HC Deb 20 October 1949 vol 468 cc747-9
32. Sir Henry Morris-Jones

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department if he is aware that automatic slot machines for the sale of contraceptives are placed outside cinemas in certain areas of Greater London, in Kent and in Surrey; and what steps he is taking to draw local authorities' attention to the urgent need of counteracting the danger to the health of our people contained in this open invitation to juveniles to indulge in indiscriminate sexual intercourse.

38. Mr. Lipson

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what action he is taking to draw the attention of local authorities to the dangers likely to result from the sale of contraceptives from automatic slot machines.

39. Mr. William Teeling

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that automatic slot machines for the sale of contraceptives have been set up in the streets of Brighton; and whether he has communicated with the local authority on the possibility of such machines doing harm to the youth of the borough.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

May I raise one point with you, Mr. Speaker, on a matter of procedure on my Question? This Question was put to the Minister of Health, because the Clerks at the Table informed me a fortnight ago that they found themselves unable to accept a Question of mine on the same matter to the Home Secretary. Now it has been referred by the Minister of Health to the Home Secretary. I do not object to that, because I consider the Home Secretary the proper person to reply to it, but had I been allowed to frame my Question to the Home Secretary it would have been in a form very different from that in which it appears.

Mr. Ede

May I say to the hon. Gentleman that I did not try to evade answering the Question? The moment it reached my office I considered the reply that should be given.

Yes, Sir. I have given the most careful consideration to this question, and I have come to the conclusion that the social mischiefs involved are so serious as to require immediate action. I have accordingly given instructions for a model by-law to be drafted prohibiting the sale of contraceptives by means of automatic machines. This model by-law will be circulated to all county and borough councils for their consideration, and, if adopted, will be subject to confirmation by me.

Sir H. Morris-Jones

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole nation will be relieved at the attitude which he has now adopted on this issue? I am not sure in my own mind without reflection whether he is dealing with it quite on a national basis in a form which he might possibly adopt. I should like to ask him this question. How soon does the right hon. Gentleman anticipate that this procedure will be completed, in view of the fact that the exhibition of these contraceptive machines is extending rapidly all over the United Kingdom at the present time, and is a very grave evil?

Mr. Ede

I shall see that this procedure is carried through with the greatest expedition, and I cannot help but think that the reception given by the House today to this question will be an indication to the people who have been engaged in this particular activity of the state of the public conscience in the matter.

Mr. Eden

While we entirely agree with what the right hon. Gentleman has said—warmly agree—may I ask him this question? I am not quite clear why he will proceed by way of a model by-law and not by legislation. Will not that be optional? Why does the right hon. Gentleman prefer that procedure?

Mr. Ede

It will be noticed that two of the three Questions that I have answered suggest that it is a matter for some local concern. My own view is that we should have to make arrangements for enforcement by some local means, and that, therefore, to secure the active consent and approval of the local authority concerned would probably be a very good way of ensuring that the law will be enforced. I am quite sure the House will agree that we do not want, whether by way of legislation or by by-law, merely to pass some words, and that we want to be quite certain that the by-law or the law will be effective.

Mr. Lipson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that legislation would be preferable, and that he can rely upon all local authorities to see that the law is obeyed? But, in any case, can he tell us when this model by-law will be made public, because in view of the interest aroused in this matter the public should be assured that it is likely to be effective?

Mr. Ede

I will do my best. There are, I may say, some difficulties about drafting, whether it is a law or a by-law, but I can assure the House that, from the moment my attention was drawn to the matter, I have lost no time in trying to do something effective.

Mr. Ronald Chamberlain

Since one of the main purposes of installing these machines was to try them out with a view to marketing them to gain dollars for us, will my right hon. Friend enter into consultation with the President of the Board of Trade or the Minister of Supply to look into the whole matter, because that is equally important?

Mr. Ede

No, Sir. These are not special machines that are manufactured for this purpose only. If a receptacle of the same size is used these machines can be used for other purposes, and a coin of the same weight will work them. There are no special machines for this purpose. What we are proposing to do is to prohibit the sale of contraceptives from the machines.