HC Deb 24 March 1972 vol 833 cc1927-47
Mr. Galbraith

I beg to move, Amendment No. 10, in page 2, line 4, at end insert: 'and showing the expenditure of public money incurred by that authority in fulfilling their functions under this Act'.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this Amendment it would be convenient to discuss Amendment No. 11, in line 4, at end insert:

Mr. Deputy Speaker

No. Mr. Speaker has already ruled that there may be only one Division.

Mr. Galbraith


Mr. Deputy Speaker


Mr. Biggs-Davison

Further to my point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I seek—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. It is not in order for the hon. Member to seek to pursue the matter further at this stage.

Question put, That the Amendment be made: —

The House divided: Ayes 3, Noes 68.

'and copies of these reports shall, within one month of being received by the Secretary of State, be published and made available for sale to the general public'.

Amendment No. 12, in line 8, at end insert: 'and how many of these patients subsequently applied again for treatment'.

and Amendment No. 13, in line 8, at end insert: (3) Every local health authority shall be under an obligation to make a report to the Secretary of State every year on any significant effects on the circumstances or social relationships of persons who have received treatment in accordance with the provisions of this Act.

Mr. Galbraith

I imagine that the Amendments will be acceptable to the promoter of the Bill. If it should happen that they are not acceptable to the promoter, I presume that it would be in order to have a Division upon each, because they are all about separate points. They are not related. We could easily have discussed just the one Amendment. The Amendments do not follow each other. May I have your advice about that, Mr. Deputy Speaker?

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I should be prepared to give some advice later, when we see how things go.

Mr. Galbraith

Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is always helpful to know not where one is but where one is not.

The purpose of the Amendments is to provide more information and to make it more widely available than it would be under the Bill in its present form. This is an attempt to improve the Bill. At present, the reform for which the Clause calls deals with the number of people to be dealt with and their age. Clearly, these are two very important matters, mainly of a medical kind and, to a certain extent, of a social kind. But in the Bill we are dealing with a service which is being provided free. It is a relatively expensive service compared with more normal forms of birth control. Though not very expensive itself, it is more expensive than the normal forms of either simply restraining oneself, which I suppose could be called birth control, or mechanical or chemical methods more normally used.

When a service such as this is being provided, it is right that the public should be aware of its cost. No one could complain about that. Presumably the figures will be available somewhere. But it is often rather a job to sort out the figures. We are all aware of how difficult it is to get help on such matters. Perhaps that is one reason why our secretarial allowance has been increased—so that we could have the benefit of people to do this sort of thing for us.

When we are to have a report in any event, it would not be a bad thing for it to be rather fuller, embodying what I believe will be interesting and valuable financial information, readily available without Members having to hunt all over the place for it or get their new research assistants to do it for them. I do not think there is anything unreasonable in this modest extension. I therefore hope that it will be acceptable to the promoters of the Bill and the Government, though I see that my hon. Friend the Minister has left the Chamber. I do not know whether that means he has lost interest in the Bill.

Mr. Patrick Cormack (Cannock)

My hon. Friend has gone only for a moment.

3.0 p.m.

Mr. Galbraith

I am glad to hear that from my hon. Friend's Parliamentary Private Secretary. I imagine that as it will cost a little Government money, the Government will also have a view on that. When I said that he had perhaps lost interest, I did not mean anything disrespectful to my hon. Friend but I wondered whether in an official capacity he no longer felt that it mattered one way or the other.

Amendment No. 11 deals with rather a different point. Reports are always being sent to Secretaries of State on all sorts of subjects. Many of them do not seethe light of day, which may or may not be a bad thing. We tend in the House to be deluged with too much paper of one kind or another, and Members may quail at the thought of more bumf to read, but the public are interested in the matter. The hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton) told us about a recent article in the Daily Mirror. If there is one thing the Daily Mirrorknows, it is what the public are interested in, and that article would not have appeared if they were not interested. We should take a leaf out of the Daily Mirrorand see that the report which is to be received by the Secretary of State is published and made available to the public so that they can not only be interested but be informed of what is happening and be given the facts.

We hear a great deal these days about the need for public participation in government. We even hear calls for a referendum and plebiscites, revolutionary things in our constitution. By comparison with such suggestions from Opposition Members, my request is very minor; that the Secretary of State should be under an obligation not only to receive the reports but to make them available to the public.

