HL Deb 10 July 1952 vol 177 cc1013-6

3.21 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill deals with a subject which no doubt is known to many of your Lordships in some detail, but perhaps to most of your Lordships only as a description of a general condition which is somewhat vaguely apprehended. But, as a matter of fact, the hypnotic condition may be described as one allied to normal sleep, which can be induced in a large number of normal persons. I want to lay emphasis on that fact, because it justifies the need for bringing forward this Bill. An experienced operator—that is to say, one who is accustomed to hypnotising men and women—can normally hypnotise up to 90 per cent. of the people on whom he makes the attempt. In the last year hypnotism has been used for what I have heard described as "disgusting stage performances." I am afraid that that is an accurate description. This practice is one which has attracted public attention and, incidentally, has led to the bringing forward of this Bill. Hypnotism can be a valuable therapeutic aid, and it should be used as a measure for relieving and curing disease.

This Bill takes a long step forward to regulate the demonstration of hypnotic phenomena for purposes of public entertainment, and it is brought forward as a necessary measure. There have recently been a number of cases in which public demonstration has led to unfortunate results. I should emphasise that these cases are most serious in persons under twenty-one years of age. Therefore, the hypnotising of these young people for the purposes of entertainment is forbidden entirely by Clause 3 of the Bill. The other main provisions of the Bill are set out in Clauses 1 and 2, and are quite short and to the point. They put an end to the unregulated use of hypnotism as an item in the programme of places kept or ordinarily used for public dancing, singing, music or other public entertainment of the like kind. unless a licence has recently been obtained. In such places where licences are not in force no demonstration or performance may be given unless the controlling authority has authorised it. No person in any place may be hypnotised under the age of twenty-one. Nothing to prevent the use of hypnotism for scientific or research purposes, or for the treatment of mental or physical disease, is contained in the Bill. Hypnotism remains a valuable therapeutic agent, as it has sometimes been in this country and also, to my knowledge, to a great extent in France, and as such it needs this regulation.

When a person is hypnotised he is particularly receptive of suggestions. I suppose that many doctors have occasionally made suggestions not really hypnotically—I have done myself. It is quite easy to convince a person that he cannot open his eyes if, after a little manipulation, he is told not to. Therefore, it is most important that this power should be controlled and should not be allowed in any music-halls or similar places as a matter of public amusement. Another aspect of this matter which requires attention is that hypnotism should be undertaken only by persons who understand what they are doing, and who are not doing it merely to provide entertainment. It should be done by people who know not only how to hypnotise but how to remove the suggestions made during the hypnotic condition. Recently there was a report in the Press of a man who was told that he would fall asleep when he heard a certain tune. This happened not only at the time but later at work: when he heard the same tune be fell asleep. I think it is partly because the performers have been badly instructed, or are careless in their handling of subjects, that the matter has reached such an acute stage. This Bill is brought forward to remedy that situation. I hope your Lordships will agree with me that this is a good Bill, and that you will give it a Second Reading. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(Lord Haden-Guest.)


My Lords, may I address one question to the noble Lord who is to reply on behalf of Her Majesty's Government? This Bill will be applied by the local authorities, and they will have to decide whether permission shall be given for performances of this kind, and, if so, what conditions will be attached to those performances. What I should like to ask the noble Lord who is to reply is whether the views of local authorities have been ascertained, and, if so, what those views are.


My Lords, the views of a good many local authorities have been ascertained, and some of them are in favour of this Bill. In this connection, I may point out that the Bill received a unanimous Second Reading in the other place, and the Members there are fairly closely in touch with local authorities. For my own part, I believe that local authorities are here in a strong position. They can use their powers, and I do not think responsible local authorities will have any difficulty whatever in dealing with this matter. In any event, if they have any difficulty they can always refer to the Home Office, who are themselves anxious that this Bill should go through, to obtain any guidance and help that may be required.

3.28 p.m.


My Lords, I am anxious to give support to this Bill, because I believe that it is a most desirable measure. I have had considerable experience of watching the use of hypnotism in therapeutics, although I have not taken much active part in it. After the 1914–18 war, when there were so many cases of shell shock, a special centre was opened in Devon for the treatment of those cases, and hypnotism was very largely used in the first instance. But those who were in charge soon became disappointed with the results, because they were not lasting. However, they realised that it was a powerful weapon and that, although it was often disappointing and the results were not lasting, it was fraught with danger, particularly with susceptible patients; and the more often they were hypnotised the more susceptible they became. The physicians became convinced that it was much sounder to educate the conscious mind by autosuggestion than to infiltrate an idea into the subconscious mind. They learned that hypnotism must be used with caution, and that the subjects must be carefully chosen.

When hypnotism is used for public entertainment, I am afraid that as a rule these provisions are not observed. In point of fact, the easier the subject is to hypnotise—and the more liable he is to be damaged by hypnotic performance—the more attractive that subject is to one who wishes to give amusing entertainment, or to carry out an experiment before a public audience—an experiment which is perhaps extremely undesirable, even if carried out in private, because there are great possibilities of damage to individuals. I therefore hope that your Lordships will give unanimous support to the Second Reading of this Bill and that we shall soon see it on the Statute Book as an Act of Parliament.


My Lords, so far as Her Majesty's Government are concerned, we see no objection to the Bill in its present form. This is not altogether a new form of entertainment, but it has probably become a good deal more common in the recent past. From that point of view, bearing in mind its potential dangers, it seems desirable that the precautionary steps which are laid down in the Bill should be taken for the protection of the public. So far as the twenty-one years clause goes, all the information which we have goes to show that those persons who appear to have suffered as the result of demonstrations of this kind in places of public entertainment are, in fact, persons under twenty-one years of age. That may, of course, be coincidence; but, on the other hand, it may well be that at that age they are of a more suggestible character than they will become later on, and it is no doubt wise to put in the precautionary aspect which is embodied in Clause 3. I am not ignoring the question which the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, has put to me, but I think the noble Lord in charge of the Bill supplied him immediately with first-hand information on the subject which he raised.

On Question, Bill read 2ª and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.