MR. Jorgen Thorsen

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 25th October 1976.

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

2.20 a.m.

Photo of Mr Patrick Wall Mr Patrick Wall , Haltemprice

I believe that the whole House will condemn the attempt of a Mr. Thorsen to make a film which he entitles "The Sex Life of Jesus Christ". This film is not only, as he admits, pornographic, but—and this I believe to be far more important—it is blasphemous. That is to say, it will be deeply resented not only by Christians, who believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, but by all decent-minded people who object to objects of veneration to large sections of the community being subject to violent and unprovoked attack.

What, then, is Mr. Thorsen's objective? First, it is money; and second, as an anarchist, it is to undermine the basis of our society by degrading the sacred and by mocking the Established Church.

Support of those of the Jewish faith for their coreligionists persecuted in the Soviet Union is widespread. There has been strong support of the Sikhs in their battle to wear turbans when riding motor cycles. But because Christianity is the established religion of this country, there are some who believe that by attacking Christianity they are attacking the Establishment, and that is always considered fair game. What a row there would be if this film had been about the sex life of Abraham or Moses, Mohammed, Buddha or even Karl Marx.

The Minister will know that I first raised this matter at Question Time way back in July. The script, a copy of which I have with me, is a strange mixture of Bible and blasphemy. It has been condemned publicly by the Prime Minister, by the Deputy Leader of the Opposition—with the support of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition—and by Church leaders of all denominations. I know that the postbags of many hon. Members have been full of letters of protest. In my own constituency I have received many protests, ranging from that of the Beverley Borough Council to that of the South Hunsley High School, adjacent to my home, which was accompanied by a petition, which I would stress was organised by the pupils themselves. Yet we still have not received the assurances that we need.

Let me briefly examine what has happened in other countries. In Denmark the Director of the Danish Film Fund gave a grant of 900,000 kroner for making this film. This caused an uproar among the people, the church and the Press. After a long study it was decided that the film would violate Danish copyright law and the moral copyright of the four Evangelists in that it would distort the character of their work, and the filming was then declared illegal. So much for Denmark.

In Sweden I understand that a special law on film production was passed leading to a close co-operation between the Swedish Film Institute and the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation. Both partners had to support any fictional film production and the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation turned Mr. Thorsen down, so the film was not able to be made in Sweden.

In Italy Mototov cocktails were thrown at the Danish Ambassador's residence in Rome in protest, and the film was turned down. France, Spain and Germany have also refused permission. I ask the Minister, why not Britain?

I understand from a short debate in the other place that the Government maintain that they have no power to control the production of films in this country, but there is power to refuse entry to an EEC national on the grounds of public policy, public security or public health. If they have no power to stop the making of blasphemous films, let them follow the example of the countries that I have named and change the law. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) has already introduced a Private Member's Bill for this purpose, a copy of which I have with me.

I do not believe that the Home Secretary will allow this man in for the purpose of making the film, but one must consider the possibility of his entering for another purpose. He may even sneak in through the open door that exists with the Irish Republic. Why cannot the Minister now declare that Mr. Thorsen will not be allowed into this country, and so settle this controversy before it increases to a dangerous extent?

People have differing views on pornography, and there is no question but that the script is pornographic. The scenes purporting to describe Jesus in a brothel, the homosexuality, the orgies, the violence and the sadism, make this only too clear.

But what is far more serious, I believe, is the blasphemy. I believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Mr. Thorsen makes Him a drunk and a lecher. Mr. Thorsen makes Him allow St. Mary Magdalene to commit unspeakable insults to his person as a man. Mr. Thorsen presents Him as having sexual intercourse with St. John while the disciples are singing, drinking and guzzling.

I wonder what Mr. Thorsen would have said if someone had proposed to make a similar film about the sex life of his own father. Yet he purports to make a film about the Son of the Father of mankind.

