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Friday, 27 March 2020

British politics, deference and sexuality - An episode from the 1960s

An exchange from the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse between counsel and the veteran Labour politician Lord (Dick) Taverne.

Q.  Now, I want to ask you about a conversation or a meeting which you attended which Roy Jenkins called.  Present was yourself, and also Sir Joe Simpson.  He was the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police at the time?

A.  Correct.

Q.  ....First of all, who called the meeting?

A.  Roy Jenkins called the meeting, as part of his concern about the reform of the laws about homosexuality, because he was determined to reform the law, and he was concerned about the fact that the police spent quite a lot of time wasting their time, as he saw it, in tracking homosexuals by investigating various so-called cottages.

Q.  Right.  "Cottages" was a term really that was used to describe public lavatories?

A.  Yes, public lavatories frequented particularly by homosexuals....

Q.  Let me ask you, please, about your recollection of what was said....

A.  Well, [Jenkins] said, "I'm concerned about the waste of police time, which is valuable, in visiting these cottages, and I think you ought to discontinue this practice"....  And Simpson said - first of all, he said, "Home Secretary, it is quite unconstitutional for you to tell me, as a policeman, how I should operate.  However, I will certainly look at this", and then he made a surprise remark, which is, "As a matter of fact, there are several cottages in Westminster which we don't investigate", and we asked - or Roy asked why, and he says, "Because it would be embarrassing", and "Why?  Is it because of the fact that they're frequented by MPs?", and, in fact, Joe Simpson said, "Yes, that's the reason".

Q.  So it was Roy Jenkins who asked the question: "Is it because they're frequented by MPs?"

A.  No, he asked the question "Why?", I think, and it was Joe Simpson who said, "Because they are frequented by celebrities and MPs".

Q.  The meeting, therefore, when it was called, so far as Roy Jenkins is concerned, and your understanding of the reasons for the meeting, had nothing to do with this remark which Joe Simpson made, it was to do with the generality of police wasting time and resources attending public lavatories?

A.  That's right.  His reply was a surprise to him and me. We didn't know that was police practice.

Q.  When he came out with the surprising remark, what was Roy Jenkins' reaction to it?

A.  Well, I think surprise, like mine, because he didn't - well, he didn't know about it.

Q.  When you say "didn't know about it", didn't know that the police had, as it were, a special way of dealing or avoiding arresting MPs and the like?

A.  Well, it seemed another - well, it seemed that it was part of a practice which they made rather selective, which, again, seemed rather unjustified.

Q.  ....As a result of that, do you know what happened?  Did they change the policy at all that they seemed to have had?

A.  Yes.  He announced - I wasn't there, but then it was his decision that they should cease the practice.  So he did in fact do what Roy asked him.

Q.  ....Was it still a topic of interest under Jim Callaghan... when he was in the Home Office?

A.  No, I don't think he was very enthusiastic about the change to the law, but nor were most of the Cabinet.  It was something which Roy very much forced through because he was a dominant force in the Cabinet at the time.