It would be very interesting to see whether there is any difference in the incidence of the operation between one part of the country and another, between one occupation and another. That is the sort of information which I hope the report would contain and which would be made available to the public.

That is all I wish to say on Amendment No. 11. It is quite difficult for me to dart from one subject to another like this, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but if that is how you wish the matter to be dealt with, I am happy to comply with your wishes.

Mr. Lipton

I am so impressed by the cogency of the hon. Gentleman's argument so far that I would be willing to accept the two Amendments he has already spoken about and the other two that he has yet to speak about.

Mr. Galbraith

That was what I was very much hoping. There is inevitably a tendency on Private Members' Bills for promoters to feel, particularly at this stage on a Friday afternoon, that anyone who rises to speak is rising to waste time and not to improve the Bill. I know that anyone who has gone to the trouble of preparing a Bill feels very much about it as a mother feels for her child and does not like anyone to touch it.

Mr. Fell

Does my hon. Friend realise that this conversion and readiness to accept a couple of Amendments by one who has been voting against us is magnificent? We now have the first conversion, and it may be that by his influence the hon. Gentleman will be able to help fill our Lobby when these Amendments come to a Division.

Mr. Galbraith

We all know how promoters feel about their Bills. They do not want them altered in any way; they look upon them as their children.

Mr. Whitehead indicated dissent.

Mr. Galbraith

I am glad to see one of the promoters disagreeing. I see the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) shaking his head one minute and nodding it the next. I feel that these gesticulations, if that is the right word, coupled with the verbal support of the hon. Member for Brixton, may help us to get an Amendment accepted.

The next two Amendments are of greater substance and perhaps more important in a medical sense than the purely participatory Amendments with which I have dealt. Dealing with Amendment No. 12, as I understand the Bill a patient may be refused treatment if he is under the age of 30. I see my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell) looking at me suspiciously. This is what the Bill seems to say in Clause 2(2).

Mr. Fells

I feel that my hon. Friend in his first-rate speech is a little out of date. I think he has an unamended copy of the Bill.

Mr. Galbraith

No, I have got a Bill as amended by Standing Committee C. There seems to be some qualification about the age of 30. I understood from what the Under-Secretary said that although there was no absolute bar, there would be the hope the people under 30 would be turned away.

Mr. Fell

I apologise to my hon. Friend. He is quite right and I was wrong. I was thinking of Clause 1(2).

Mr. Galbraith

These Clauses divided into subsections are confusing. Some of these people may be refused if they are under 30. Some may leave it at that and never return. They may say "I am glad I was saved from that." On the other hand others may come back, and it would be valuable to know how many make an attempt to have this operation. I do not see how this provision can be objected to.

Mr. Lipton indicated assent.

Mr. Galbraith

I am glad that the hon. Member agrees. It would be very helpful if it could be accepted.

I come to the last of the quartet of Amendments—Amendment No. 13. I admit that it is a little vague, and the promoter may not like it for that reason, but I believe that it is possibly the most important of the Amendments. If a report is to be made, we may as well make it satisfactory and worth while. I understand from the movements of the head of the hon. Member for Derby, North that he is in favour of three out of four Amendments. Therefore, having got over three hurdles, I hope that I shall be abe to go right round the steeplechase and that we shall finish going down the straight together.

I did not have the good fortune of serving on the Committee, but I have read its proceedings, and I have been very impressed by some of the observations of the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse), who, we all recognise, is a great authority on this and kindred subjects. From what was said by him and by other members of the Committee, it seems to me that in making this operation generally and cheaply available for the first time we are, to a certain extent, venturing on to unknown ground which some of us feel may be dangerous.

It is not a matter of simple birth control of a temporary nature. I am not a doctor; I am a layman, but I understand that once the operation has been done it is difficult, if not impossible, to reverse it.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

That was the advice given to us in Committee by the sponsor of the Bill and by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford), who is a keen supporter of the Bill.

Dr. Tom Stuttaford (Norwich, South)

We try to make it plain in each case that the operation is probably irreversible, although we know that in some parts of the world they are achieving a 50 per cent, rate of reversibility. It would not be fair to tell a patient that there was a 50 per cent, chance of reversibility. We must tell him that he should accept that it is irreversible, even though we know that that may not be so.

