HC Deb 27 March 1953 vol 513 cc978-1004

Order for Second Reading read.

11.40 a.m.

Mr. S. P. Viant (Willesden, West)

I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."

This is a small Bill, but it is a Bill in which I cannot say I take a great deal of joy, because I deprecate the necessity for having to introduce it. However, I think most of us who, from time to time, have our attention drawn by the Press to what is taking place in the country must feel somewhat perturbed by the type of toys which are being offered to juveniles. To say that they are toys would be untrue of some of them. Some are exceedingly dangerous. I feel sure that in producing these toys the manufacturers have overlooked the danger that could arise from their use, and I believe that the publication of this Bill has already had a deterrent effect upon the manufacture of these toys.

We must remember that the juveniles in our midst are most keen actors. They at all times desire to copy and emulate what has been done by adults. That is the natural psychological effect of the acts of each and all of us upon juveniles. They go to the cinema and see some exceedingly thrilling films, and they desire to emulate what they see there. Unfortunately, they can obtain from shops toys which are more akin to lethal weapons. I wish to stamp out the manufacture of that kind of toy, and when this is brought to the notice of the majority of our citizens I believe they will be in agreement with my desire.

The introduction of this Bill may not be the best way to achieve what I want, but by introducing it I hope to find out the best way. If there is a better way than the passing of this Bill, my supporters and myself will be quite prepared to consider whatever proposals are made.

I shall be asked to produce some evidence of the effect of the sale of these weapons. I have here, taken from the "Western Mail and South Wales News" for 11th February, the evidence of the chief constable of Merthyr Tydvil, Mr. Thomas. In his annual report he offers severe criticism on the sale to young children of rubber truncheons, rubber hammers and daggers of distinctly lethal qualities. Mr. Thomas is reported as saying: I must comment upon the sale of such articles against the background of two incidents or groups of incidents. In 1951 a dagger was used at Merthyr which caused death and the instrument was bought locally. The other matter concerns two groups of children between the ages of seven and 11 who robbed other children. In the case of one group a knife was used to threaten the victim. These incidents are the best reason why it should not be possible for young children to buy what may be described as toys but are in fact offensive weapons. During the last 12 months or two years public welfare committees have been formed throughout the country. A Petition was presented to this House from Salford signed by a large number of citizens protesting against the manufacture and sale of these toy weapons. In quite a number of other cities and towns meetings have been held, and telegrams and letters have been sent to me in support of this Bill. I will trouble the House with only two. I had one from the Women's Group on Public Welfare, sent on 26th January, which said: I am forwarding to you an emergency resolution passed at the joint conference between the Women's Group on Public Welfare and the Standing Conference of Women's Organisations held in Birmingham on November 21st and 22nd. It was based on the Bill presented by you in Parliament. The resolution reads as follows: 'That this representative body of women add their plea to those of other persons and organisations seeking to prohibit the offering for sale or the sale of toy weapons calculated to incite to acts of violence.' The conference consisted of representatives of 23 national organisations and 64 standing conferences of women's organisations, thereby representing a large body of opinion of the women of this country. I have another letter here from the London Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations. It says: The Federation supports wholeheartedly all measures for keeping off the market toys which resemble, or can easily be converted into, offensive weapons as being one means of suppressing the wave of crimes of violence by young people. It is not sufficient for us to say that a knife can be obtained in any shop by any boy or girl. The danger is far greater than that. It concerns the type of knife that is sold. Stilettos are displayed as toy weapons, yet they are one of the most dangerous types of knife which it is possible to make. We should do our utmost to endeavour to keep this kind of article out of the shops and off the market.

Anyone with the interests of young people at heart, anyone privileged to be a parent, must appreciate how dangerous it is for young people to have these weapons. I appeal to hon. Members to act as if they were considering the interests of their own children. None of us would put a weapon, a so-called toy of this kind, in the hands of a young child. I have not the least doubt that many parents are unconscious of the danger attached to these toys when they give them to their children. It is unfortunate that some parents seem to be irresponsible.

I hope that we might learn from the Attorney-General whether the Criminal Justice Bill we considered yesterday will have any effect upon this menace. I understand from the statement made just before the House rose for the Christmas Recess that the Home Secretary had received certain promises from the manufacturers and retailers of these toys about their future conduct.

My supporters and I would be ready and willing to accept any proposals by the Government which might even make it unnecessary for this Bill to be read a Second time. But we want assurances. The menace must be removed. If assurances are not forthcoming it will be impossible for us to feel happy about this problem.

11.54 a.m.

Mr. George Chetwynd (Stockton-on-Tees)

I beg to second the Motion.

I am sure that all hon. Members have been impressed by the cool and reasonable way in which my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) approached this subject. He left the door wide open for the Government spokesman to help us to secure the objective we have in mind. The House showed earlier this week that it is perturbed by the growth of violent crime, but what strikes me more than that is that this growth is becoming more intense among young children. It seems to be natural for young people to carry weapons of some kind when they commit crime.

Crimes involving the use of real weapons are dealt with in the Bill which was given a Third Reading yesterday. I suggest that there is more to be done to stop up a further loophole and to remove the incentive to the commission of crimes of violence among young people. We need to accept the principle of this Bill of forbidding the sale in shops of toys which resemble, or which could be used as. offensive and lethal weapons.

