asylum


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many citizens of the United States of America have asked for political asylum in this country in recent years.


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department the number of persons to whom this country has granted political asylum since November, 1951.

    The circumstances of individual cases in which political considerations are brought forward in support of applications to enter or remain in the United Kingdom vary so widely that no separate record of the disposal of such cases is kept. I am accordingly unable to supply the figures for which the hon. Members ask.

    Although he cannot give the figures, would not the Home Secretary agree that political asylum has been granted consistently since the war and under his own Ministry, and that that shows he believes in political asylum? Why does he continue to refuse it to a man whose only troubles lie in the fact that he was once a Communist?

    I explained at considerable length to the House last week, first, that political asylum Still exists and is operated in exactly the same way as it has always been, and, secondly, that in my opinion the gentleman in question does not come within the rules of political asylum.

    Has the Home Secretary not seen the letter that has arrived in this country from Dr. Brown, of the Harvard Medical School, which proves conclusively that Dr. Cort is being sent back to be persecuted and that his life will not be worth living if he goes back? Does the Home Secretary not agree that all the facts prove that this man has every justification for claiming political asylum in this country? Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman not consider the case again?

    That is the letter that is in the "Daily Worker." [HON. MEMBERS "No."] I think it is the same one. I am just identifying the letter. If the letter is relevant I shall consider it.

    For our information, can my right hon. and learned Friend say whether political asylum has ever been sought by or granted to a person who came from a country with a free and democratically elected Parliament?

    I think that that would mean two things: first, going through the files of the Home Office for roughly 100 years and, second, deciding what constituted a freely elected Parliament.

    Does the right hon. and learned Gentleman realise that the writer of that letter, Dr. Brown, is a very eminent scientist? Would he not look into the letter and then make inquiries to ascertain whether the facts stated by Dr. Brown are accurate or not? If they are, would he then consider whether he should change his mind?

    I indicated time and again last week the problem which I consider to be the nub of this matter. I have considered all the points that have been raised and it would not be honest if I said that there was any hope of my altering my decision.

    For the purpose of information, can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether the United States authorities have made a request to Her Majesty's Government for the return of Dr. Cort to the United States?

    Oh, no. I dealt with that last week and I made it clear that there has been no request.

    If that is so, and there seems to be some doubt about this matter, would not the Home Secretary give Dr. Cort the benefit of the doubt?

    The right hon. Gentleman has not got the point, which we discussed rather a lot.

    The position is that the reason that I did not allow Dr. Cort to stay was that his refusal to answer the demands to appear before the United States' Selective Service authorities made him liable to lose his citizenship. If someone is liable to lose his citizenship and, therefore, to become unreturnable he is not kept here.


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what precedents there are for not extending an alien's permit because his home Government has threatened to make him Stateless.

    As I explained in reply to the Question asked by the hon. Member for Erdington (Mr. J. Silverman) on 1st July last, it is the normal practice to require aliens who apply for an extension of their permission to remain in the United Kingdom to produce evidence that they have return facilities to another country. Whenever it appears that there is a risk of such applicants losing their citizenship or re-entry facilities permission to remain is refused.

    Would not the Home Secretary agree that the real precedent of the case of Dr. Cort—and one which has been set by him—is that, for the first time in the history of this country, the right hon. and learned Gentleman has allowed his decision as to whether or not a permit shall be extended to be determined by what a body outside this country may do in a future unspecified circumstance? Has he not now surrendered his own authority over whether or not to extend permits to aliens here to an outside body?

    I have not made that precedent. I have acted on the basis, which I believe is accurate and right, that if the person in question takes action which may result in jeopardising his returnability, he cannot stay here.

    Would the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether that criticism applies equally to the case of a visitor from behind the Iron Curtain, who is then threatened with losing his status in his home country and ceasing to be returnable there if he claimed political asylum?

    There are two questions and I hope that the House will keep them clear. There is returnability, which I have explained; I have also explained that returnability is subject to the qualification of the person being able to make out a case for political asylum. In my opinion, Dr. Cort did not make out such a case.

    Mentally Defective Prisoner, North London (Treatment)


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that a 19-yearold man was sent to prison for three months by the North London magistrate on 5th June last, because no place was available in a hospital for mental defectives: and whether he will take steps to suspend the sentence and arrange for suitable hospital treatment.

    This man has been certified as a mental defective since his conviction and I shall be ready to make an Order under Section 9 of the Mental Deficiency Act, 1913, for his transfer to an appropriate institution if a vacancy can be found before his sentence expires. I understand, however, that all the mental deficiency hospitals in the region have long waiting lists and it may prove impossible to find a vacancy.

    In that event, I should not feel justified in recommending any interference with the sentence imposed by the magistrate in full knowledge of all the circumstances of the case.

    Is it not quite monstrous that a mental defective should have to be sent to prison solely because the magistrate said that the hospital services seem to have broken down completely? Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that we are civilised while such a case exists?

    The hon. and gallant Member must ask my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health about the shortage of accommodation for mental defectives, but I must point out in fairness that the magistrate said:

    "There seems to be but one thing I can do to protect the public, and that is to send you to prison for three months."
    In view of that, it would be very difficult for me to let the man out.

    Foreign Nationals (Temporary Labour Permits)


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many applications have been received by the Home Office in the last 12 months, to the most recent convenient date, for the cancellation or non-renewal of temporary labour permits of foreign nationals on the ground that they have not complied with the military service laws of the countries concerned; from what countries these applications have been received; and in what cases, and in respect of what countries, action has been taken by the Home Office in accordance with such requests.

    Football Pools (Prosecutions)


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many prosecutions have been undertaken against promoters of football pools run for the benefit of local charities and sports clubs since 1951.

    I am advised that the conduct of a football pool by a club or charitable organisation is not in itself unlawful, but, if the competition is so conducted that it is a lottery, offences against the law relating to lotteries may occur. Information as to the number of prosecutions for such offences since 1951 is not available.

    Betting And Lotteries Legislation


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he will take an early opportunity of codifying the existing betting and lotteries legislation.

    The Government have been considering the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Betting, Lotteries and Gaming, some of which have been implemented in the Pool Betting Act. I cannot, in anticipation of the Queen's Speech, make any statement about the possibility of further legislation on this subject.

    Dr Strasser (Entry Permit)


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department why Dr. Otto Strasser was refused permission to visit Britain in the spring of 1954.

    I considered that it would not be in the public interest to allow Dr. Strasser to come to the United Kingdom.

    Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman in no circumstances yield to any pressure coming from Fascist or Fascist fellow-travelling sources to admit this sinister character into this country?

    Did the right hon. and learned Gentleman observe that his hon. and gallant Friend who asked this Question, and who has apparently some solicitude for Dr. Strasser, referred just now to Dr. Cort as an alien who ought not to be allowed to remain here?

    Is my right hon. and learned Friend aware that Hitler put a sum of 1 million marks on Dr. Strasser's head, dead or alive?

    I was not aware of the actual number of marks, but I knew that he was on the black list.

    Palace Of Westminster (Queen's Coroner)


    asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he will state the name of the present holder of the office of Queen's Coroner for the Palace of Westminster.

    I understand that an inquest on a body lying within the Palace of Westminster would be held by the Coroner of the Queen's Household, Lieut.-Colonel W, H. L. McCarthy, D.S.O., M.C.