Mr. Galbraith

This is news to me, and I am grateful for that information. I do not know whether the chance of reversibility depends on the patient, his age, the cost, or anything else. However, we must accept that in general it is not possible to reverse it.

It is difficult to say what will happen in the future and to decide whether to have an operation which would so fundamentally affect one's life not just temporarily, but permanently. Therefore, because of the peculiar nature of this operation it would be of great benefit to the public if the report to the Secretary of State dealt with the personal and social circumstances of the patients treated, the extent to which the man takes the initiative, the extent to which his wife wishes him to undergo the operation, and the question whether or not the man is married. I know that my hon. Friend will advise that the operation should not be performed at public expense on a man who is not married, but he is a great believer in leaving things to local authorities and they may pay no attention to his advice.

3.15 p.m.

When we think of all the psychological and practical reasons against vasectomy, it is strange that people should still want it. I should like to see stated in the report the reasons why conventional methods are not acceptable. It would also be interesting to know the social and occupational groups from which the patients come and whether they come from a particular area of the country. All this will be most useful in building up a picture of all the circumstances surrounding a request for this unusual operation.

I realise that all this information will make the report more cumbersome, but we are venturing on to uncharted seas and it would be as well if the records of our journey on them were as full as possible so that if in future there should be a move towards a change we shall have adequate information easily available in these annual reports to enable us to make a wise choice.

With these few remarks by way of explanation, I hope that my Amendments will commend themselves to the House and to the promoter of the Bill.

Mr. Whitehead

It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith), who has done a service to the House by bringing forward these Amendments. From the careful way in which he spoke to them, it is clear that he has followed the proceedings of the five weeks during which the Bill has been in Committee. If the hon. Gentleman was following the movements of my head and was concerned whether they were affirmative or negative, he would be right to discern both movements at one time or another. I have slightly mixed feelings about some of the Amendments. I see some merit in the Amendments and will go a certain way in a proper spirit of co-operation.

I have no objection to Amendment No. 10 and do not wish to divide the House against it. I agree with most of the arguments put forward by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead on Amendment 10.

The Government could perhaps indicate—if not here, then in another place—whether they feel that Amendment No. 11 would put an intolerable strain upon those who would have to prepare the reports for publication in the time scale suggested by the Amendment.

I see no particular arguments against Amendment No. 12. The new Clause tabled in Committee by the hon. Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg), which was accepted by the sponsors of the Bill, made clear that we should have a report each year by every local health authority on the work of the Bill. It is right and proper that we should have such a report and also that, in view of the original phraseology of the Bill, we should have annually details of those who have been given treatment and those who have not. Therefore, a small but useful service will be fulfilled by the terms of Amendment No. 12.

I have slightly more reservations about Amendment No. 13, under whose terms a quite different burden will be placed on local health authorities. They will be asked to provide a massive follow-up, not merely according to the needs of the patient but according to the statistical necessity which will be incumbent upon the authority to provide a detailed study of each patient who has undergone the vasectomy operation. This is not something a local health authority is required to do in any other operation under its auspices, and, of course, there are many more serious operations than vasectomy.

Mr. Galbraith

I am grateful for the pleasant way in which the hon. Gentleman is replying to the Amendments, and I am sure he would agree that there is no other operation like vasectomy; it is a quite different kind of operation. Surely he would agree that it is not like an operation for appendicitis or something like that?

Mr. Whitehead

It is not like an appendectomy, but it is a sterilisation operation. Female sterilisation is carried out quite extensively, and we in this largely masculine assembly do not show much concern for female sterilisation, which is an internal operation requiring general an aesthesia, and, indeed, is a much more serious operation. About 20,000 or 30,000 women are sterilised each year under the National Health Service. Sterilisation is a by-product of the hysterectomy operation which is performed on 50,000 or 60,000 women each year. I do not think Parliament has ever called for follow-up services to be carried out on every woman who has had a sterilisation operation or a hysterectomy to see what psychological effects it may have had. If there are psychological side-effects to the vasectomy operation, the careful counselling procedures to be carried out in the advice given to local authorities by the special committee and in the circular will be sufficient to identify them.

Mr. Fell

The hon. Gentleman has just said a most extraordinary thing. It may be that I shall be corrected by my rt. hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith) or by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford), but I do not regard it as apposite to bring in the question of hysterectomy as though it is an operation which is performed for other than medical reasons.