Since my hon. Friend first brought forward this proposal he has received nationwide support from women's organisations, people who have suffered and so on. They all agree that something should be done. Our juvenile courts are crowded with young people. I understand that about 1,000 indictable offences each week in which some element of violence is involved come before the juvenile courts. I have discussed the problem with probation officers. Although they would not commit themselves to the statement that these crimes could be attributed to the sale of toy weapons which could be used for violence, they thought that that factor had a contributory effect.

What appals me more than anything else is the ease with which children can buy these toys. Whether they are toy coshes, daggers, knuckle-dusters, or some other toy weapon, it seems to be perfectly easy for a child to walk into certain shops and to buy them. These goods can be bought by children who are at their most impressionable age. My hon. Friend mentioned the effect of films and the desire which is aroused in children to emulate the hero or the villain. We ought to make it more and more difficult for toys of this type to be readily available.

I could take hon. Members to places within 10 minutes journey of this Chamber where they could see displayed in a shop window in a crowded industrial district truncheons and coshes which are supposed to be toys but which are readily adaptable for use in crimes of violence. That should not be allowed. In our junk shops there are knuckledusters: we have seen them on display.

Then there is the worst example of all,, and that is the Italian stiletto. Why we should allow that to be imported, I fail to understand. We have tried to get the matter corrected by addressing Questions to the President of the Board of Trade. We were told that it was impossible to separate this type of weapon from what I think was described as the general import of stationery. But if the desire to prohibit the import of stilettos were there, some way could be found to overcome that difficulty.

These weapons have featured in many cases of crimes of violence by children which have been reported in the Press. No wise parent would buy his child a cosh or a dagger. Decent people would not think of buying toys of this type. Why should we allow children whose parents do not trouble to go into the matter to be exposed to this harmful influence?

I do not want to exaggerate the danger. It would be easy to over-state the case and it would be wrong to ignore the sense of adventure in our children, that sense which delights in bows and arrows and toys of that kind which I do not think are specially harmful. The real point is that when a child gets a toy like this he may think that he has no intention of using it except as a plaything, but if he is involved in a brawl with a gang of children it is very easy for him to be tempted to use the toy as a weapon.

There are instances on record where this has happened. There was a case in Newcastle where a child bought a stiletto and seriously wounded another child. It was admitted in court that the so-called toy was openly on sale in the shops. That is wrong. It would be very easy indeed to develop among adventurous children a kind of gangster mentality. All of us as children have played cowboys and Indians, and we did it without doing any great harm to ourselves, but I think there is a difference with this type of weapon—these "thug" weapons, which is the title I would give to them—because they really are unwholesome weapons of a kind which children should not be allowed to have.

I think the possession of that kind of weapon is a real incentive to the development of a gangster mentality. It can easily be the first step to a life of crime. I believe that sadistic weapons, like sadistic literature, introduce an element of pleasure into violence, and that is the really disturbing feature. If a young person really gets a kick out of violence in using these things, it is time action was taken to prevent it.

Our children must be protected against this kind of thing, and it is not enough to leave it to the parent or teacher. Some people say "It is all right; boys will be boys, and this is the sort of thing we expect from them." I agree that boys will be boys, but I do not see why boys should be allowed to develop into thugs, and anything that we can do to prevent that development we certainly ought to do.

The State ought to behave like a good parent to these children, and remove one form of temptation from them by prohibiting the sale of toy facsimiles of lethal weapons. We ought to press the Government to impose an immediate embargo on the import of stilettos. I cannot understand why these things are made at all. I should have thought that far better use could be made of the ingenuity and effort, as well as the labour and materials, that goes into the manufacture of these things. Some of these coshes and things like that are really works of art, if that term could be applied to them. They are ingenious contrivances, and I cannot understand why they are put on the market at all. I suppose they are manufactured because the makers must think that there is a sale for them and that they will be able to get some profit from their sale.

One of the ways in which we can tackle this problem is to make it an offence for them to be sold in the shops, because, by so doing, we should prevent the manu- facture of these articles. I am glad to see that, since this Bill came forward, there has been a good response from the manufacturers and from the retail traders. Many of them immediately stopped selling these things, once their attention had been drawn to their harmful effect, and further action has been taken by the burning of coshes and such things on public bonfires.

Nevertheless, the fact remains that these articles are still available and on sale in the shops, and we must continue to try to influence the trade in every way possible not to deal in such toys, especially when there are so many good wholesome toys which are available in every shop and can be bought. There are really first-class toys, not only educational but adventurous toys, which will bring about proper feelings of adventure without reverting to the disturbing and perilous toy weapons which we are considering today.

This is an essential Measure to protect our children, and we ought to ban the sale of these perilous playthings. We have taken the trouble in the past to protect our children against the evils of drink, smoking and so on. It is an offence to allow children in licensed premises, or to supply children under a certain age with cigarettes, and if we take the trouble to protect their physical well-being in that way, we ought to take the trouble to protect their moral and mental well-being against the damaging effect of the unrestricted purchase of these lethal toys.