In the past the Home Secretary has excluded from this country leaders of a certain cult and also notorious gamblers. Why cannot he undertake to act in a similar manner on this occasion?

What do public policy and public security mean? Must the Home Secretary be assured that a breach of the peace will be committed if this man comes to this country? I can certainly give the Minister that assurance. There will be violence if he comes to this country. There is no doubt whatever about it. The film is a direct attack on all that Christians hold sacred. God's laws come before man's laws, and if man's laws cannot protect the fundamentals of one's faith, one has no other option.

If Mr. Thorsen can now be told that he will not be admitted into this country, that is the end of the matter, and everybody will be delighted. If, however, the Home Secretary waits until he attempts to enter, anger will grow and public disquiet will increase. The hon. Lady will agree with me when I say that public disquiet has already manifested itself throughout the country. Mrs. Whitehouse, to whom I pay tribute for all she has done to expose this evil man, is to start a vigil outside the Home Office today. These demonstrations will spread.

As I have already said, the Minister has a good precedent. Let her end the matter now. Above all, when considering this obnoxious film, let the Minister remember the First Commandment: Honour the Lord thy God. Thou shall not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.

2.28 a.m.

Photo of Bernard Braine Bernard Braine , Essex South East

I am very glad to support my hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) in all he has said. The Minister will know that I first raised this matter with the Home Office nearly four months ago and was shocked to learn that the then Home Secretary had no intention of stopping Thorsen from entering this country, despite the fact that the film is pornographic—those who have seen the script know that it is filthy and obscene beyond belief—despite the certainty that it will give grave offence to millions of our own people, as it has done on the Continent, despite the fact that it may give rise to disorder, as it did in Rome, and despite the fact that if such a film is made and exhibited here it will offend against our own laws of blasphemy.

I protested vigorously, as the hon. Lady knows, and was supported by thousands of people up and down the country, Christian and non-Christian, young and old. In my 26 years in this place I have never known such a volume of protest from the usually silent majority.

The well-known permissiveness of the former Home Secretary was a virtual invitation to Thorsen to come to this country to do what he had been unable to do elsewhere in Europe. The hon. Lady will know that at that juncture I appealed to the Prime Minister over the head of her Department. To his eternal credit, the right hon. Gentleman replied to me on 4th September saying that Thorsen would be a most unwelcome and undesirable visitor to this country. One would have thought that that would have been the end of the matter. But, for weeks after, Home Office officials were sending out letters to protesters which evaded the issue and were even misleading.

In August, I had managed to wring out of the Minister of State the admission that no EEC national had a prescriptive right to enter this country. It was admitted that such a person could be excluded on grounds of public order, public safety or public health. Protesters are still being told that it would be possible to exclude Thorsen on grounds of public order should he present himself at a British port, but that the Home Secretary will not make a formal decision until such a need arises.

What is the authority for the term "public order"? It does not appear in the Treaty of Rome. The term used there is "public policy", which is much wider in its implications. It does not appear in our own immigration rules. The words used there to justify exclusion are where this is conducive to the public good. That is even wider, and quite sufficient to stop an unwelcome and undesirable visitor from entering.

It is perfectly true that if Thorsen entered this country there might well be a threat to public order, because vast numbers of people are outraged and very angry at the thought. But if the Prime Minister, in his wisdom, thinks that the man is an undesirable, and if his purpose, which he has announced in advance of coming here, is to break our law, why cannot the Home Secretary say quite firmly that this man will not be allowed in? Home Secretaries are quick enough to deport unwanted immigrant children. Why are they so tender about a pornographer who seeks to make money out of filth and lies and who cares nothing for the distress that he causes to all who find solace and inspiration in the example set by Jesus Christ?

The Home Secretary should summon up a little courage. There is a precedent in the case of Yvonne van Duyn, who was very properly refused entry into this country as an undesirable and whose exclusion was upheld by the Court of Justice of the European Community. Any nation has the right to keep out undesirables and to do so openly. Why not in this case? I hope that the hon. Lady can tell us.

