HC Deb 21 July 1931 vol 255 cc1249-57

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable mental defectives to undergo sterilizing operations or sterilizing treatment upon their own application, or that of their spouses or parents or guardians; and for purposes connected therewith. I realise, and those associated with me realise, that in making this request we are asking the House to do something which may be regarded as in advance of public opinion. That in itself is a difficulty. We realise that we have to convert a large section of the people of this country to a full appreciation of what we propose to do with those who are in every way a burden to their parents, a misery to themselves and in my opinion a menace to the social life of the community. I should be failing m my duty to the House if I did not state that in my opinion, although perhaps not in the opinion of those associated with me, this Bill is merely a first step in order that the community as a whole should be able to make an experiment on a small scale so that later on we may have the benefit of the results and experience gained in order to come to conclusions before bringing in a Bill for the compulsory sterilisation of the unfit.

The Bill is based on the willingness of those suffering mental defects to undergo an operation which will prevent them from bringing children into the world. The Bill provides every reasonable safeguard for the voluntary principle. In the first place, the patients themselves must consent to the operation. In the second place, the spouse or parents or guardian of the defective must agree to the operation. In the third place, there must be the consent of the Board of Control; and, finally, the operation can be carried out only after approval has been given by a judicial authority, such as a bench of magistrates. The operation is not the mutilation usually associated with sterilisation. I need not go into the details, except to say that it is devised in order that the emotional life of the patient shall not be affected in the slightest degree, but that the patient shall be effectively prevented from bringing children into the world. There are various operations on the male. There is a very simple operation which is done in five minutes, usually with a local anaesthetic. There is no danger attached to it. Out of 5,000 odd cases dealt with in this way in California, there has been only one death, and that was under the anaesthetic. In the case of women it is a rather more serious operation, but no more dangerous than an operation for appendicitis.

The Bill has been prepared in consultation with the Eugenics Society. For many years, with the active support and co-operation of social workers, members of the medical profession, economists and biologists, the society has attempted to focus public attention on a problem, failure to solve which can tend only to the progressive deterioration of our stock. A few statistics are available regarding the progressive deterioration of the stock in this country alone in the report of the Mental Deficiency Committee set up by the Board of Education and the Board of Control in 1925. The report was published in 1929. They estimated that the certifiable mental defectives in the country were 300,000, of whom 25,000, or only one-twelfth, were in institutions. Another 50,000 were under the control of guardians. They had no recommendation to make with regard to the whole of the remainder, but they recommended that institutions should be provided for one-third of them, that is to say, for 100,000. That in itself would be a tremendous drain on the public purse and would tax the capacity of local authorities for many years to come. But in any case, even if you provide institutions for 100,000, what about the 200,000?

Only last week I asked a question of the President of the Board of Education regarding what happened to the children who left the schools for the feebleminded. He replied that in some cases the local authorities had after-care arrangements. But I can assure him that in one of the largest local educa- tion authorities in this country, namely London, there is no systematic aftercare of the mental defectives. On the authority of headmasters of some of these schools, these children go out into the world at the age of 16, and within two or three years, so I was assured by one of them, at least 25 per cent. of them have been "up," either before magistrates' courts or children's courts in various parts of the Metropolis; and he said also that in the normal way, as far as he could ascertain from the statistics and information which he was able to compile in the five or six years during which he had been head of an institution, of those that left, within three or four years they had married and had children or they had to be married and they still had children.

Of course, it may be urged that mere sterilisation is not enough. It may be urged that that will not cure the problem of mental disease. We are not suggesting that it would, but we are suggesting that the knowledge which has been obtained and the statistics which have been compiled as to the ancestry of mental defectives in a number of different States and countries, show that anything from 45 to 80 per cent. of the mental defectives in those various States and countries are so because they have inherited defective germ plasm. We are suggesting that it would be advisable to take the risk and sterilise all the defectives in the hope that by a generation or so we shall reduce the mental defectives to measurable quantities.

I would respectfully urge the House to give permission for the Bill to be printed and to come up for Second Reading in order that the Bill as a whole may be read by hon. Members. I suggest that there should be no opposition to it on First Reading in order that Members as a whole can become acquainted with the provisions of the Bill. Necessarily I can only briefly sketch a Bill which, so far from violating the laws of God and morality, attempts to do something which is supported by large bodies of social workers, 53 local councils, a whole mass of opinion in the medical profession and the scientific profession, and a whole mass of biological opinion. Fifty-three local boroughs has said definitely that they are in favour of the principle embodied in the Bill. I beg the House to give permission for the introduction of the Bill, not merely because of the authoritative weight behind it, not merely because it is brought forward as a tentative and experimental Measure, but also because hon. Members themselves should have an opportunity to examine the Bill and to study the documentary evidence in the reports issued by various bodies, and so realise fully the importance of the problem due to the increase of mental defectives in our midst.