I hope we shall be able to get a satisfactory answer from the right hon. and learned Gentleman, and that he will say that the Government are taking and will take all necessary steps to ban the sale of these lethal toys from our shops.

12.5 p.m.

Mr. Hylton-Foster (York)

I feel myself troubled about this question. I have the greatest possible sympathy with the objects, as I conceive them to be, of the hon. Gentlemen who moved and seconded the Second Reading of the Bill, and, for my part, I am most grateful for the way in which the case has been put. I am sure that the whole House would wish to join in exercising such influence as the House can and might exercise on retail traders about the sale of these rather horrible objects, as well as on the manufacturers, but the doubt which arises in my mind is whether it can rightly be done at all by penal legislation.

One of the difficulties about which the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) was thinking is already out of the way, because, since we first saw his Bill in print, this House has dealt with, and I hope that another place will shortly have dealt with, the Prevention of Crime Bill; and I think that will get rid of the difficulty arising from the sale of toy weapons which, though designed for purposes of amusement and not serious use, could be adapted for the real thing and used for the real purpose. I think we have dealt with that problem by imposing substantial penalties for carrying these things in public places, and that that difficulty will have been dealt with by the legislation which we have passed since the time when we first saw this Bill.

The other matter about inciting children to violent crime is much more difficult. Great as is the sympathy which I have with the objective, I think we have to bear in mind that the first essential of penal legislation is that it should be clear in its meaning. The principle is usually stated that no man is to be convicted upon an ambiguity. I have the greatest possible respect for the skill of Parliamentary draftsmen, and while I give them full kudos for their skill, I myself would wish that it had been possible by legislation to define these pernicious toys in such a way as would not allow people to be placed in peril of being convicted on an ambiguity, but I do not believe it to be possible.

There is, I believe, in those dark and secret caverns where Parliamentary draftsmen live, an "elephant," which is draftsmen's language for the situation in which one knows what one wants to say, but nobody can define it. I am not sure that these toy weapons do not come into the category of "elephants," for that purpose. What is a toy weapon? I suppose it is difficult to define, but that it means something which is designed to be used for amusement, such as an air pistol, but also of a lethal character. It is very difficult to define it so that people may understand what the definition means, and I hope that the learned Attorney-General, when he addresses the House, will be able to help me about that.

I suppose that the definition means the kind of toy, such as a version of an air pistol, which has in its character something of the toy and something of the lethal weapon, but it is very difficult to put into words that an air pistol is capable of being lethal. I am not sure that the hon. Member for Willesden, West really wants to prohibit every kind of air pistol getting into the hands of small boys, because small boys have played with air pistols of an innocent kind for a long time, and I do not suppose that the hon. Member wants to catch them in his net.

In any event, if I saw an air pistol on the counter of a shop, I should have the greatest difficulty myself in deciding whether or not the shopkeeper offering it for sale was committing a sin under the terms of this Bill or not. I cannot think of any way by which the wording can be altered to get out of this difficulty, and we get no guidance from the qualification in the Bill, namely that the toy must be capable of use for acts of violence, because my experience is that they are capable of use with violence in the hands of lusty small boys, and it always has been so.

May I give an illustration concerning the weapon known as a cosh? I do not know what "cosh" means. It is a term of violent art, but it is not a legal term. As far as I can see, the word "cosh" would catch so glorious a weapon as the policeman's truncheon, and none of us who is enthusiastic about recruiting to the police force would want to prevent small boys from having toy policemen's truncheons. It is a salutary practice. As for the practice of the school choral society singing The policeman's lot is not a happy one without having a toy truncheon, I could not bear to legislate to produce that result.

Then there is the famous stiletto. For a long time I have been carrying in my waistcoat pocket the broken fragment of an ivory stiletto paper-knife which I am happy to possess, but I am not sure that that would not be caught under this Bill. It had every appearance of being a toy and of being a stiletto, except that it happened to made of ivory. It was a good paper-knife in the beginning, and I hope it will go on being so until it breaks altogether and no fragment of it remains.

But that does not mean that I do not think that the hon. Member and his supporters have done a very good and wise public service by provoking this discussion in the House, because it has given the House the opportunity of showing its sympathy with the view that children should not be invited, just for other people's profit, to play with things which are images of the thug's weapons. Everyone dislikes that and wishes to repress it.

In part, the hon. Gentleman may have been responsible for provoking those strong public statements made by the National Chamber of Trade and the National Association of Toy Retailers, which we heard before Christmas. I believe that a much better remedy for this matter would be for the House to lend its weight to public criticism of these practices and, in that way, to fight against them and to bring into odium and contempt those who traffic in them.

I must say that I do not think the hon. Member is catching the thing that started all this trouble, the so-called rubber cosh. As a lawyer, I have great difficulty in believing that the rubber cosh is, in fact, caught by the Bill. I hope that this discussion today, if it does not result in ambiguous penal legislation—which I am afraid it would if we gave the Bill a Second Reading—will serve to emphasise to the public the dislike of this House of the sale of these things to and their use by the public.

Mr. R. T. Paget (Northampton)

In view of what the hon. and learned Member said, is not the right thing for us to do to give this Bill a Second Reading and thus approve its principle, even though I am inclined to agree with him that in Committee we would find it impracticable to give it effective wording?

