HC Deb 28 March 1969 vol 780 cc1944-53

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

11.7 a.m.

Mr. Marcus Kimball (Gainsborough)

I am sure that you will understand, Mr. Speaker, the noticeable absence of hon. Members opposite. It is no doubt due to the fact that they are relieving their tortured spirits, as The Times put it, having tattooed on their hearts "Walthamstow, Weston-super-Mare, and Brighton", to mark the fact that the fortunes of hon. Gentlemen opposite has reached the point of no return. One wonders whether it is worth proceeding with the Bill and whether the Prime Minister, when he returns from Nigeria, faced with his little local difficulty here, may decide that it is not worth continuing this Parliament.

However, if we are to continue with this Bill—and many hon. Members hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) will succeed in getting it on to the Statute Book—I should like to explain why it was necessary for me to put the Motion on the Order paper, "That the Question be not put forthwith." Under the Government's modifications to the Private Bill procedure we are deprived of the right of a Third Reading on a Bill unless such a Motion is tabled.

Many hon. Members who attend on Fridays will recall the occasion last year when a distinguished Member of this House wished to make a speech on the Third Reading of a Bill of his which had gone through all its previous stages on the nod. It was an important Bill about Press reporting of court proceedings. He was unaware of this procedure and was unable to make his speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Hove thought that I was up to something sinister when he saw this Motion, because although he has many points that he wishes to make on Third Reading he was unaware that it was necessary to table such a Motion.

I hope, after the unfortunate incident I have referred to last year, and this situation now, which could have been similar, that next Session we will revert to the principle of an automatic Third Reading debate, without the necessity for tabling such a Motion. It is certainly necessary to have a Third Reading debate on this Bill. I have questions to ask the promoter. He has created enormous interest in this problem. Leave to introduce the Bill was given under the Ten-Minute Rule, and there was no other opportunity for hon. Members to partake in the debate.

There was no opportunity for constituency points to be made during the early stages of the Bill and since the Bill started on its Parliamentary course it has been quite amazing to find the amount of interest which it has created, and the number of cases which have been brought to light since public attention was focussed on this problem. I for one was certainly not aware of the extent to which the practice of tattooing, particularly of minors, had spread throughout the Midlands. No one would say that Gainsborough is now a major port; it is a Midlands industrial town with an outlet to the River Trent. Since the Bill began its course I have been amazed by the evidence produced by local headmasters of the number of the children——

Mr. W. A. Wilkins (Bristol, South)

On a point of order. I always understood that on Third Reading one could talk only about the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) is perfectly in order so far. He is talking about the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Kimball

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I was speaking of the amount of interest which has been created by the Bill and the evidence produced of the number of children who have been falling back on this old-fashioned practice. It was argued in Committee on the Bill that the desire to have a tattoo on one's body was because it had something to do with the wearing of dashing——

Mr. Speaker

Order. Now the hon. Member is going out of order. We are not talking about tattooing. The Bill is to prohibit the tattooing of minors, and the hon. Member must come to that.

Mr. Kimball

I was recalling an argument which was brought out in Committee that the present desire of minors for tattooing which was going on everywhere in the country was linked with the desire of young people to wear more dashing clothes, and they take a great interest in the more flamboyant kind of turnout. I submit that having something tattooed on the wrist or on other parts of the body is part of the desire for a more flamboyant turn-out, and I fail to see why silk waistcoats, spongebag trousers and sealing wax in tail coats are regarded as the height of fashion and marks of great authority and prestige in one school while narrow trousers, boots and long hair are the thing in another school. I think it is fair to say that as they grow older this tendency to have something tattooed on the body, and the wearing of the more flamboyant clothes, will not last, and I think the House will agree that it is only the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse)—I am sorry he is not here—who still has got——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member knows the limits of a Third Reading debate. This Bill is to forbid the tatooing of minors. The hon. Member can talk only about what is in the Bill. He cannot talk about the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). He is not in the Bill.

Mr. Kimball

I come back to the Bill. I think the point has come out very clearly during the passage of the Bill that it is comparatively cheap for a minor to have tattooing done, and I do not see how this Bill will make any alteration to the fact that a person can have his girl friend's name tattooed on his wrist for as little as 5s. or 7s. 6d. The most elaborate tattoos cost no more than about £2 10s. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Member for Hove has seen a case recently reported of a mannequin in France. She sued to the tune of £170,000, so it is reported, for the return of her tattooed skin which was removed by an operation. This lady was forced to have a tattoo in order to take part in some shots——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The Third Reading of this Bill, whether it is carried or not, will not affect the French lady.

Mr. Kimball

The case just proves that people do become very attached to their tattoos, and are extremely sorry to lose them.

I would ask my hon. Friend about the penalties which are prescribed in the Bill. The first penalty is a fine not exceeding £50. The Committee on the Bill were very worried at the level of penalties. I have done a little research into the level of penalties which exist for other crimes towards children. For permitting a child aged between 4 and 16 to go into a brothel the maximum penalty is £25. Cruelty to persons under the age of 16—and the House now regard tattooing as cruel—the maximum fine is £100 for the first offence. To give a child intoxicating liquor under the age of 18 means a maximum fine of only £10. Under the Children and Young Persons (Harmful Publications) Act, 1955, the maximum fine is £100. If some tattooist tattoos something horrific on a child's elder brother the maximum fine is £50, whereas if that same child were exposed to the reading, through the printing and selling, of a horror comic the person responsible would have to face a fine of £100.