Mr. Whitehead

We have already gone into these matters very fully in Committee, and I should be out of order if I were to refer to them again. It is right and proper that if comparisons are to be made of operations like against like, which is what the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead was inviting the House to do, one should suggest that a similar operation is that of female sterilisation. The operation of hysterectomy renders the woman concerned sterile.

I do not see that vasectomy is so different in kind from the other matters I have been discussing that we should demand, as Amendment No. 13 would require, local health authorities to make a follow-up report on what significant facts, if any, arise from the social relationships of all persons who have had treatment.

It is my understanding that the only Amendment to have been moved so far is Amendment No. 10. I have no objection to that and am prepared to accept it. Subject to what maybe said in another place about Amendments Nos. 11 and 12, I find those relatively acceptable as well. However, I have reservations about Amendment No. 13, since it would give rise to a serious problem for local health authorities if they were required to carry out this kind of search.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

We are grateful to the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) for responding so sympathetically to the case presented to the House by my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith). However, I must ask the hon. Gentleman to acquit hon. Members on this side of the House of any lack of concern for those women who may undergo operations involving sterilisation. I thought that the hon. Gentleman was making a false comparison. He was really discussing operations which are for therapeutic purposes and not for birth control purposes. As the hon. Gentleman knows probably better than anyone, we are concerned with a Bill designed to provide through local health authorities vasectomy operations for purposes of contraception.

I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Derby, North is leaving us. I do not know whether my hon. Friend the Undersecretary intends to intervene, because we have now reached a position where we may perhaps hope to come to a conclusion on this group of Amendments. It is difficult for me to continue in the absence of the hon. Member for Derby, North. As I understand it, he said that he was disposed to accept Amendments Nos. 10, 11 and 12. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead can enlighten me.

Mr. Galbraith

I understood the hon. Gentleman to say that he accepted Amendments Nos. 10 and 11, although he would like to know the Government's view on the practicality of them. He also said that he accepted Amendment No. 12. He had doubts about Amendment No. 13, but I did not get the impression that he was totally hostile to it.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I am obliged to my hon. Friend for assisting the hon. Member for Derby, North in this matter. I see that the hon. Member is with us again. We require clarification about his considered attitude to Amendment No. 13. Apparently he has reservations about it. In the interests of expediting his Bill, does he accept all the Amendments, or will he accept certain of them and not No. 13—in which case I shall suppose that we shall have to proceed to separate Divisions? In any event, I gather that his reservations about Amendment No. 13 are subject to the view of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary. The hon. Gentleman would like to know the extent to which the Department thinks that the implementation of the Amendment is practicable. I think it would be proper for us to hear from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary, and I will gladly give way to him shortly.

I must say in general how warmly I welcome, as to some extent did the hon. Member for Derby, North, the Amendments proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hillhead. As my hon. Friend said, this is an uncharted sea. We do not know the psychological effects upon individuals who undergo this operation, and it is desirable that the fullest possible information should be available to the Secretary of State, to Parliament and to the public at large. I hope we shall hear from my hon. Friend the Under-secretary in reply to the doubts voiced by the hon. Member for Derby, North, especially on Amendment No. 13.

3.30 p.m.

Mr. Abse

We are certainly grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) for the way that he moved this set of Amendments. No one could reasonably object to Amendments Nos. 10 and 12. They certainly indicate a way to obtain the information which we require and which will be of enormous service when the local health authorities become integrated in the new form a few years hence. It is important to use this period as a pilot experiment, as it were, so that when decisions are finally made on the whole question of the integration of the family planning service within the National Health Service we have all the information which we can possibly get.

I ask the Minister not to respond at this stage on matters concerning Amendment No. 11. I think that he may over-commit himself against it. I should be surprised if what is obviously an onerous task being placed on the bureaucracy by having it as expeditiously as is suggested in the Amendment did not cause trouble.

I ask my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) to accept Amendment No. 11 on the understanding that he would need to have discussions with the Government at a later stage if in some way it required to be reshaped.

Mr. Alison indicated assent

Mr. Abse

I am pleased to see the Minister indicate his assent. I think that is the way we should move forward. The Under-Secretary, with his experience, will appreciate that we do not want to provoke the Minister into giving us a firm negative when a little elasticity on our part may get what I am sure is his as well as my objective.