Mr. Hylton-Foster

We both sympathise with the object of the Bill and we both think that what it proposes cannot be done by legislation. Therefore, I do not think that the House ought to be asked to give the Bill a Second Reading.

12.15 p.m.

Mr. Charles Royle (Salford, West)

The House always listens with very great interest to the hon. and learned Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster), particularly when he discusses questions of legal difficulty. We respect his views and his opinions on such matters very much indeed, and I think the House is indebted to him for having drawn its attention this morning to the legal difficulties which might arise from a Bill of this kind.

However, I support my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Paget) in suggesting that, in spite of what the hon. and learned Member for York has said, the House should give the Bill a Second Reading so that we might have an opportunity in Committee of getting down to the difficulties which he envisages. I am quite sure that were the Government to assist us in that way we could really get down to the difficulties about which we have now heard in an endeavour to put on the Statute Book an Act of Parliament which would have the effect of checking the manufacture and sale of these toy weapons.

I do not think that any of the sponsors of the Bill desire in any way to exaggerate the situation. At the same time, we want to draw attention to what we regard as a danger in the life of our young people. I think it safe to say that no magistrate who sits in a juvenile court is not concerned about the present situation. Those of us who have had that experience for some years continually have children brought before us who have committed acts of violence, in many cases with these types of toy weapons. Throughout magisterial service there is at present very grave concern about the use of these weapons.

I would emphasise that there is no desire on the part of the sponsors of the Bill to kill any spirit of adventure in our children. All of us appreciate that this Commonwealth of ours was built on a spirit of adventure, and, because of that, it is desirable that that spirit should be maintained. But I do not regard the coshing of people and the risk of the coshing and stabbing of younger children as something that can be associated with the spirit of adventure, at least not in the sense that we regard it.

For some years I have been at the grandfather stage of life, and, therefore, it has been my lot from time to time to visit toy stores. They are full of wonderful, thrilling toys, and there is every opportunity for parents and grandparents to purchase for their children and grand- children exciting toys without having recourse to the type of toys we are discussing this morning.

One of my main concerns is that a child may come into possession of one of these toy weapons and have no evil intent at all, but that, in spite of the lack of such intent, there is the very grave danger that an accident might occur through the possession of the toy. My main worry is the dangerous suggestion which ownership gives to boys in possession of these weapons. I am thinking of boys of about the age of seven or eight, or a little older. They are proud of owning such toys, but before very long there comes into their mind the suggestion that they can be used.

A boy who goes to the Saturday morning film shows may see these things used on the films, and if he has begun to read he may perhaps read about their use in the newspaper. Therefore, there comes into his mind the involuntary suggestion that the toy weapon which he possesses could be used in the way that he has seen or read about. Because of that, a danger exists which did not start with evil intent, but merely through the ownership of a weapon.

I appreciate all the difficulties in legislation of this kind which have been mentioned this morning, but I plead with the House that we might have the opportunity of closer and fuller discussion of the details in Committee. Even though, in Committee, we might fail to get the legal position cleared up, as a result of the discussion we might continue to put into the minds of manufacturers and retailers what my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) has already outlined as having been accomplished. There has already been a check on the sale of these things. It may be that after a fuller discussion and serious examination in Committee there would be a complete abandonment of their manufacture and sale.

I plead, therefore, with the Attorney-General that we might have the opportunity of a fuller and frank discussion of the legal difficulties, the House having given assent to the principle, as I hope it will do this morning. I hope that the House will see its way to give the Bill a Second Reading. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West upon having taken this opportunity of drawing the attention of the House and the country to this problem and giving us the chance of fully realising its seriousness.

12.21 p.m.

Mr. Ronald Bell (Buckinghamshire, South)

Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York (Mr. Hylton-Foster) it is with real regret that I oppose the Second Reading of a Bill, with the intention of which I have such great sympathy, and a Bill which has been introduced and supported in this House with such reasonableness and moderation. We have had a very useful and interesting discussion upon this great problem of our times. I should like to congratulate the hon. Member for Salford, West (Mr. Royle) not only upon speaking so moderately upon the Bill but upon being such a young and vigorous grandfather. When he announced his seniority in that rôle, I was reminded that when I was a boy at school a colleague of mine, translating Virgil's discription of Mercury skimming over the sea, rendered, sicut avis as "like a grandfather."

The reason I find myself forced to oppose a Second Reading of a Bill which was so gracefully moved and supported is that by allowing a Second Reading one is not just approving the underlying intention of the promoters. One is going further. One is endorsing its incorporation in an Act of Parliament, and that is where I find my difficulty. Like my hon. and learned Friend the Member for York I feel that this Bill deals with something that is important and with something with which, in its general outline, the House and probably the country disapproves.

But one ought not to pass an Act of Parliament about everything of which one disapproves. There is a tendency nowadays, perhaps there always has been, to take the step of legislation, to mobilise the whole compulsory powers of the State to enforce a certain point of view. I do not think that this is one of those occasions where we can do that as a matter of practice or ought to as a matter of principle.