I rise to ask the House not to give leave for the introduction of this Bill. The House has heard a harrowing tale which is mostly moonshine. The Bill is said to be in advance of public opinion, but it is really in advance of common sense and ordinary sanity. With regard to mental defectives there is said to be an increase rising crescendo in geometrical progression to overwhelm the world in an avalanche of mental backwardness, and to lure the progressive world headlong into an abyss of degenerate civilisation. We have just heard a Member speaking experimentally as an acknowledged expert with practical knowledge of anatomy, mental science, psychology, social conditions with everyday practical experience and long continued touch with the working class, and institutional inmates and with a trained medical mind on a most controversial subject. In the words of Danton: De Vaudace, encore de Vaudace, et toujours de l'audace. If ever there was a case of a man rising to this audacity, it is the case of a Labour Member rising from these benches to advocate anti-working class legislation. This problem is not new, but nature has its own way of dealing with mental defectives by limiting their progeny. It is an age-long, time immemorial problem, and it has always been a terror which has been held up like the sword of Damocles but has never fallen. Some when inebriated see beetles; the eugenist, intoxicated, sees defectives. The first question is: Are the number of mental defectives increasing? I say it is not a real, but only an apparent and fictitious increase owing to better diagnosis, a finer combing of the population, a higher standard of mental fitness, better methods of ascertainment and better grading. Society is not apical with the Eugenist at the top and the hoi-polloi in the valley. If it be true that mental deficiency is increasing what becomes of the great scientific theory of "the survival of the Fittest"?

What is mental deficiency? There are many and varying standards, and the cause is doubtful. Heredity, still an unknown and exaggerated bogy of humanity, especially in eugenic nightmares, has been foisted upon the world as the main cause of mental deficiency. It all depends on the standard. For instance, in the United States of America the records for the United States Army during the War show that 47 per cent. were said to have the mentality of 13 years of age. So that it depends on your idea of mental fitness. Social adaptability is the quality which is usually urged as the best test, and Members of this House know how difficult it is to adapt oneself to this House and how long it sometimes takes.

What is the main source of mental defectives? There are two sources. Those high up and those low down—Mayfair and Mile End, Belgravia and Bow. The main source of mental defectives is not the certified defectives themselves. It is well known medically that the low grade defective has not a high percentage of fertility. It is the high grade defective. And what is the main source of the high grade defective? It is the subnormal population, the lower submerged 10 per cent. living on the knife-edge of poverty who are alleged to be carriers of a defective germ plasm—and there is said to be a defective germ plasm in every family. The product of these germ cells of the submerged is affected by economic stress, by ill-nutrition, by under-nourishment, by possible injury to the mother, by chronic ante-natal infection, by acute microbic disease, by bad midwifery, by glandular deficiency, and a host of other causes. There is nothing wrong with the germ plasm itself. At the bottom, mental deficiency is an economic problem. The germ plasm of every man represents not a union of two but of hundreds of previous germ cells. It is said scientifically that we have 300 billion paternal germ cells, and 700 billion maternal germ cells in the making of one human. The process of germ division is not a simple but complicated process—a unicellular division and casting off which is one of the great mysteries of Eternal life. The chances of any particular division of cells and qualities are remote, and the odds of any particular union are one in five millions of billions. If every one of these germ cells has a chance of a defective offspring, the chances are a real gamble at the best against the production of a mental defective. If once the principle of maiming or mutilation is admitted, not for the benefit or health of the individual but for the good of others or the State acting for others, there is no brake to sliding down the slippery slope leading to the swamp of State penalisation, where we may get rid of all those obnoxious to the State. Those preaching subversive doctrines may have their tongues cut out. Those writing subversive doctrines may have their hands cut off. The State (those temporarily in power) are the dictators of limb and life. The eugenist upon a pinnacle of intellectual snobbery, looking down upon the less fortunate mental defective, may gradually raise the standard of mental deficiency and push more and more citizens into the maelstrom of the mentally-maimed.