Therefore, we are left with Amendment No. 13. My personal sympathies, as the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead would anticipate from his obviously generous and evident reading of the proceedings, are bound to be directed towards the proposition implicit within the Amendment, because it attempts to grapple with the possibility that mistakes may arise as a result of insufficient counselling, care and probing. We are right to be exceedingly sensitive on this issue. However, the hon. Gentleman was honest and frank enough to say that the sponsor of the Bill may regard it as vague. Although I agree with the intention, I believe that it is not very satisfactory, adept as the draftmanship is, to get at what he is striving to do.

Despite what my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North has said so far, I think, sensing the opinion of the House, that he would be well advised to give an undertaking that if it is possible—I put it no higher—to interpret in a Clause what is a very subtle concept, he will, between now and the time that the Bill goes to another place, discuss with those who have the good or bad fortune to be steering it through the other place a way of meeting what is hoped will be there in some form. If he would do that, I think that we may see in another place something which, in a more refined way, grasps the elusive subtleties which he has attempted, but not wholly succeeded, to put forward. I hope that in that spirit he will accept this group of Amendments in this form.

Mr. Fell

I shall not make a speech about these Amendments. I merely express the hope that we can have guidance of the sort asked for. Unless we have an answer from the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) and from my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State, we shall get into a terrible muddle because we do not know which Amendments are blessed by the Department.

Indeed we are already in a great muddle because we do not yet know whether the Amendments are to be taken separately. They have been argued separately. I imagine, therefore, that we shall be allowed to vote on each one separately. I wonder whether we can have any guidance as to whether we are to vote on the Amendments separately.

Mr. Whitehead

It might be convenient, since time is getting on and as the House has approached this group of Amendments in a co-operative and constructive way, if I follow the invitation of my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) by saying to the hon. Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) that of course I accept on reflection that there might be merits in Amendment No. 11, as in Amendments Nos. 10 and 12. I would like to hear from the hon. Member whether he accepts the serious reservation, which was not a rejection, about Amendment No. 13 as drafted. I would be prepared, subject to that, not to stand in the way of his group of Amendments at this stage, and I would hope to come together with the hon. Gentleman to see whether we could not agree to a mutually satisfactory series of Amendments on the lines of this group of Amendments before the Bill is considered in another place.

Mr. Galbraith

I am not quite certain what the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) is suggesting. Can I prevail upon my hon. Friend the Under-secretary of State to say something before I go on? He sat very still at one stage and then I saw him nodding his head at hon. Members opposite. Can he say a few words about Amendment No. 11 and the extent to which it is possible? There is complete agreement on both sides about this. It really all depends on what my hon. Friend says. Does he think it no good or that it might be possible? Although I welcome the offer of the hon. Member for Derby, North that he and I should get our heads together, I do not think we should achieve anything that way because I believe it is almost impossible to put down in the Bill what the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) and I want to achieve by Amendment No. 13. I think one can only give the most general indication of what one wants included in the report, and this is where the Minister's circular comes into the picture. Can we get into the Bill something on the lines of questions such as whether the initiative is by the man or the wife, whether the man is married, whether reasonable birth control would not suffice and the circumstances of the area in which those concerned live. These simple matters would be of infinite value to anyone interested in this matter. As the Minister will issue circulars, I do not see why we cannot embody these questions in them.

It is a great mistake to be too specific in a Bill; one should simply say that the report should include this sort of subject. The Minister might want to add to or subtract from my list. It is sometimes inconvenient to be pressed as a Minister, but that is what Ministers are for.

If my hon. Friend wants time to consider the matter, we shall understand. Amendments Nos. 10 and 12 are agreed, and there is no objection to Amendment No. 11 except for possible minor administrative difficulties. The only real problem arises with Amendment No. 13, which it is impossible to draft any better. I hope that the Minister will ask for reports under the several headings that I have mentioned.

Mr. Alison

I made a practice in Committee of expressing the wish always to weigh carefully what hon. Members on both sides said. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) said, he is a newcomer to these matters. I have remained silent because I wanted to hear the views of the whole House. I am inclined to support the suggestion of the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) that the House should not divide against these Amendments. However, I must follow my hon. Friend's invitation to weigh his words and assess the implications of the options of either Clauses in the Bill or insertions in the circular so as to choose the most practicable and effective way of giving expression to the wishes of the House. There are further opportunities for carrying this forward. I would wish to consider all these exchanges and see what we can do to help the House. Mean while, I would follow the hon. Member's proposal and let the Amendments go through as they stand.