When I first saw the Bill, before its actual terms were printed, I thought from the Long Title that it would be a much wider and more objectionable Measure. The Long Title reads: A Bill to prohibit the offering for sale or the sale of toy weapons calculated to incite to acts of violence. That was the first intention, as I understood, and I thought that the hon. Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) intended to "have a go" at toy soldiers and toy cannons and all the rest. I was fully prepared to come here and rend him for his dreadful point of view. I am glad to find it is nothing like that. The Bill has shifted its ground so much that it is now rather like the Prevention of Crime Bill. The hon. Member will agree that what he is trying to strike at in this Bill is any person who offers for sale or sells any toy weapon … capable of use for acts of violence … That, in its most serious aspect, is something with which we have dealt in the last few weeks in the Prevention of Crime Bill, which had its Third Reading yesterday.

The whole question of incitement in any form has gone out of this Bill—I think very wisely—but I could not help observing that the hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees (Mr. Chetwynd) asked the House to disapprove of the sale of any facsimile of a lethal weapon. That is going a great deal further and is harking back to what I think was the original purpose which is stated in the Long Title of the Bill.

Mr. Chetwynd

The words which follow are: … capable of use for acts of violence.

Mr. Bell

That is certainly in the Bill, but I was referring to the hon. Member's speech. It may have been by inadvertence that he said it, but he did say that the House ought to prohibit the sale of a facsimile weapon. I am glad to understand that he did not mean it in that wide sense.

In the Prevention of Crime Bill we dealt very largely with the point that having such a weapon in one's possession is an offence. All that this Bill would do would be to make it an offence to sell such a weapon. If that had been a desirable procedure we should have and could have done it in the Prevention of Crime Bill. But it was felt that there are occasions when it is reasonable and excusable to have such a weapon in one's possession and, therefore, it ought to be legal to sell such a weapon. I think that that is a true view and that, therefore, it would be wrong in this Bill to make it an offence to sell such an article

It is worth considering some of the particular provisions. The Schedule to this Bill lists Air Pistols of a lethal character. What is an air pistol of a lethal character? Is it really necessary to ban the possession of air pistols? Some people use them to shoot garden pests, which is quite legitimate, and pistols used for such a purpose would certainly be of a lethal character. I do not see why their sale should be forbidden.

Mr. Paget

They are not toy weapons.

Mr. Bell

There, of course, one comes up against this point of "toy" weapons, and the hon. and learned Member has made what was to be my next point.

What is a toy? That is one of the real problems. Is it something bought for a child or is it something which is a smaller edition of the standard article? If a toy is something which cannot be used as a lethal weapon then all this provision is unnecessary as the Bill stands, as distinct from the Long Title.

One is dealing here with something altogether too vague, and I do not think that that is entirely an accident. I think that there is good reason for it, a reason which I mentioned on the Second Reading of the Prevention of Crime Bill. It is that the further one gets away from the actual commission of a crime, and the more one gets to circumstances well anterior to it, the more one finds oneself mixed up with the ordinary and legitimate circumstances of normal life, and the greater one finds the difficulty of definition.

Here I think we are getting too far away from the commission of a crime altogether. We have these factors: the selling to someone, not necessarily a child, of something which can be described as a toy—one does not quite know what that means—which, in some cases, has to be further defined as of a lethal character—again, one is in difficulty about that—with no provision as to the purposes for which it is sold or the person to whom it is sold, and the selling of it is to be an offence.

My view, looking at the list in the Schedule, is that the selling of these things is undesirable, anyway. I think it is all right to sell toy soldiers, but when a man sets out to sell knuckle-dusters and coshes he is doing something which is reprehensible. But I do not think it ought to be dealt with by legislation. There are lots of reprehensible things which go on and will always go on in this country, which ought not to be the subject of legislation, partly because they are too vague and partly because Parliament ought not to try to run the whole country and set itself up as custos morum of everyone in a large, highly developed and complex society.

The hon. Member for Stockton-on-Tees said that we look after the physical health of our children. We do. He said that we should also look after their moral and spiritual health; but those are in a different field altogether. There is a fair consensus of opinion on what constitutes physical health, although there is controversy even about that. But when we reach the realm of moral and spiritual health, what constitutes that is really the prime interest of the human race. I do not suppose that we shall solve that question for a million years, and it is very dangerous to pass Acts of Parliament laying down as a matter of criminal law what ought and what ought not to be done, when it falls a long way short of the commission of violent crimes or crimes of fraud or things of that nature.

I am not being unsympathetic in any way with the intention of the hon. Gentleman. I, like him, disagree with the sale of these articles, but I can see that other people can put up an argument for it. The use of force is still an absolutely necessary element in the world. Boys when they grow up are the people who have to apply it. A certain state of mind, a certain attitude to the use of violent means, is still a necessary component of the male of the species.

Mr. Chetwynd

Not in children.

Mr. Bell

Yes, in children. That is why it is all right for boys to have toy soldiers and bows and arrows, to play at cowboys and Indians and to play with those lethal weapons, the tomahawk and the bow and arrow.

It is all right for children to be used to the idea of violence and the use of force. It is still, unfortunately, an existing and a proper component of life as we know it, and it is no good trying to pretend that it is not. We all hope that things will change, but they have not changed yet, and one has to bring up boys in a reasonably hard and realistic way. There may be people who would say that it is all right to have old-fashioned weapons and not new-fashioned weapons. The hon. Gentleman himself said it was all right to have old-fashioned ones, but what is the difference?