I would ask my hon. Friend to explain why he has finally decided to leave the fines as they are despite the very strongly expressed view in the Committee that a much higher level of fines——

Mr. Speaker

Order. The hon. Member may denounce the penalties at this stage, but we are past the stage for making Amendments. The time for that was in Committee.

Mr. Kimball

I appreciate the point, Mr. Speaker. I am denouncing that penalty of £50. I feel it should have been £100, and I hope my hon. Friend will be allowed to explain why he resisted the enormous pressure put on him——

Mr. Speaker

That should have been done in Committee.

Mr. Kimball

A large number of people who are tattooed are tattooed during their Service careers. I think most of us will agree that all three Services look after their young people, particularly their young boy and junior recruits, much better than a great many families, and much more efficiently than a great many modern parents do today, but boredom, good pay, stationing in out of the way places and consequently an enormous amount of free time, mean that Service men, in those desolate places, find relief of their feeling a certain amount of home sickness, which one can understand their feeling on some far away station, in having the names of their girl friends tattooed on them.

Mr. Wilkins

On a point of order. May I respectfully suggest that what we are hearing is a Second Reading speech which is in no way connected with the contents of the Bill. I understand that on Third Reading it is in order to talk about only the contents of the Bill.

Mr. Speaker

I am grateful to the hon. Member for helping the Chair in its duty.

Mr. Kimball

I should like to ask my hon. Friend what evidence was produced to him during the passage of the Bill of the amount of tattooing which is done officially and the amount of tattooing which is done unofficially. As I understand it, quite a lot of tattooing is done by unprofessional tattooists with some Indian ink and a very sharp pen nib or pin. The evidence I have been given suggests that the minority of tattooing today is done by members of the professional organisation representing tattooists in this country.

Much play is made with the psychological effect of tattooing of minors. I am one of those people who regard with great suspicion any evidence produced by a psychologist, and I should like to ask my hon. Friend whether, during the passage of the Bill, he has retained the same feelings he had earlier about the psychological effect of the tattooing of minors, about which much play was made during the earlier stages of the Bill.

I think that one point is quite clear, and that is that there is a very great need for this Bill. It stops a practice which is confined not just to the seaports of this country, a practice which is spreading in the most incredible manner across the industrial areas, and I hope my hon. Friend will succeed in getting the Bill on the Statute Book.

11.20 a.m.

Mr. Martin Maddan (Hove)

In this Third Reading debate I will deal with some of the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball).

In Standing Committee I undertook, with my co-sponsors, to examine whether the penalties in the Bill are the right ones. May I explain what I have done and why the original penalties still remain. I was suggested that the penalties were insufficiently severe, especially for second or third convictions. With the help of the hon. Gentleman the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department I have looked at this very carefully. The penalties for offences against youngsters based on legislation passed at different limes in our history are rather a hotchpotch. My co-sponsors and I came to the conclusion that the penalties should remain as they are, although two of my co-sponsors said that they would prefer the penalties to be increased but would be prepared to go with the majority.

The penalties in the Bill equate with penalties for failure to provide for the safety of children at entertainments, for allowing children to take part in dangerous performances, for selling cigarettes to children and for falsely claiming qualifications in and attempting to practise dentistry, or as an optician. These are all activities which could have serious long-term effects on a child.

A further consideration is that traditionally, going back at least as far as the days of woad, tattooing has not been an offence, and suddenly to introduce heavy penalties for something which has not hitherto been an offence seems not to be appropriate. The best tattooists, those who are members of the Guild of Tattoo Artists, support the Bill, and in these circumstances I do not think it would be right to treat this new offence as more serious than it is.

It has been suggested that people become very attached to their tattoos, but I believe that most of them wish that their tattoos could be detached from them.

Mr. Speaker

Order. To deal with that problem will require another Bill.

Mr. Maddan

The reason why the Bill is confined to the United Kingdom and does not give protection to people who are tattooed abroad, is that this is where the writ of our law runs and the most practical way of tackling this is to make the offence an offence on the part of the tatooist and not of the person being tattooed. The person being tattooed is a youngster almost by definition who does not know the rights and wrongs of what he is doing, and it would therefore be inappropriate to make him guilty of an offence.

Mr. Kimball

I thought that the law of Westminster extended to Northern Ireland. Will my hon. Friend say why the port of Belfast was excluded?

Mr. Maddan

Traditionally, or by agreement, those matters which are within the purview of the Northern Ireland Parliament are left to them, and, as this is within their purview, Northern Ireland is excluded.