Photo of Mr Tam Dalyell Mr Tam Dalyell , West Lothian

The hon. Gentleman may be interested to know that I have had more letters on this subject—and understandably so—than on any other since I became a Member of Parliament. I welcome this. I think that it is extremely undesirable that such a man should be admitted.

2.33 a.m.

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

I understand fully and sympathise with the motives of the hon. Member for Haltemprice (Mr. Wall) in raising this matter and of the other hon. Members who have contributed to this brief debate.

As the hon. Member for Haltemprice said, Mr. Thorsen and his plans for a film on the life of Jesus Christ have led to an outcry which cannot often have been paralleled. My right hon. Friend and I have received several thousand letters and petitions of protest; indeed, my Department has probably received more correspondence on this issue than any other for several years. The strength of public feeling on the question is therefore very clear. Nevertheless, we have always to bear in mind that any action that we can contemplate must be within the law, and I hope to make clear the constraints imposed by the laws within which we must work, however repugnant we may find Mr. Thorsen's project.

A preliminary matter to bear in mind is that Mr. Thorsen has neither applied for permission to come nor, to our knowledge, made any firm arrangements to do so.

There are two suggestions for dealing with Mr. Thorsen. The first is that he should be prevented from entering the country. The second is that, if he does enter, he should be prevented from making the film here. I should like to deal with these suggestions separately.

As to Mr. Thorsen's entry into this country, it has to be borne in mind, first, that he is a national of an EEC member State. This means that in the normal way he would be free to come here to work, to look for work, or to set up in business. If he is admitted, no restrictions can be placed on activities of this kind. Nationals of EEC countries are normally admitted into the United Kingdom with the minimum of formality at the port, and most of them are not questioned about their reasons for coming here.

Although the grounds on which a national of an EEC member State may be refused entry are slightly more restricted than those applying to other foreigners, nationals of EEC States are still subject to the provisions of the Immigration Act 1971 and the immigration rules made under it. They may therefore, subject to our treaty obligations, be refused leave to enter the country within those provisions.

What does the Treaty of Rome allow? Article 48, which deals with the free movement of labour, says that the right to move within the Community for this purpose is subject to limitations justified on grounds of public policy, public security or public health The exercise of these limitations is the subject of a directive issued in 1964, under which measures taken on grounds of public policy or public security must be based exclusively on the personal conduct of the individual concerned.

In other words, an EEC national, even if he is seeking to come here to work, may be excluded on public policy grounds if his personal conduct justifies it—always provided that there are appropriate powers of exclusion in our domestic law. And, of course, there are. The immigration rules do not themselves use the phrase "public policy" but they provide that a person who requires leave to enter this country, as does Mr. Thorsen, may be refused it on the grounds that his exclusion is conducive to the public good. The relevant rule is Rule 65 of the Rules for Control on Entry of EEC and other non-Commonwealth Nationals: HC 81.

It is one thing to have powers of exclusion. Whether there are grounds for exercising those powers in a particular case is a different issue. The burden of many of the representations that are being made to my right hon. Friend is that he should decide now—and say now—that Mr. Thorsen will not be admitted to this country. My right hon. Friend has made it clear that he is not disposed to do that. In the first place, there is really no definite evidence that Mr Thorsen will seek to come here. He has been talking about making this offensive film since as long ago as 1970, and he has stated his intention to make it here. Everything that we know about him suggests that he thrives on publicity, and he is certainly getting plenty of it from the great amount of attention that is being paid in this country to his ideas. I am not at all sure that it would be sensible, even if there were not other objections, to give Mr. Thorsen additional publicity by solemnly banning him—and perhaps providing an incentive to try to prove his point by seeking to come here when he might otherwise not have done so. Indeed, he has not tried to do so up to now.

