HC Deb 20 May 1981 vol 5 cc287-91 3.32 pm
Mr. George Foulkes (South Ayrshire)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to empower local authorities to control by licensing and through the grant of planning permission space invaders and other electronic games in all premises to which the public have access with or without payment; and for connected purposes. The Bill seeks to control "space invaders"—of the terrestial kind—and other electronic games. The motivation is not any whim of mine, but the fact that some months ago the head teacher of Cumnock academy, in my constituency, drew to my attention the increasingly harmful effects on young people of addiction to "space invader" machines. Since then, I have seen reports from all over the country of young people becoming so addicted to these machines that they resort to theft, blackmail and vice to obtain money to satisfy their addiction. I use the word "addiction" not in its increasingly common misuse, as being generally fond of something, but in its strictly correct sense of being so attracted to an activity that all normal activity is suspended to carry it out.

That is what is happening to our young people. They play truant, miss meals, and give up other normal activity to play "space invaders". They become crazed, with eyes glazed, oblivious to everything around them, as they play the machines. It is difficult to appreciate unless one has seen it for oneself. I suggest that right hon. and hon. Members who have not seen it should go incognito to an arcade or café in their own areas and see the effect that it is having on young people.

The machines that have a target of the highest previous score obtained particularly attract a youngster to play them again and again in an effort to beat the previous record. There is little hope of the craze fading, because the current machines have an interest span of about two years, compared with an average of seven months for most amusement machines. There are second and further generations of more advanced machines to hook the kids if the attraction of the present machines should fade, including one with a three-dimensional effect.

There is, of course, much money to be made from the 80,000 or more machines that are currently in operation. It is estimated that the profit from each machine is in excess of £200 per week. That is a conservative estimate. It is blood money extracted from the weakness of thousands of children.

I shall give a few of the many examples that have been reported over the past few months. One of four examples in Cumnock was of a boy about whom I was told: He stole between £60 and £100 from his home in order to play the machines in the Arcade. The boy is of above average academic ability but he admits that he has neglected his studies because of his obsession with the Arcade. His character has changed; he has become sullen and listless". It is interesting but worrying that it is often bright children who have never been in trouble before who become hooked on the "space invaders".

In Dudley, in Worcestershire, a 13-year-old schoolboy is reported as having stolen £106, which his grandmother had collected for her funeral, in order to play the machines. Two schoolboys in Barnsley blackmailed a classmate, who had bought stolen property, to get money to play the "space invaders". A Sheffield mother is quoted as saying that a Jekyll and Hyde change came over her 14-year-old son when he became hooked on ''space invaders". In London, a 13-year-old vanished from his home for 10 days, visiting arcades to play the machines. Also in London, a 17-year-old boy was so desperate for money to feed the machines that he turned to blackmail and theft, demanding £900 from a clergyman with whom he had previously had sexual relations.

Those examples show the force for evil which can arise among young people from addiction to "space invader" machines.

Since the initial publicity about my intention to seek leave to introduce the Bill, I have received messages of support from all over the country—from community councils such as the one in Alexandria, from East Lothian district council which passed a resolution expressing its support, and from Hendon, where local parents are organising a petition to try to stop the march of the invaders. My attention has been drawn to the letter in The Lancet of 28 February 1981 which shows that a further danger of these machines is to bring on attacks in people who have a tendency to epilepsy.

What should we do to control this menace? As there is no return on the money that is put into the machines, it is not classed as a form of gambling. So it is not covered by any of the current legislation to control gambling.

Some people have suggested a total ban on "space invader" machines. However, I would not go as far as that, because adults should be able to make up their own minds and make their own decisions. A complete ban would be too Draconian. Nevertheless, we have a responsibility to limit their growth and particularly to protect children. Home video games, which are not played for money and should be under parental supervision at home, do not have a harmful effect and are not covered by my proposals.

The Bill would give specific powers to district councils so that every person currently operating one of these machines and all those planning to operate them would have to apply to the council for a licence. The council could refuse a licence if it felt that there were already enough machines in the area, if the place was inappropriate, or if it had received acceptable objections from people in the area. The council could grant a licence for a year, with conditions limiting hours of opening—for example, to avoid school hours—or they could set an age limit of, say, 16 years under which access would not be permitted. The Bill would also strengthen the planning powers of local authorities in relation to the development of amusement arcades.