Mr. Chetwynd

There is a difference between what I might call a weapon with a romantic appeal and one with a thug appeal.

Mr. Bell

Let me tell the hon. Gentleman what I think makes a weapon romantic. A romantic weapon is what was a modern weapon a long time ago. That is what it comes down to. There was a time when pistols were quite the latest things, and the same applies to swords which are very unpleasant in use and are probably just as painful as coshes. There is no distinction in the matter of brutality between the modern truncheon and the old knife. Romance depends upon antiquity in this matter.

I am pointing out that a perfectly arguable case can be made by people who believe in children having the best moral and spiritual background, that it is all stuff and nonsense for Parliament to pass an Act making it a criminal offence to sell the latest thing in toy weapons while leaving it perfectly legitimate to sell rather older ones.

Mr. Paget

Is the hon. Gentleman denying antiquity to the cosh? Surely that was the first of all weapons?

Mr. Bell

Here we come back again to the difficulty of definition. I agree with the hon. and learned Member. It may well be that the antique mace is a form of cosh. I believe that the mace was introduced as a weapon to save the consciences of the militant orders of priesthood who wished to avoid the reproach of breaking the Canon Law by shedding blood with the sword, which is forbidden by the Canon Law, so they broke people's skulls with maces instead and thereby complied with their religious duties and also with their temporal proclivities. I am making the general point that the distinction which this Schedule makes is wide open to argument. Therefore, a proposal of this kind ought not to be embodied in law.

I am tempted to ask why, if the hon. Member for Willesden West thinks this Bill is desirable, he does not want to extend it to Northern Ireland.

Mr. Viant

We cannot legislate for Northern Ireland.

Mr. Bell

My hon. and learned Friend for York has suggested that it is probably because the hon. Member intends to add a shillelagh in Committee.

Mr. Ian Harvey (Harrow, East)

Perhaps it is because it would be interfering with natural tendencies.

Mr. Bell

From the Long Title, it would appear to be designed solely with that end in view.

I ask the House to reject this Bill. I think the shift in ground in it is a significant shift. The hon. Member for Willesden, West started off with a vague impression in his mind that children should not have anything which incited them to acts of violence, and that the selling of all kinds of weapons ought to be forbidden on moral principle. That is what the Title says. Then, when we come to the drafting of the Bill, we find something which is just a shadow of the Prevention of Crime Bill. Therefore, while I sympathise very much indeed with what the hon. Gentleman and his supporters want to do, I do not think we can do it by a Bill of this kind. I am not at all sure that we can do it by legislation of any kind, and I adhere to the view that there are a good many things wrong and reprehensible in themselves which, nevertheless, Parliament at any time and in any way ought not to try to forbid by legislation.

12.38 p.m.

Mr. Barnett Janner (Leicester, North-West)

I listened with great interest to the hon. Member for Buckinghamshire, South (Mr. R. Bell). Perhaps he spoke in the way he did because he is not unaccustomed to killing Private Members' Bills when they are introduced in this House. I am bound to say that he has not approached this matter in anything like a serious manner. He spoke of encouraging children in the use of force, and even though he says he does not agree with this, apparently he agrees that some other people should agree with such ideas, otherwise he would not have mentioned it.

Mr. R. Bell

I said that some people of perfect good will hold that view and that we should not pass criminal legislation in respect of this type of problem.

Mr. Janner

The hon. Gentleman is saying that if a person holds the opinion that youngsters should be trained to kill, such a person should have the right not only to hold that opinion but to be protected from having Acts of Parliament passed to prevent him from encouraging children to learn the arts of killing. That is the logical conclusion at which we arrive on considering his argument.

He says that he does not agree with this Bill and, as a good democrat, thinks that all criminals should be protected from having Acts passed against them because they are entitled to think what they think and should have the right to carry on not only with their thoughts but also be permitted to train other people in the views they hold. With all respect, that is really nonsense.

Mr. Bell

I do not accept the hon. Gentleman's re-description of what I said. I disagree not merely with his opinion of it, but also that it is an accurate repetition of what I said.

Mr. Janner

I am quite prepared to accept the hon. Gentleman's points of view about that.

I will come to the subject of the Bill itself. It is quite obvious that a public mischief exists. Nobody can deny that fact. Everybody who has spoken on this matter this morning—both those who have supported this Bill and those who are opposed to it—agree that a serious position exists which has to be dealt with. On the one hand, it is suggested that the only way to deal with it is by means of an Act of Parliament; on the other hand, it is said that public opinion can be influenced by expressions of opinion in this House.

The latter is a very reasonable proposition to put forward at times, but I cannot accept it in respect of this particular subject. One might say the very same thing about any licensing law. One might feel strongly against various kinds of sales and one might state one's views of the sellers through the medium of this House. I am sure that some of my hon. Friends would tell them what they thought about this in no uncertain terms in the case of the sale of certain commodities such as liquor, but the result would be that those who wanted to exercise the right of making a profit—using the incentive which is often referred to and praised by hon. Members opposite— would not be prevented from doing so merely because we said that it was the wrong thing to do.

