HL Deb 20 March 1934 vol 91 cc282-5

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.


My Lords, in asking your Lordships favourably to consider the Third Reading of this Bill, it would seem to me desirable briefly to take measure of the opposition which its provisions have aroused. This opposition finds expression amongst many convinced advocates of birth control, and finds explanation in the view that they take—namely, that any advantages that might accrue from the passing of this Bill are more than counteracted by the danger which might be incurred in the propaganda of birth control. Suspicion concerning the Bill has further been aroused by the uncompromising opposition to birth control as suggested by certain right reverend Prelates. The statement of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of London that he would like to make a bonfire of contraceptives and dance round while the bonfire was burning, and the reference of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St. Albans to "these disgusting things," are already recorded in the memories and in the publications of the advocates of birth control; in fact, the right reverend Prelates have made the introducer of this Bill suspect. They are saying that they know a man by his friends.

I will try to remove these apprehensions from the minds of those whose views on birth control I share. It cannot be too plainly stated that this Bill does not interfere with the sale of contraceptives in any way to any person and at any age. It does not prevent contraceptives being exhibited in shop windows, nor does it prevent notices being placed that such sale takes place within. What the Bill does do is to control the public exhibition of drawings and diagrams and the sale of contraceptives in the streets and other public places by means of hawking and automatic machines, these being regarded as offences against public manners. I must, however, once more express my conviction that the best way to exorcise evil is to promote good, and that a necessary condition for dealing with the problem of contraception is to remove that atmosphere of falsity which surrounds it, to realise that these precepts of an opposition are totally out of touch with general practice. Why, if a ballot of persons of marriageable age under the age of forty were taken throughout the country I venture to say that three-quarters, if not seven-eighths, of them would desire to be in a position to employ means to regulate the numbers and spacing of their families. How else is to be explained the steady falling of the birth rate and the increasing intervals between children? And the classes the size of whose families has notably diminished include the great professions, and in those classes the clergy are almost at the top. Again, the new housing scheme in which the whole country is so interested imposes restrictions on the number of average occupants in blocks of flats, and the modern standards of comfort and the modern views against overcrowding carry with them an implicit extension of the social custom, now almost universal, of contraception.

Further, I would like to call attention to this, that there is a growing resentment in more than one part of the country amongst the poorer classes that knowledge available to the rich is being with held from the poor. I would appeal to the Ministry of Health to permit a wider discretion to local authorities so that birth control instruction, which is now permitted, may be extended to all married women. This would direct the movement into regular channels, and would save newly-married women unfit for pregnancy, such, for example, as those afflicted with tuberculosis and heart disease, from endangering their lives. Meanwhile, after its generous reception by your Lordships' House I would ask the Government to look benevolently on this small Bill, which, while putting no restraint on sales in shops, prevents the obtrusion of contraceptives by hawking and automatic machines. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.—(Lord Dawson of Penn.)


My Lords, if the noble Lord who has just spoken has to prevent his friends from voting against the Bill I have to prevent my friends voting against it, but for another reason: I do not want them to think that in voting for it they are approving contraceptives. That is a point I am very anxious to impress upon Roman Catholic Peers, among others. They are not committing themselves to that view at all. This Bill is a very restricted measure and evidence reached me only to-day to show the mischief it is designed to prevent. I have evidence regarding three shops. One is in London, and the evidence sent to me this morning is that that shop is patronised mainly by unmarried men. That only bears out what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said, that this practice has led to an extension of fornication all over England. The next shop is in a large town in the Midlands. My informant writes to say that outside that shop is an automatic machine which delivers not only shilling brands but also brands at sixpence. He ends his letter with the words "sample enclosed." He sent me one of these horrible things. The third shop is in a little country town. It would be very well known if I mentioned the name, but I will not do that for fear of a libel action by the Mayor. In that case a barber's shop displays these things. Why on earth should hairdressers sell such things? I mention these instances only to show those noble Lords who thoroughly disapprove of contraceptives that, in voting for this Bill they will not commit themselves to approval of the practice of contraception. I hope that the fact that your Lordships passed the Second Reading by an enormous majority will encourage the Government to give facilities to the Bill. After all, a National Government ought to care about moral questions, and this is really the only entirely moral question before the country today. No one cares more than I do about housing and about agriculture, but here is a distinctly moral question. I hope that the Government will consider whether they can give facilities to get the Bill passed.

On Question, Bill read 3a, and passed, and sent to the Commons.