If the proposed Bill does not reach the statute book, as I am led to believe, I hope that the Government will include these proposals in imminent Government legislation, such as the proposed civic government Bill in Scotland. The Under-Secretary of State for Scotland wrote to me some months ago saying I do believe the problem may solve itself in time. There is no evidence to support that. Indeed, it is quite the reverse: it is getting worse. I believe that urgent action is necessary now to counteract this growing menace.

Mr. Michael Brown (Brigg and Scunthorpe)


Mr. Jonathan Aitken (Thanet, East)


Mr. Speaker

Hon. Members are, of course, well within their rights in seeking to oppose the motion, but I remind the House that more than 40 right hon. and hon. Members, including seven Privy Councillors, hope to catch my eye in the main debate. I simply give that information to the House; I am not entitled to do any more.

3.40 pm
Mr. Michael Brown

With that injunction in mind, Mr. Speaker, I shall express my opposition to the motion in less than five minutes.

The measure proposed by the hon. Member for South Ayrshire (Mr. Foulkes) is outrageous and ridiculous. If I have glazed eyes, it is perhaps because I am the one hon. Member who is an avid player of "space invaders". I make no apology for the fact that before I came to the House early this afternoon I had an innocent half pint of beer in a pub with a couple of friends, put lop in a machine, and played a game of "space invaders". Many young people derive innocent and harmless pleasure from "space invaders". The machines—in amusement arcades, in seaside resorts and even in pubs—provide genuine, harmless entertainment for young people.

I am not surprised that the hon. Gentleman, who is a Socialist, should extend his Socialist beliefs in restriction and control, and all the other words that sum up a Socialist, to trying to restrict the innocent pleasure of young people. For every example that he gave, there are many thousands of examples of young people who genuinely enjoy themselves playing "space invaders", and who do not go around with, as the hon. Gentleman said, glazed eyes, though there may be young people who are addicted to cigarettes, drugs or alcohol.

Many people derive an income from manufacturing and providing the machines. Let us remember what the number of unemployed might be if we outlawed or licensed the machines. I also ask Opposition Members to remember that many thousands of young people could be doing many worse things: tramping the streets, engaging in violence—all the things that we in this House oppose.

Young people should be able to enjoy the innocent pleasures that the hon. Gentleman wishes to control. I ask the House to reject this petty-minded, Socialist measure.

Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 13 (Motions for leave to bring in Bills and nomination of Select Committees at commencement of public business):

The House divided: Ayes 94, Noes 114.