Will sterilisation help? Some will still need institutional treatment. Others will still need communal care and supervision. You are not stopping the source of the supply but you are giving a greater freedom to sterilised defectives to wander as shunned Ishmaels in society, with infantile and puerile minds, with perversions, with anti-social tendencies, being unappreciative of results, willing tools of scoundrels and sharpers, exploited in every way, living degraded lives, spreading disease, mainly venereal, still impulsive sexually and a dangerous menace to innocent women and children, spreading bad habits of hygiene and citizenship, drifting to the lowest and possibly criminal haunts of society like the damned in Dante's "Inferno." Sterilisation is thus not a help but a hindrance. The request for sterilisation is said to be voluntary. Can anyone ask a child of 10 years to submit to he sterilised for the rest of its life? The request is valueless, and the consent unreliable. If consent is by a relative or guardian it raises the great ethical question whether anyone has the right to maim any individual, especially an individual who is alleged not to have sufficient reason to give any consent. Then which sex is to undergo the simple operation? In males, the operation is simple. In females it involves a serious operation, an opening of the abdominal cavity, with a risk of death from anaesthesia or shock or infection, or surgical accidents, or risk of invalidity from a gross disturbance of the interchange, and interplay between important glands. In America they have actually proposed to introduce an electric cautery a foot and a half into a person's abdomen, and then cauterise inside. They have done this operation, and then they tell the public it does not cause any pain.

I submit that this is class legislation. In Europe there are Monarchies and dynasties riddled with haemophilia, a disease transmitted by the females but affecting the males. It causes bleeding

on the slightest provocation or injury. I have never yet heard one expert speak of the advantage of sterilisation in the case of these royalties, and I submit that for these poor, helpless, mentally-maimed people the ordinary average mental defective person, we should adopt the other methods of segregation and socialisation. If we take the long view and not the short view, ultimately mental deficiency, instead of being a terror and a menace, may yield good results to proper methods. I ask this House to refuse to give leave to introduce this pagan, anti-democratic, anti-Christian, unethical Bill.

Question put, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to enable mental defectives to undergo sterilizing operations or sterilizing treatment upon their own application, or that of their spouses or parents or guardians; and for purposes connected therewith.

The House divided: Ayes, 89; Noes, 167.