Mr. Galbraith

Is my hon. Friend suggesting that these Amendments should be accepted?

Mr. Alison indicated assent.

Mr. Galbraith

I am delighted.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendments made: No. 11, in page 2, line 4, at end insert: 'and copies of these reports shall, within one month of being received by the Secretary of State, be published and made available for sale to the general public'.

No. 12, in line 8, at end insert: 'and how many of these patients subsequently applied again for treatment'.

No. 13, in line 8, at end insert: (3) Every local health authority shall be under an obligation to make a report to the Secretary of State every year on any significant effects on the circumstances or social relationships of persons who have received treatment in accordance with the provisions of this Act.—[Mr. Galbraith.]

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

3.45 p.m.

Mr. Fell

We have had a long series of debates today and in Committee, and I do not propose now to speak for more than two or three minutes. I reiterate the considered view of its opponents that the Bill is no better than it was when we discussed it in Committee. Indeed, it is a far worse Measure because of the acceptance of the Amendment tabled by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton), who denuded it of the two real safeguards that it had. It has become a shadow of itself or, as I have described it before, a vasectomised Bill.

The Bill has been slightly improved by Amendments Nos. 10, 11, 12 and 13, and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Hillhead (Mr. Galbraith) is to be congratulated on being the first Member who has spoken in any way against the Measure to have got any Amendments accepted. Indeed, he is the first hon. Member to have any Amendment even looked at kindly either by the Ministry or by the hon. Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead).

I hope that the Bill will never reach the Statute Book—I am quite recalcitrant about that—but I congratulate the hon. Member for Derby, North and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary on being most civil throughout the various stages of the Bill so far.

3.47 p.m.

Mr. Stokes

I oppose the Bill on principle on a number of grounds, and I feel that I have the support of a very large number of people not only in my constituency but in the country at large whose views may not yet have been heard here.

I oppose the Bill, first, because by it the State takes a further hand in what I believe to be an essentially private matter. It represents an extension of State interference which I believe to be dangerous and quite unwarranted. Second, I deplore an attempt to control the population of the United Kingdom when immigrants are still entering the country in large numbers. Third, I fear that the Measure will encourage licentiousness. Fourth, I believe that we still know too little of the psychological and other effects of male sterilisation to give it a welcome even on medical grounds.

The Bill is typical of so many Bills today. We have too many laws. I had hoped that this Government at least, which believe in individual liberty and personal responsibility, would have drastically reduced the number of such Bills and would not have encouraged a Private Member's Bill of this nature. The Bill, although presented in a very civilised way, is the dream of cranks, busybodies, do-gooders and intellectuals who presume to tell us what is good for us, often on completely unknown or false premises. For those reasons, I sincerely hoped that the Government would have steered well clear of this Measure.

The Government have already, in my view, disgraced themselves by giving public money to the so-called experiments of family planning associations in Runcorn and Coalville; experiments which are to saturate—the official word—those two towns with family planning devices and propaganda. I suppose that added to that we shall have the surgeons waiting, sharpening their knives for the sacrificial victims of this Bill.

I also object to the title of the Bill. The very phrase "Family Planning" in this case is a nonsense. "Planning" is a vogue word today, beloved of industrialists and businessmen. "Family planning" suggests that human life can be dealt with as a businesslike operation, and that is what some social engineers would like to see. Thank goodness our lives are not yet wholly planned. The Bill should be entitled "Birth Control and Family Limitation Amendment Bill", but that was probably too forthright for the promoters.

Why this panic to control British births? Why do we doubt our rôle in our own country and in the world? If we have too many births here, there are many countries—Australia, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand, Rhodesia, to name a few—which would be glad to receive more people of British stock. One does not find this fanaticism to control the population in France and other great Common Market countries.

Of course we all want the best to breed more and the others to breed less, but who is to decide that? Not the State, I hope. When I hear the Minister talk of a family coming to an end I am, frankly, terrified. Who is he to say that? We all know of cases where later children have been great blessings to families.

I believe that in these permissive days the Bill will encourage licentiousness. Just as we now have abortion on demand, so I fear that as a result of the Bill we may in time have male sterilisation on demand.