It is wrong to sell these weapons; there is no question about that. Other toys can be made which resemble the kind of toy we are talking about this morning, but which would be quite useless for the purpose of inflicting injuries. A stiletto, for example, could be made of rubber or a similar kind of material so that it would be absolutely harmless in use. But to allow real stilettos to be sold to children is something which is seriously wrong, particularly at a time when children are being encouraged to play games which, whether we like it or not, eventually lead in many cases to the commission of crimes of violence by young people.

A public mischief exists, and in my view something should be done by Parliament to prevent it from continuing or extending. The Bill which has been so admirably introduced in such reasonable terms by my hon. Friend the Member for Willesden, West (Mr. Viant) is one which, in my view, can be moulded into shape to serve this purpose.

Hon. Members of this House are not the only persons who are aware of this problem. Every court and, in particular, juvenile court, knows it exists and are anxious to deal with it. Societies of parents throughout the land—those societies to which my hon. Friend has referred —are not meddlesome people who want to stop youngsters from enjoying themselves. They know that there is a danger and that something must be done to stop it. They look to Parliament to do this. Where else can they look?

At present, a policeman has no right to stop the sale of these dangerous toys, and therefore the people look to us to introduce a Measure which, with the combined assistance of Members and Parliamentary draftsmen, should be capable of being put into a form which will protect innocent people who are selling certain commodities and, at the same time, protect the public from the dangers which arise from the sale of these potentially lethal instruments.

I have raised this matter before in the form of a Question relating to a particularly serious case which occurred in Leicester. A toy pistol was sold to a youngster and he converted it—easily, he said—into a lethal weapon which actually fired.22 cartridges. It was a very serious lethal weapon, and one that could have done very considerable damage. The youngster who converted it was convicted of other offences of a criminal nature, which indicated that he would be able to use this weapon if he desired for purposes in connection with robbery and similar crimes of an extremely serious nature.

Mr. Paget

How would that pistol come within the terms of this Bill?

Mr. Janner

It was a toy weapon. We are now on the Second Reading of the Bill, but when we come to deal with the Schedule at the Committee stage I shall be in a position to suggest that this particular kind of toy shall be included in the Schedule. At the present moment I want to indicate that this danger exists and the circumstances in which it exists, as I am entitled to do.

The weapon in the case to which I am referring was used for the purpose of firing.22 ammunition, and it was in the possession of this youngster. He had 19 rounds of ammunition. He had no firearms certificate. He could be charged, but the trouble is that the person who actually made that toy which was capable of being converted into a weapon—and the person who sold it—could not be charged, nor will they be able to be charged under the terms of the Bill which was given a Third Reading yesterday, because that Bill does not deal with manufacturers, retailers or wholesalers; it deals with the person who is found in possession of the lethal weapon.

Mr. Hylton-Foster

indicated dissent.

Mr. Janner

I notice that the hon. and learned Member is wondering about this. The answer is that we are talking about toys which can be converted into lethal weapons and we want to stop the sale of those toys before they become lethal weapons.

Mr. Hylton-Foster

I was guilty of making a face of bewilderment. I did so because of the hon. Member's proposition that in order to come within the terms of the Prevention of Crime Bill the weapon would have to be a lethal one. I did not follow that part of his argument.

Mr. Janner

Perhaps I am wrong, but I understood that that Bill dealt with weapons of a lethal nature. The use of the word "weapon" suggests something of a lethal nature. Perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman has a different definition of the word when he sits as recorder. The fact is that today we are dealing with toys which can be converted into menacing weapons. The Home Secretary told me the other day that it took a long time to make these conversions, but the toy we had in mind was not a twopenny or a threepenny toy; it cost some 6s. 9d. wholesale, or from the manufacturer.

Mr. Ede (South Shields)

Just a penny too much.

Mr. Janner

Fees are now more than that. It was sold retail, I think, for about 11s. I think the House must consider this matter very seriously. It is no good simply saying that we sympathise with the objects of the Bill. The fact that someone sympathises with the objects of the Bill shows the Bill to be necessary. The objects of this Bill are to prevent crime and to prevent youngsters from using instruments for criminal acts.

Mr. Ian Harvey

The hon. Gentleman argues that because we sympathise with the objects of the Bill we must go forward with it. One sympathises with the object of getting rid of influenza, but if one considers that the means suggested are not the right means, one does not support them.

Mr. Janner

That is rather a silly intervention. What hon. Members said was that crime by juveniles is occurring and that these weapons are being used for the purpose of crime. They say, therefore, that they sympathise with the fact that a Bill has been introduced in order to try to stop this. Where they part company from us is that they think it does not need to become an Act of Parliament.

I think the House must take this step forward. The Bill should be brought to Committee stage. If we want to grant proper protection to reasonable manufacturers or vendors of toys we can do it by introducing some words which will prevent a person who is making weapons for sale to adults from being prosecuted. That has been done in other Acts of Parliament. Protections of that nature are not very difficult to insert into a Bill.

On the other hand, we have reached a time when we must take this matter in hand. We must have an Act of Parliament to deal with it. It is not enough merely to give an expression of good will towards those who think it is a menace if, at the same time, we are not prepared to do something to prevent the menace.