But this apart, I remind the hon. Member that the admission of a would-be immigrant, however distasteful he may be, is a matter in which my right hon. Friend and the Home Office have to be seen to act fairly, with discretion and, indeed, quasi-judicially. It is the more important that my right hon. Friend should do so when a refusal of entry may become the subject of an appeal or even of proceedings in the European Court or before the European Commission of Human Rights. What my right hon. Friend is being asked to do is to say that in what is now a hypothetical situation—Mr. Thorsen's arrival at a port—we shall refuse him entry whenever he comes.

My right hon. Friend has said that he does not consider it right to act in that way. He has not, let me make it crystal clear, said that Thorsen will not be denied admission. All that he has said—and surely the hon. Member will accept that it is a perfectly sensible thing to say—is that a decision, if one has to be reached, will be reached in the light of all the facts and circumstances as they appear at the time.

Photo of Andrew Welsh Andrew Welsh , Angus South

How does this attitude compare with that of those countries which have definitely refused permission for such a film ever to be made?

Photo of Dr Shirley Summerskill Dr Shirley Summerskill , Halifax

I am coming to that. I think I have anticipated most of the points that will be raised.

The great weight of the opinion expressed about Mr. Thorsen's activities, and the substantial risk that if he were to come, at any rate in the immediately foreseeable future, his presence and conduct might be damaging to public order, will weigh very heavily in the scales.

A watch is being kept for the arrival of Mr. Thorsen, and my right hon. Friend has arranged for it to be reported to him by the Immigration Service.

A number of people, including hon. Members, have suggested that Mr. Thorsen has been prevented from making his film in other European countries. The implication is that he has been refused admission to enter them. From inquiries that we have made this does not appear to be the case. As far as we know, he has not been formally refused entry to any other European country, but he has been refused financial support from public funds to assist him in making a film. This certainly happened in both Denmark and Sweden. I should emphasise that it is hardly likely that Mr. Thorsen can be expecting to obtain such financial assistance in the United Kingdom.

I now turn to the question of the power to prevent Mr. Thorsen making his film and the allied question of censorship. Neither my right hon. Friend nor anyone else has powers to control the making of films in this country, whether to prevent production or to interfere with the content of films while they are being made. There is nothing to stop anyone making a film in the privacy of his own home, for example. However, if, in the making or showing of the film, criminal offences should be involved, it would be for the prosecuting authorities to decide what action should be taken.

Blasphemy has been mentioned. There is an offence of blasphemy at common law. Although the Home Secretary has no responsibility for the institution of proceedings in particular cases, I have no doubt that the prosecuting authorities would look carefully into any alleged offence at the relevant time.

Whether a film is made in this country or elsewhere it can be publicly shown here only with the approval of the film censorship authorities. The Government play no part in censorship matters. The final decision on the showing of any film rests with the local cinema licensing authority—in London the Greater London Council and elsewhere the district councils. Although these authorities are normally guided by the advice of the unofficial British Board of Film Censors, they will commonly insist upon seeing films of a particularly controversial nature which they can consider in the light of their knowledge of local opinions and feelings. The question whether a particular film should be allowed to be shown publicly can, of course, be considered only when the completed film is submitted for censorship. I believe that Mr. Thorsen said at one stage that even if the film were made here he did not expect it to be allowed to be shown in this country.

I have seen it argued that because of the agitation that Mr. Thorsen and his film have caused and the publicity that he has received it is now more likely that he will get the financial support he is seeking to make his film. I can only say that I sincerely hope that this will not prove to be so and that the outcry has not helped him in any way. I hope, indeed, that he will recognise the strength of public feeling that has been expressed here and not outrage it further by trying to come here and make his film. As I have said, if he does so we shall decide what to do on the facts then before us. I can assure the House that the views that hon. Members have expressed in this debate and those in the very many letters sent to the Home Office will be borne fully in mind.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at fifteen minutes to Three o'clock a.m.