Division No. 443.] AYES. [4.10 p.m.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Hennessy, Major Sir G. R. J. Robinson, Sir T. (Lancs, Stretford)
Arnott, John Hopkin, Daniel Rodd, Rt. Hon. Sir James Rennell
Atholl, Duchess of Horrabin, J. F. Samuel, H. Walter (Swansea, West)
Bellairs, Commander Carlyon Hurst, Sir Gerald B. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Benson, G. Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Sandham, E.
Bowater, Col. Sir T. Vansittart Knight, Holford Shakespeare, Geoffrey H.
Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W. Lamb, Sir J. Q. Shillaker, J. F.
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Lambert, Rt. Hon. George (S. Molton) Simon, E. D. (Manch'ter, Withington)
Buchan, John Lathan, G. (Sheffield, Park) Sinclair, Col. T. (Queen's U., Belfast)
Butler, R. A. Leach, W. Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Campbell, E. T. Leighton, Major B. E. P. Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Courtauld, Major J. S. Lewis, Oswald (Colchester) Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West) Long, Major Hon. Eric Smith-Carington, Neville W.
Daggar, George Maclean, Sir Donald (Cornwall, N.) Sorensen, R.
Davidson, Rt. Hon. J. (Hertford) Makins, Brigadier-General E. Steel-Maitland, Rt. Hon. Sir Arthur
Day, Harry Mander, Geoffrey le M. Stewart, W. J. (Belfast South)
Denman, Hon. R. D. Mathers, George Strachey, E. J. St. Loe
Dudgeon, Major C. R. Millar, J. D. Taylor, Vice-Admiral E. A.
Dundale, Capt. T. L. Morris-Jones, Dr. J. H. (Denbigh) Thurtle, Ernest
Eden, Captain Anthony Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.) Todd, Capt. A. J.
England, Colonel A. Paling, Wilfrid Trevelyan, Rt. Hon. Sir Charles
Ferguson, Sir John Palmer, E. T. Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)
Fremantle, Lieut.-Colonel Francis E. Peake, Capt. Osbert Warrender, Sir Victor
Glassey, A. E. Peters, Dr. Sidney John Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Glyn, Major R. G. C. Price, M. P. Wayland, Sir William A.
Guinness, Rt. Hon. Walter E. Pybus, Percy John Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Gunston, Captain D. W. Quibell, D. J. K. Windsor-Clive, Lieut.-Colonel George
Hall, Capt. W. P. (Portsmouth, C.) Ramsay, T. B. Wilson
Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Rathbone, Eleanor TELLERS FOR THE AYES.
Hastings, Dr. Somerville Raynes, W. R. Major Church and Sir Basil Peto.
Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield) Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y)
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Brothers, M. Charleton, H. C.
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro') Brown, Ernest (Leith) Clynes, Rt. Hon. John R.
Alpass, J. H. Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire) Cobb, Sir Cyril
Ammon, Charles George Buchanan, G. Cocks, Frederick Seymour
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Bullock, Captain Malcolm Compton, Joseph
Baker, John (Wolverhampton, Bilston) Burgess, F. G. Cowan, D. M.
Barr, James Buxton, C. R. (Yorks. W. R. Elland) Crichton-Stuart, Lord C.
Batey, Joseph Cadogan, Major Hon. Edward Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil)
Bowen, J. W. Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.) Davies, Rhys John (Westhoughton)
Bowerman, Rt. Hon. Charles W. Cautley, Sir Henry S. Dukes, C.
Broadbent, Colonel J. Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth,S.) Duncan, Charles
Ede, James Chuter Lang, Gordon Scrymgeour, E.
Edmunds, J. E. Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Scurr, John
Edwards, C. (Monmouth, Bedwellty) Law, Albert (Bolton) Sexton, Sir James
Egan, W. H. Law, A. (Rossendale) Sherwood, G. H.
Evans, Major Herbert (Gateshead) Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge) Shield, George William
Fermoy, Lord Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Shinwell, E.
Foot, Isaac Lee, Frank (Derby, N.E.) Simmons, C. J.
Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton) Leonard, W. Sitch, Charles H.
Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.) Lloyd, C. Ellis Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Gibbins, Joseph Longbottom, A. W. Smith, Lees-, Rt. Hon. H.B.(Keighley)
Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley) Longden, F. Smith, Tom (Pontefract)
Gill, T. H. Lunn, William Smithers, Waldron
Gossling, A. G. Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) Stephen, Campbell
Gould, F. McEntee, V. L. Sullivan, J.
Grattan-Doyle, Sir N. Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Sutton, J. E.
Gray, Milner McShane, John James Thomas, Major L. B. (King's Norton)
Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan) Maitland, A. (Kent, Faversham) Thompson, Luke
Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Manning, E. L. Thorne, W. (West Ham, Plaistow)
Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.) Mansfield, W. Tillett, Ben
Groves, Thomas E. March, S. Tinker, John Joseph
Grundy, Thomas W. Marcus, M. Toole, Joseph
Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton) Marshall, Fred Townend, A. E.
Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil) Maxton, James Vaughan, David
Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel) Meller, R. J. Viant, S. P.
Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Messer, Fred Wallace, H. W.
Hardie, David (Rutherglen) Middleton, G. Walters, Rt. Hon. Sir J. Tudor
Hardie, G. D. (Springburn) Mills, J. E. Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert
Hayday, Arthur Montague, Frederick Watkins, F. C.
Henderson, Rt. Hon. A. (Burnley) Mort, D. L. Watts-Morgan, Lt.-Col. D. (Rhondda)
Henderson, Joseph (Ardwick) Muff, G. Wellock, Wilfred
Herriotts, J. Murnin, Hugh Westwood, Joseph
Hicks, Ernest George Nall-Cain, A. R. N. White, H. G.
Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth) Naylor, T. E. Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Nicholson, Col. Rt. Hn. W. G. (Ptrsf'ld) Whiteley, William (Blaydon)
Hoffman, P. C. Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley) Williams, Charles (Devon, Torquay)
Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Isaacs, George Perry, S. F. Williams, E. J. (Ogmore)
John, William (Rhondda, West) Potts, John S. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Jones, Llewellyn-, F. Remer, John R. Wilson C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Jones, J. J. (West Ham, Silvertown) Richards, R. Wilson, J. (Oldham)
Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford) Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Kelly, W. T. Riley, F. F. (Stockton-on-Tess) Womersley, W. J.
Kennedy, Rt. Hon. Thomas Ritson, J.
Kenworthy, Lt.-Com. Hon. Joseph M. Romeril, H. G. TELLERS FOR THE NOES.
Kinley, J. Rosbotham, D. S. T. Mr. Logan and Dr. Morgan.
Kirkwood, D. Salmon, Major I.

Question put, and agreed to.