12.54 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Lionel Heald)

I think that I should, first of all, express very sincerely my appreciation of the very moderate way in which this Bill was introduced. On the back of the Bill appear the names of a number of hon. Members from both sides of the House—hon. Members from Scotland and from the West of England, among others—and the names of several lady Members. Unfortunately, none of the lady Members has attended to support the Bill today.

It is not unfair to say—indeed, it was clear from one or two of the speeches made in support of the Bill—that hon. Members realise that there are likely to be considerable objections to its Second Reading. They are, in fact, if I may respectfully say so, treating it more as a Motion than as a Bill. In view of the very modest way in which they have spoken and of the complete absence of any kind of hysterical feeling about the matter, such as there was some months ago, they will not mind my pointing out that it is necessary to approach the Bill from the point of view of serious argument.

The serious matter here is whether this is the kind of legislation upon which the House should embark. The Home Secretary has spoken on this subject once or twice in recent months and has emphasised, both in the House and in the country, the old adage that we cannot make people good by Acts of Parliament. That is a very important consideration indeed.

What are we seeking to do by the Bill? We are seeking to exercise some kind of censorship over toy dealers. I think that that is the kind of thing over which this House will hesitate very much. First of all, I should like to recall the history. When the Bill was introduced there was considerable public anxiety about a certain weapon which had appeared in a number of toy shops, particularly in the Midlands and in Lancashire—what was called the rubber cosh or cave man club. It is quite clear that there was considerable feeling about it. Questions were asked in the House. This Bill was, therefore, introduced at a time when there was a great deal of feeling.

But, as the House will remember, immediate steps were taken by various associations to draw this to the attention of traders. For example, the National Association of Toy Retailers, on 13th November, issued a strong statement, and the National Chamber of Trade issued a statement in the same month. I understand that those statements and recommendations had a very considerable effect immediately, although I have no statistics or evidence about it. It is a fact that complaints about the prevalence of these articles and even their existence in the shops had some effect, and reports indicate that they have almost entirely disappeared. That shows what can be done and will be done by public opinion.

I have not the slightest doubt that today's discussions will have a very salutary effect all over the country. It is known that on many occasions the introduction of a Motion by hon. Members and the debate following it has had a considerable effect on public opinion, and I am quite sure that that will be the result of this discussion.

When we consider whether we should give a Second Reading to the Bill, however, with great respect I venture to differ from those who suggest that even if we think it will be quite impracticable to produce anything from the Committee stage we should, nevertheless, agree to the Second Reading. I think that that is a very doubtful proposition. I hope I shall not be regarded as unsympathetic towards Private Members' Bills—I have some experience of them from both sides of the House—but I am sorry to have to tell the hon. Member for Willesden. West (Mr. Viant) and his supporters that in this case I believe they are in a hopeless position.

I do not want to go through the details of the Bill; it would not be appropriate to do so. In any case, it might be said that we are merely arguing about what could be done in Committee. However. I think it necessary to point out that we would be embarking on an almost hopeless task if we tried to define things of this kind. For instance, no one has attempted to deal with the definition of a toy, in spite of the fact that it is the fundamental point in the whole Bill.

Take the one example of airguns. The House will be aware that the sale of air-guns is regulated by legislation; there have been several committees of inquiry into the matter; it is a very difficult subject to deal with, and it would be quite meaningless to talk about a toy airgun. There is nothing of that kind which cannot have a lethal effect if it is put sufficiently close to a sensitive part of the anatomy.

With regard to knives, I ask the House to have a sense of proportion. It is really being suggested here, in effect, that the sale of knives to children under a certain age should be prohibited. Is that the sort of thing Parliament should undertake? Are we not again in the same region of thought which the Home Secretary has so often outlined to the House in which we must rely upon parents, teachers, home life, and all those sorts of things to mould the young?

When we come to the sentimental argument—if I may so describe it without any disrespect—children who live in the country play at Red Indians, have bows and arrows and, I am afraid, sometimes even tie up their sisters and leave them tied for some while. We have all known that happen in the past. That, it is said, is unobjectionable, but if the children have the wrong kind of instruments or toys then it must be stopped. Is that a practicable way of approaching things?

I think the House can decide this matter best for itself without any kind of advice, and it would be presumptuous of me, speaking from this place, to say more than that we feel this Bill is objectionable —and I use the word in the purely Parliamentary sense—for two reasons: first, because it is inappropriate from the point of view of legislation; and, secondly, because it is impracticable. That is the view we take.

Unfortunately, my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is not able to be here today. I am sorry that such a very poor substitute as myself should have to speak on this subject, to which my right hon. and learned Friend has given a great deal of attention. We know that humane outlook of my right hon. and learned Friend, and his devotion to the interests of justice and the prevention of crime, and also the interests of children, with which the Home Office is so much concerned. I am authorised by him to tell the House that after the most careful consideration he has come to the conclusion that the House ought to be advised not to give this Bill a Second Reading.

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present;

House counted, and 40 Members not being present, the House was adjourned at Five Minutes past One o'clock till Tuesday next, pursuant to the Resolution of the House this day.