'Government dominated by 'Catholic opinion'
A SHORT debate in the House of Commons on Friday on the recent failure of an attempt by a number of delegates to promote birth control through the World Health Organisation developed into a sharp attack on Catholics and the Church.
It was practically a two-man debate, Mr. Douglas Houghton (Labour, Sowerby) attacking Catholics, and Mr. Walter Edwards, former Labour Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty, a Catholic, answering him.
Mr. Houghton wanted the Gnnernment to explain the "negative attitude" of the British Government's delegate last June when the Irish and other delegates were Warning the W.H.O. that certain Governments might withdraw from it if the movement in favour of birth control proceeded.
On the problem of "growing pressure of population and food," Mr. Houghton said : "There are not only health, moral and social aspects of this question,
• but there are sectarian aspects and views on the flatter. I admit that there is a religious approach but there is also a secular approach.
"We must respect religious opinion, but that does not mean that we must be silent under it, much less that we should submit to it.
"I believe that disease, misery, death and starvation are infinitely more immoral than any form of birth control.
"The longer the policy by the Government is dominated by fear of Catholic opinion, the longer the nations of the world ignore the likely fate of millions, the greater will be the eventual disaster ."
At this, a Catholic member, Mr. William Teeling (Conservative, Pavilion, Brighton) asked if he might interrupt.
Mr. Houghton. coming to the end of his speech. declined to give way, and said:
"I plead for courage and for a bold lead from the United Kingdom on the imperative need for population control—birth control if you like. I do not shrink from the term. I have no spinsterish inhibitions about defining this in terms of birth control."
Mr. Walter Edwards said he had wondered before the debate if it was meant to be an attack on the Vatican and the Catholic faith in this country, and remarked that from Mr. Houghton's speech "it is such an attack."
Mr. Edwards continued: "I want to oppose strongly any move by this Government, which certainly was never taken by the Labour Government, to support the principle of birth control by interfering in India and other places.
"I could not sit here and listen to what was a definite attack upon the Catholic faith of this country and on Catholic principles without saying something in reply to my hon. Friend.
"He can leave the Catholic Church to look after itself. The Catholic Church wants no assistance in any way. We shall do our job in a legal way, in the same way as we have always done it.
"I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will say that she supports the attitude at the World Health Organisation, that it is for those countries to decide for themselves what they wish to do about the restriction of birth, and not for us to tell the Dominions or the Celonies what they have to do in that respect."
Miss Patricia Horesby-Smith, Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health, replying to the debate, said she found herself in some agreement with Mr. Edwards, and assured the House that there has been no change in the Government's policy.
"Under the National Health Service. under Part II of the Act, we in this country provide that the gyneacological department of a hospital may be used to provide advice on contraception in any case where
i the avoidance of pregnancy is considered necessary on medic grounds.
"Also under Part III o the Act married women attending local health authority clinics as expectant or nursiog mothers may be 'given birth control advice if the doctor in charge of the clinic thinks that a further pregnancy should be avoided on medical grounds.
"But we do not believe that it is any part of the duty of the World Health Organisation to interfere with grounds. That is very much the conor impose policy on economic cern of the individual sovereign Ciovernments and whatever policy they personally may pursue."
Miss Hornsby-Smith said the (Jovernment recognises that very strong views are held by other countries, and "we consider that it would be a disaster if this World Health Organisation were broken over an issue of this nature.
"We also have great responsibilities of our own towards native populations under our jurisdiction.
"Her Majesty's Government have set themselves against imposing anything of this nature on any territory under our control.
"Hon. Members will be in no doubt how readily such a policy would be misrepresented as an attempt to control native populations to the advantage of white minorities. Hon. Members must be well aware of the dynamite such a policy would carry.
"Her Majesty's Government do not consider that the W.H.O. is competent to discuss or express views on the social, economic. or ethical aspects of birth control."