I object to hon. Members—ladies and gentlemen here—propounding on what in my view should be private and sacred matters as if we were discussing the Budget. Human life and freedom to live it in one's own way will be put at risk by the Bill—if not now, then soon. Who knows what the personal circumstances of individuals will be if they have to have what still is, after all, an unnatural operation? Who knows the consequences and side effects?

I believe that if the House were to pass this legislation it would be interfering in human lives in a way that no despot in the past would have dared to have done, and in the end I prefer the common sense of every man to the self-styled experts promoting this Measure.

3.53 p.m.

Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith (Chislehurst)

On Second Reading I had an open mind on the issue with which the Bill is primarily concerned. I now feel that as a result of the age limit having been removed in Committee a tragedy has occurred. That is now my view, despite the fair words of my hon. Friend the Minister.

The Under-Secretary used a torrent of well-chosen phases, but they did not convince me one bit that there are sufficient safeguards and that local authorities will not be able to widen the channels which the Bill opens, so that we shall not at some time have a complete parallel here with what has occurred under the abortion legislation. My fear is that it will be reproduced in this sphere, with easily available vasectomies.

It is all very well for the Minister to say that local authorities will be advised of certain matters, that this is primarily for married men and that the age limit should be about 30. We have already seen a highly qualified minority of doctors abusing the powers we gave them to do abortions. Equally, we can imagine young men, influenced—a young boy, perhaps, having got a young girl into trouble—with recriminations on one side and pressure on the other side, saying to themselves" I will put an end to any possibility of this happening again."

There are not sufficient safeguards in the Bill. I regret deeply that the Committee stage removed what I should have thought was acceptable—an age limit of 30 years.

3.55 p.m.

Mr. Biggs-Davison

I did not address the House on Second Reading, so perhaps I can say something on Third Reading. I agree very much with what was said by my right hon. Friend the Member for Chislehurst (Dame Patricia Hornsby-Smith), that unacceptable though the Bill was to some of us in its original form, it has become so much the more intolerable because of the wanton manner in which the Amendment put forward by the right hon. Member for Sowerby (Mr. Houghton) was put to the Committee. Against the wishes of the Bill's sponsor—who has said nothing about it today—by that Amendment the age limit of 30 years has been removed. Therefore, the House would be very ill-advised to give a Third Reading to the Bill this afternoon.

My hon. Friend the Member for Old-bury and Halesowen (Mr. Stokes) made a very powerful and persuasive speech. He referred to the question of population policy. I have referred earlier to what I consider to be a bias against human life in certain sections of our society today. This recalls what Aldous Huxley wrote before the war. In "Antic Hay" we find this Malthusian attitude to human life: And the way they breed, like maggots, sir, like maggots. Millions of them, creeping about the face of the country, spreading blight and dirt wherever they go; ruining everything. It's the people I object to. This is the attitude of some supporters of the Bill.

We have had a very traumatic experience from the Abortion Act. In most cases that Act has not prevented women subjected to abortion from having another child. There are artificial forms of contraception which make it possible for children to be born later on. But vasectomy is irreversible. For that reason and the very serious aspects of the Bill as it has emerged from Committee, I feel very strongly that it should not go further forward at this stage. It is the sort of Bill which is more suitable to Government legislation, especially as the Government, within a short period, are proposing entirely to reorganise these services.

3.58 p.m.

Mr. Galbraith

Perhaps I should explain why I, as a Scottish Member, have taken part in a debate on a Bill which is limited to England. I always welcome English Members when they partake in Scottish legislation, though I realise that the threat of being put on the Scottish Committee is rather like the threat of being sent to Van Diemen's Land 150 years ago.

But the reason why, as a Scottish Member, I have intervened in the debate on this legislation, which is primarily English, is that I have noticed that when a Bill is passed and becomes an English Act of a sort of permissive kind, in a very short time people in Scotland who until that moment had made no demands for the sort of legislation requested in England immediately raise a demand in Scotland. It is rather a case—

Mr. Whitehead rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put; but Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER withheld his assent and declined then to put that Question.

It being Four o'clock, Mr. DEPUTY SPEAKER proceeded to interrupt the business.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Debate to be resumed—what day?

Mr. Whitehead rose in his place and claimed to move, That the Question be now put.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I am not accepting the closure Motion now.

Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Friday, 14th April.

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