Division No. 190] [3.40 pm
Alton, David Davis, T.(B'ham, Stechf'd)
Ashton, Joe Dempsey, James
Atkinson, N.(H'gey,) Dixon, Donald
Bennett, Andrew (St'kp't N) Dormand, Jack
Bidwell, Sydney Dubs, Alfred
Brown, R. C.(N'castle W) Duffy, A. E. P.
!Brown, Ronald W.(H'ckn'yS Dunn, James A.
Eadie, Alex
Buchan, Norman Eastham, Ken
Callaghan, Jim (Midd't'n & P) Ellis, R.(NE D'bysh're)
Campbell-Savours, Dale Evans, loan (Aberdare)
Cant, R. B. Fletcher, Raymond (llkeston)
Carmichael, Neil Fletcher, Ted (Darlington)
Carter-Jones, Lewis Forrester, John
Clark, Dr David (S Shields) Foster, Derek
Cox, T. (W'dsw'th, Toot'g) Foulkes, George
Cryer, Bob Gilbert, Rt Hon Dr John
Cunliffe, Lawrence Graham, Ted
Dalyell, Tam Grant, George (Morpeth)
Davidson, Arthur Grant, John (Islington C)
Grist, Ian Newens, Stanley
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Parry, Robert
Hamilton, W. W.(C'tral Fife) Pavitt, Laurie
Hardy, Peter Pawsey, James
Harrison, Rt Hon Walter Radice, Giles
Hart, Rt Hon Dame Judith Richardson, Jo
Haynes, Frank Robertson, George
Heffer, Eric S. Rooker, J. W.
Hughes, Roy (Newport) Ross, Ernest (Dundee West)
Janner, Hon Greville Sheerman, Barry
John, Brynmor Silkin, Rt Hon J.(Deptford)
Johnson, James (Hull West) Smith, Rt Hon J.(N Lanark)
Jones, Barry (East Flint) Snape, Peter
Jones, Dan (Burnley) Soley, Clive
Kaufman, Rt Hon Gerald Spearing, Nigel
Kilroy-Silk, Robert Steel, Rt Hon David
Lamond, James Stoddart, David
Litherland, Robert Urwin, Rt Hon Tom
McElhone, Frank Varley, Rt Hon Eric G.
McKelvey, William Wainwright, R.(Colne V)
MacKenzie, Rt Hon Gregor Weetch, Ken
McNally, Thomas Welsh, Michael
McQuarrie, Albert Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
McTaggart, Robert Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Young, David (Bolton E)
Maxton, John
Mikardo, Ian Tellers for the Ayes:
Millan, Rt Hon Bruce Mr. John Home Robertson and Mr. Norman Hogg.
Miller, Dr M. S.(E Kilbride)
Morris, Rt Hon A.(W'shawe)
Adley, Robert Howells, Geraint
Aitken, Jonathan Hunt, David (Wirral)
Amery, Rt Hon Julian Jessel, Toby
Atkins, Robert(Preston N) Johnson Smith, Geoffrey
Baker, Nicholas (N Dorset) Kimball, Marcus
Banks, Robert Kitson, Sir Timothy
Beaumont-Dark, Anthony Lang, Ian
Beith, A. J. Lawrence, Ivan
Benyon, W.(Buckingham) Le Marchant, Spencer
Bevan, David Gilroy Lennox-Boyd, Hon Mark
Blackburn, John Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland)
Boscawen, Hon Robert Lloyd, Peter (Fareham)
Braine, Sir Bernard Macmillan, Rt Hon M.
Bright, Graham Marlow, Tony
Buck, Antony Mather, Carol
Burden, Sir Frederick Mawhinney, Dr Brian
Chalker, Mrs. Lynda Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin
Chapman, Sydney Meyer, Sir Anthony
Churchill, W. S. Mills, Iain (Meriden)
Clark, Hon A.(Plym'th, S'n) Morris, M.(N'hampton S)
Clark, Sir W.(Croydon S) Mudd, David
Costain, Sir Albert Neubert, Michael
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord J. Newton, Tony
Dover, Denshore Nott, Rt Hon John
du Cann, Rt Hon Edward Osborn, John
Dunn, Robert (Dartford) Page, John (Harrow, West)
Durant, Tony Page, Rt Hon Sir G.(Crosby)
Dykes, Hugh Page, Richard (SW Herts)
Eggar, Tim Porter, Barry
Emery, Peter Price, Sir David (Eastleigh)
Fisher, Sir Nigel Proctor, K. Harvey
Freud, Clement Pym, Rt Hon Francis
Fry, Peter Renton, Tim
Garel-Jones, Tristan Rhodes James, Robert
Glyn, Dr Alan Ridley, Hon Nicholas
Goodhart, Philip Roberts, M.(Cardiff NW)
Goodlad, Alastair Roper, John
Gorst, John Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Gower, Sir Raymond Rost, Peter
Grant, Anthony (Harrow C) Sainsbury, Hon Timothy
Grieve, Percy St. John-Stevas, Rt Hon N.
Griffiths, Peter Portsm'th N) Shersby, Michael
Grimond, Rt Hon J. Silvester, Fred
Grylls, Michael Skeet, T. H. H.
Gummer, John Selwyn Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Hamilton, Hon A. Speed, Keith
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Speller, Tony
Holland, Philip (Carlton) Spence, John
Spicer, Jim (West Dorset) Wakeham, John
Stevens, Martin Walker-Smith, Rt Hon Sir D.
Stewart, A.(E Renfrewshire) Wall, Patrick
Stradling Thomas, J. Waller, Gary
Taylor, Teddy (S'end E) Ward, John
Temple-Morris, Peter Warren, Kenneth
Thompson, Donald Watson, John
Townend, John (Bridlington)
Trippier, David Tellers for the Noes:
Trotter, Neville Mr. John Carlisle and Mr. Michael Brown.
Viggers, Peter

Question accordingly negatived.

Mr. Michael Brotherton (Louth)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Can you enlighten the House on how it will be possible to deal in future with the sort of trivia that has just wasted 22 minutes of the time of the House?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Nothing said in this House is ever trivial.