My hon. Friend asked how many tattoos were done by tattoo artists as opposed to amateurs. A plastic surgeon in the north who deals with the removal of tattoos tells me that 70 per cent. of the tattoos he has removed have been done by professional tattooists and 30 per cent. by youngsters themselves using Indian ink and a needle. The Bill is unlikely to catch the youngsters who tattoo themselves, but there is evidence that this craze of youngsters for tattooing is imitative and once the professional tattoo artists stop tattooing minors, then the imitative "do it yourself" youngsters will find that the practice is less attractive to them.

My hon. Friend also asked about the psychological effects. I will not give a disquisition to the House about these, but one of the two main reasons for the Bill is that tattooing causes psychological distress. The north country surgeon whom I have mentioned tells me that all his cases are of people who have been tattooed before the age of 18. Some of them have suffered a mild psychological upset and others have suffered from a severe anxiety state which has necessitated treatment by a psychiatrist.

When I became interested in this matter, not being tattooed myself but being quite used to seeing people who have been tattooed, I was surprised to find how much distress can be caused by a tattoo undertaken in a moment of exuberance, and this is so even with hard-baked people with wide experience of the world. A former colleague, Commander Kerans, who sat for The Hartle-pools, wrote to tell me how much he supported the Bill, having himself been unfortunate enough to have been tattooed when he was a snotty. It is not only those who are particularly sensitive who later find their tattoo an embarrassment.

I can further substantiate that by quoting examples which have been sent to me by the Director of the Manchester and District Youth Development Trust, Mr. Harold Marchant. He mentions a youth of 19 who says he wants his tattoo removed because: People take one look at you—decent people like—and they don't want to know you. He mentioned a boy aged 14 who had been tattooed for a dare and now regrets it; a boy of 16 who thinks that his tattoo will prevent him ever getting a good job and a lad of 19 with tattoos on his hands which, he says, make me look like a crook. One can understand that people come to resent their tattoos.

I have only one final comment, and it is to thank the Minister for the technical help which he has so readily given me throughout the various stages of the Bill. I hope that the House will show its appreciation, if that is the correct way of putting it, by allowing the Bill to go forward to its Third Reading.

11.30 a.m.

Mr. Grant-Ferris (Nantwich)

I will not detain the House for many minutes. I intervene only because the Bill is a matter about which I feel very deeply. It is a step in the right direction and runs contrary to the trend of events generally in the country today. It shows, in other words, that there is some limit to the lengths that the permissive society can be permitted to travel.

Surely it is morally wrong to allow a situation to continue where young people can have their bodies mutilated. After all, the human body is the greatest creation of Almighty God, and young people should be protected from such practices until they are old enough to know what they are doing. I speak from some personal knowledge. A close relative of mine, now dead, had some tattooing done at an early age, and he regretted it all the days of his life.

We should welcome the Bill as being something which ought to be done and which is contrary to the general run of events, which, I am sorry to say, by much of our legislation this House has hastened in recent years. I am delighted to see that, for once, this House is acting in the way that it should.

I hope that the Bill will speedily become law. I congratulte my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan), and I congratulate the Government for providing the facilities to allow it to become law. I am sure that it will be beneficial to the country and will show the country that it will not be completely easy for the permissive society to develop in all the ways that it wants.

11.32 a.m.

The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Elystan Morgan)

I shall detain the House only for a few minutes. The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Kimball) has raised several interesting hares, but it is not necessary for me to chase them, nor is it in the interests of hares which appear later on the Order Paper.

The Home Office warmly welcomes the Bill. It believes that it is workable and that it is a Measure which will be of considerable social benefit, albeit in a limited way.

The physical injury brought about by tattooing is not great, although it has caused considerable physical damage in some cases. As the hon. Member for Hove (Mr. Maddan) said, it is really the psychological effects which are the most important in this connection. As a lawyer and a Home Office Minister, I have seen a great number of cases in approved schools and other institutions where a high percentage of young people have been tattooed at a very early age. Clearly there is a close connection between the incidence of tattooing and the incidence of crime. I am not saying that the fact of a person being tattooed leads him to commit crime, but sometimes the process of rehabilitating that person to become a useful member of society can be retarded by the fact of his having been tattooed at an early age.

I am sure that the House accepts that it is right for the onus of proof to be placed upon the prosecution in these cases and that it would have been unfair and probably unworkable had the Bill been drafted otherwise. If hon. Members have doubts about the possibility of detection in this connection, I think that it is right to remember that the very fact of making it a crime will probably catch most of the cases with which it was hoped it would be able to deal.

Let me add a brief comment about penalties. I do not think that the penalties provided in the Bill are too low. It should be remembered that, as a summary offence, it is possible as a maximum for a person to be sentenced for a period of up to six months' imprisonment but this has not been done for a charge under the Bill. It is likely that, wherever a tattooist is discovered, there will be a number of tattooees. One will lead to another and, in practice, a person so charged will face a number of charges.

Again, it is a fact that there is a precedent for this in the Cheshire County Council Act, passed by this House last year. Section 51 of that Act prohibits the tattooing of persons under the age of 18 without the consent of a parent or guardian. The penalty provided there is a fine of £50.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hove for his kind remarks. I wish his Bill well. It is one which serves a useful social purpose, and I hope that the House will speed it on its way.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed