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Family Planning Groups

Volume 990: debated on Monday 4 August 1980

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

11.38 pm

There are several groups in Parliament that not only transcend party barriers but leap the gap between this House and another place. I am the chairman of one such group, the all-party Lords and Commons family and child protection group. The group receives information and complaints from parents, teachers and other interested persons covering a very wide area.

The information that we have received has led us to be greatly concerned about some of the activities of the Family Planning Association and other bodies that are funded by public money to a great degree.

I hope that it will be universally agreed that Parliament must accept its responsibility to all taxpayers to expend their money wisely and justly. The taxpayers have no alternative but to pay. It is a bitter thing to be forced to contribute money which is being used to break the law of the land and to weaken family ties and debase children.

I am sure that some of the activities of the FPA are carried out by people who are both worthy and well meaning and that sections of the FPA do a good job. I entirely agree with contraception and am all for fostering responsible attitudes to parenthood and sex. Adults run their lives as they wish, and the FPA has helped many of them. I make no complaint whatever about that.

But the FPA has moved very far from its original activities, and a large proportion of its efforts are now directed towards the young. When little children, far under the age of consent, are encouraged to go on the pill, told that ideals are outdated, given contraceptives of all kinds, and when parents are deliberately denied their right to know what is going on, and when all of this is done with public money, the time has come for the strongest complaints to be made to responsible Ministers.

A father in the West Country complained to the Family and Child Protection Group last month that at his daughter's school there had been a visit of doctors from the Brook Clinic and the FPA on a sex education day course. First, a speaker from the family life association spoke about adult relationships, about love and marriage and the dangers of illicit sex. Then a doctor from the Brook Clinic spoke on contraceptives, and all kinds of contraceptives were not only discussed but examined.

Then—and here came the real mischief—the girls were divided into groups, the teachers were not present, and the FPA workers spoke to them. The children were asked what they had already been told on this subject—the question of sex and illicit relationships. The FPA worker sneered at ideals and almost said that ideals were things that one could not possibly live up to and should not try. The father of the child who wrote to the group about the matter wrote one sentence which, I feel, is most apposite. He said:
"I feel that education is about excellence and high standards and not about expedients and conformity with the short-sighted and weak."

Does not my hon. Friend agree that when such matters are to be discussed in our schools parents should have the right to know beforehand about the type of instruction which is proposed? Does she not further agree that parents should have the absolute right to withdraw their children from such classes if they feel that it would have long term ill-effects, or any ill-effects, for that matter?

I very much agree with my hon. Friend. I shall, if I may, in the interests of keeping within the bounds of the debate, speak on the subject of the DHSS and the funds which it donates to these bodies, although what my hon. Friend has said is correct, within the context of schools.

My point is that these activities should not be funded by public money given by the DHSS. We have had many such cases. A 15-year-old girl in Ipswich earlier this year caught VD after some time on the pill. She had secret medical treatment at first because she was too ashamed to tell her parents, who finally found a VD clinic card in her room. Imagine the effect of that on responsible parents. The FPA had given the girl contraceptives which are no protection whatever against VD. Her doctor was not told, nor were her parents. The whole operation was funded by public money.

I know of the case of a girl of 13 who was also given contraceptives by a local family planning clinic. At that time she had not had sexual relations, but within a short time of receiving the contraceptives she had had sexual relations with 10 or 12 different boys within a fortnight. The situtation was so bad that the child could not go to school. The point that we should consider is that these children are really too young. They are not mature enough to handle the problems which this kind of behaviour brings on. The girl was in utter despair when she was placed in that predicament, though the help given to her was no doubt given with well meaning intentions. Nevertheless, it was a terrible predicament and eventually the whole family had to move because it was impossible to remain in the same house.

There are dozens of such cases, and when parents complain to the local education authority, or to the DHSS, their complaints tend to be shuffled from one desk to another and from one official to another. They feel a sense of angry frustration, particularly at the fact that their own money is being used to do that to their children.

The Family Planning Information Service is a Government-sponsored and publicly funded body administered by the Health Education Council for which the position of director-general was recently advertised at a salary of about £20,000 a year. We are, therefore, paying people large sums of money. The Health Education Council, run by highly paid officials, has done some extremely dubious things and backed some quite disgraceful publications.

The Family Planning Information Service is also administered through the Health Education Council and the FPA. This service receives £155,000 per annum to promote birth control facilities and services. The DHSS also grants £55,000 per annum to the FPA for its regional centres, though that sum is currently under review.

Bearing in mind some at least of the things that these large sums of money are used for, the amount should be cut for the following reasons. First, we are experiencing a time of severe financial stringency and there can be no excuse for spending public money unless the cause is just and right. Secondly, it should be cut because the FPA is in part a highly lucrative business, having its own contraceptive mail order business called Family Planning and Sales Ltd. That business covenants its surplus back to the FPA, and those surplus profits are neither small nor static.

In the early 1970s there was a mere £10,000 per annum profit. The figure for 1978–79 given in the annual report of the FPA for that year was no less than £116,000. In eight years, profits increased from £10,000 to £116,000. In 1975 the FPA made arrangements with the DHSS for Family Planning Sales Ltd. to market a contraceptive wholesaling service to area health authorities taking over FPA clinics.

A Monopolies and Mergers Commission report for 1975 contained a comment from the trade that the FPA's education activities were a good means of widening the market for contraceptives. Are these the people who should be teaching children and training teachers to help other children to ask for the goods which they supply and sell?

It is totally wrong for groups with vested interests in the sale of contraceptives to give sex education, or advice, to children, and for Parliament to compound the evil by doling out scarce Government funds to bump up the profits of those groups is grave mismanagement by the DHSS.

There are other reasons why the money should be cut. First, when these items are given to children there is no protection against venereal disease. It is a terrible thing that we are giving children items paid for by Government money which can give them a nasty and dangerous disease.

There is then the question of cancer of the cervix. It is not often raised. Recently a medical report confirmed that early and frequent sexual activity was very likely to bring about this form of cancer. Are we giving an antidote to teenage pregnancy? A lot of well-meaning people believe that that is why it is right to give these items to children. Yet statistics show that the greater the availability of contraceptives to youngsters, the greater the promiscuity and the more abortions there are. What in heaven's name are we doing to our children?

Many of these children are well under the age of consent. How does Parliament view the fact that it is providing public money to break the law? We should make no mistake about it. It is illegal for a man to have sexual relations with a child under the age of consent. Yet these clinics are constantly doling out these items which must inevitably lead to the breaking of that law. I cannot think that it is right that public money should be used to flout the law in this way.

There is no doubt that the authority of the family is gravely weakened when the parents are not told and not allowed to be told that their children are receiving these items. One parent I know went to a family planning clinic to complain. The parent asked the direct question: "Have you given these things to my daughter? She is only 12 years old." She was told "It is no business of yours." That cannot be right, and without question it weakens the authority of the family. As my hon. Friend the Minister well knows, the Government are pledged to strengthen, not weaken, family life.

I end with criticisms of the FPA which have been put before my committee, all of which are important and none of which is long. One person wrote:
"The FPA is no longer an association to help plan a family but rather to advocate sex at any age."
A doctor wrote:
"As a doctor interested in family planning and the health of schoolchildren I valued the humanity and integrity of the FPA up to about 10 years ago when it changed its leadership and style to a brash and insensitive utilitarian publicity image. The fact that the present FPA no longer has clinical doctors or nurses in its employ means that their professional ethics are no longer a stabilising force."
That is a point on which the House should ponder. The letter continues:
"The present FPA's publicity methods … not only consist of arrogant attacks on anyone who disagrees with them, but also produce misleading information for young people and a constant denigration of pregnancy as either an inconvenience or dangerous.
The mental, emotional and physical health of children is too important to be manipulated by the present FPA's educators, who appear to be using sociological theories in order to break down individuality and personal morality."
The final letter states
"I think that the Department of Education should know that normal parents like me and others do not want the FPA to have anything to do with educating our children in sexual matters."
Above all, I make the following point for my hon. Friend. He has been most kind in his attention to the representations that my group and others have made to him. He is well aware of the public concern about this matter, of what is happening and of the fact that public money is being used to allow it and to encourage it to happen. I hope that he will be able to tell the House that his Department will be able to look sympathetically on these representations.

11.54 pm

This is part of a concerted attack on the principal family planning charities—the Family Planning Association and the Brook advisory centres. I can cite examples of the campaign over the past several months inside and outside the House, such as the comments of the hon. Member for Halesowen and Stourbridge (Mr. Stokes) on 14 May, as reported in columns 1516–19 of Hansard. There was an article by Mrs. Valerie Riches, the secretary of an organisation called the Responsible Society, in The Daily Telegraph on 13 March. There were two articles by Ronald Butt in The Times on 14 and 28 February. In late 1979 Mrs. Victoria Gillick, who belongs to the Family and Child Protection Group, applied to the Charity Commission to have the FPA struck off the register of charities. The commission rejected the charges made.

The allegations against the charities have to some extent been listed by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight), who I am sure will have headlines in some newspapers tomorrow. It is significant that she has not given names, addresses or identification. It is intolerable to make general and extremely damaging charges without firm evidence. This is not the first time that the hon. Lady has been guilty of that offence.

One allegation is that the two charities are undermining sexual morality by increasing knowledge of contraception and sexuality. That is a specious charge which ignores the social changes that are far more responsible for changing attitudes to sex. The attitude of the press, BBC and television companies, the earlier maturity of youngsters, their more enlightened education and parental attitudes, shape the moral climate in which we live. The charities seek only to recognise and respond to those changes. They are in no way responsible for them.

The short-term priority of the charities is to prevent unwanted pregnancies. In the long-term they aim to teach responsibility in personal relationships and sexual behaviour. Their motives are highly respectable. They are controlled by highly respectable citizens, many of whom I know personally.

The second allegation is that the charities incite promiscuity by giving information about contraception without adjuring young people to preserve their virginity. However, the youngsters who attend the advisory clinics are already sexually active and would be sexually active regardless of whether the charities existed. It is silly and short-sighted to ignore that fact or to pretend that it will go away or be more easily resolved if these charities do not exist.

The third charge is that the charities undermine the family as an institution. What an absurdity. That is an extremely vague charge which is incapable of proof. The assertion is made and it is assumed that it is self-evident.

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that a girl of 12 or 13 years of age, in the situation that we are discussing, emotionally, physically and spiritually would require the help of her parents? Does not the hon. Gentleman believe that the parents should be informed in order that they may comfort their own child?

Absolutely. I shall come to the relationship between a child and its parents. That relationship is not always close and intimate. Often the child does not want the parents to know. It is an extremely difficult social problem. The charities behave in a most responsible way in advising those children to talk over these matters with their parents. They do not act unilaterally.

I am sorry, but I have much to say. I am determined to defend these charities as very desirable institutions which should be preserved and supported by the Government.

Far from these organisations destroying or undermining the family as an institution, family planning over the years has helped to improve family life by educating couples in the ways of planning and controlling the size and age structure of their families.

I am coming to the children. I shall not run away from any of the problems. It is important to attack with vehemence the charges which have been made against the charities.

The fourth charge is that family planning denies parents their rights. In fact, the opposite is true. The charities do all that they can to encourage children under age to discuss their problems with their parents. But in cases of conflict between children and their parents—and they do arise—the doctors can prescribe contraceptives to prevent unwanted pregnancies Would the hon. Member for Edgbaston prefer a 12- or 14-year-old not to go to a clinic and to have a pregnancy and a child at that age?

No. The hon. Gentleman may make his own speech in his own way. It is important to put on record the fact that too few parents discuss sex problems with their children.

In 1978 a study made by Mr. C. Farrell, entitled "My Mother Said", published by Routledge and Kegan Paul Ltd., showed that 7 per cent. of the boys and 17 per cent. of the girls interviewed had discussed these matters with their parents. Therefore, it is idle to presume that parents are playing their part in these matters, as they should be.

The fifth charge that is made against the charities is that they do not give proper warning of the risks of contraception and of sexual intercourse. The point to be made here is that there is no general consensus as to the extent of such risks and dangers. But the charities play their part, and do their utmost, to educate, advise and warn everyone who goes to them. But not even the most comprehensive education, the most skilful advice or the direst warnings will suppress the sexual instincts of human beings. That is a fact that we had all better face. Those instincts have been about for a long time, and they are here to stay, thank God. Whether or not the charities exist, those instincts will be satisfied and often abused. The charities do a magnificent job in eradicating or reducing as far as humanly possible the risks and dangers involved.

The sixth charge made against the charities is that the Family Planning Association exists—the hon. Lady made this point—to increase the profits of its sales company, Family Planning Sales Ltd. She quoted figures which I took down. She said that in 1978–79 it made a profit of £116,000. The fact is that the company concerned covenants all its profits to the FPA's charitable funds and contributes a good proportion of the FPA's budget—about £100,000 out of a national total of about £550,000 in 1980. There is no profit to any individual at all associated with that company.

Indeed, it is not unlike the sales companies run by many national charities. Dr. Barnardo's runs it own companies to raise money for its own purposes. The Boy Scouts Association runs its own company selling camp equipment and all kinds of stuff associated with the Boy Scouts. That practice is in line with the Government's advice—indeed, the Government's admonition—that charities must increase their charitable funds from other sources in order to reduce their dependence on State funds. No director of Family Planning Sales Ltd. receives any salary, except its managing director, who is a retired chemist. That answers one of the other charges that the hon. Lady made.

The seventh charge was made when the application was made to the Charity Commission to suspend the registration of the Family Planning Association. The claim was that the charities are political pressure groups seeking to influence the Government's policy in family planning. Even assuming it was, the FPA is not the only organisation seeking to pressure the Government in those directions. The Roman Catholic Church is a very important pressure group that is never afraid to exercise its influence—quite legitimately, in my view—to put pressure on the Government in certain directions. Therefore, there is nothing in that. But that view, in so far as it was a credible one, was rejected by the Charity Commissioners and, I think, by the Department of Health and Social Security, too.

I turn to the work done by these charities. The FPA has a national office in London and 11 regional offices, including one each in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It operates a family planning information service for the DHSS. It is funded via the Health Education Council, and had a £150,000 budget in 1979.

The FPIS distributes a range of over 40 leaflets and other literature to health authorities, with the knowledge, I presume, of the Department, which will not allow these things to go out without carefully vetting their legality. It publishes a quarterly bulletin called "Family Planning Today", which is sent to all National Health Service family planning doctors and staff throughout Britain. It also runs a personal advice service, answering about 100,000 postal and telephone inquiries per year, which is a fair indication of the demand there is for this kind of service.

The 11 regional offices do parallel work, and they are funded as to 50 per cent. by the DHSS, the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Offices. That—subject to correction—amounts to about £69,000. As far as I know, the figure for 1979 was £69,000 to £70,000. The other 50 per cent. was from the charitable funds of the FPA.

The FPA also has its own educational unit, which provides courses throughout the country, on personal relationships and sex education, for social workers, youth workers, workers with the handicapped, teachers, health visitors and the rest. Those courses are funded wholly from the FPA's charitable funds and course fees.

The FPA also has its own medical advisory panel, serviced by a medical department, in its London office, all funded entirely from FPA charitable moneys. In fact, the FPA ran most of the 1,800 family planning clinics in the country until they were handed over to the area health authorities in the reorganisation of the National Health Service in 1974. But it still has 23 private clinics, providing mostly vasectomy services where the Health Service is unable to satisfy the demand for that service.

The FPA also runs and provides offices for the organisation called Population Concern, which is a fund-raising organisation for family planning programmes in the Third world. That is a very important service and the Minister will not underrate its importance. In 1979 it raised about £100,000 in Britain for those purposes.

I turn to the other charity under attack, the Brook advisory centres. In parenthesis, I point out that, until he became a Minister, the present Solicitor-General for Scotland—an admirable man, a very responsible citizen and a Queen's Counsel of the highest calibre—was one of the directors of the Brook organisation. He would not undertake that kind of work with an organisation which, as the hon. Lady alleges, breaks the law. It is an amazing charge to make—that a Law Officer of the Crown belonged to an organisation which the hon. Lady says is breaking the law. I do not believe it.

The Brook advisory centre runs 15 clinics for young people in several cities, and 60,000 young people a year get advice from the Brook. I do not know where the hon. Lady has gone. I suspect that she has gone to the BBC, or somewhere like that, to make her charges there.

The Brook advisory centres are 15 clinics throughout the country. They are financed by area health authorities and charitable donations. The national office in London is supported by a DHSS grant of £21,000 a year, which is less than half the organisation's budget. The rest of the budget is obtained from charitable funds.

The value of the work of the Family Planning Association and the Brook advisory clinics is widely acknowledged by many authoritative and responsible bodies—for example, by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists in its report "Unplanned Pregnancy" of 1972, by the 1969 article by Thomson and Illsley entitled "Family Growth in Aberdeen", reported in the Journal of Bio-Social Science, by the Scottish Standing Medical Advisory Committee in 1971 in a report entitled "The Battered Child" and by numerous other organisations and individuals. There is little doubt anywhere that the two charities are providing much-needed and much-valued services.

Repeated studies have demonstrated beyond doubt that the provision of family planning services and education associated with that planning result in enormous benefits in terms of health, social well-being, family finances, housing conditions, marital happiness and security. I do not think that there is an authoritive body anywhere that would deny those claims for these organisations. In the present climate of financial stringency, the charities fulfil needs that are unlikely in the foreseeable future to be met satisfactorily in any other way. The Government have gone out of their way to emphasise the importance of extending voluntary work in this and other areas.

The use of statistics can be dangerous and misleading, but I shall put one or two facts on the record. I think that it is a recognised fact that today large unplanned families, with consequential poverty and drudgery, are thankfully very rare. There might be some hon. Members and some outside who disagree with that concept. However, a large part of poverty the world over, poverty and drudgery in large measure, results from unplanned and very large families. That cannot be denied by anybody other than some who have religious prejudices in another direction.

Another fact is undeniable. Births to teenage girls have dropped dramatically. I am not saying that that has happened as a direct consequence of these charities. However, they have contributed in some measure to that fact. In 1971. 51 out of every 1,000 girls aged 15 to 19 gave birth. In 1978, only seven years later, the figure was down to 30 per 1,000.

The shotgun marriages, where the girl is pregnant before she is married, have been reduced to about a quarter of the rate of 10 years ago. In addition, such charities have benefited the population. In 1969, the number of births in Britain exceeded the number of deaths by 100,000. During the past four years, the birth rate has decreased, and is now about the same as the death rate.

Charities are only one factor, but they are important and cannot be ignored. The Government wish to encourage voluntary bodies and charitable organisations to extend their fund-raising efforts. They wish to reduce the burden on the State-provided services. It would be the height of economic and social absurdity, and it would be indefensible, to treat such charities as pariahs, to be singled out for punishment because of the prejudices of a tiny and unrepresentative minority.

I hope that the Government will resist the blandishments of the hon. Member for Edgbaston. This will not be the last that they hear of this issue. I suspect that Conservative Members will agree that the charities are doing noble and valuable work, which should be encouraged.

12.21 am

The question lying behind the debate is simple: do the Family Planning Association, the Brook advisory centres and other family planning charities encourage a lowering of moral standards, or do they simply cope with the consequences of a lower standard of sexual morality, which in turn has several causes? I have little doubt that the charities meet the consequences of a lower standard of sexual morality.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) praised the general work of the family planning charities. The hon. Member for Fife-Central (Mr. Hamilton) was unfair to my hon. Friend in that regard. However, she then pinpointed a particular aspect of their work and said that she had serious doubts about it. She said that a large part of the activities of such organisations was directed towards the young. That is true. In a perfect world that would not be necessary. Unfortunately, as we know only too well, we do not live in such a world. It is not the family planning movement that has changed the standards of sexual morality but the other pressures that have been placed, in particular, on the young. I refer to the pressures imposed by the press, television, the media in general, and by advertising.

Contrary to the opinion expressed by my hon. Friend, I believe that family planning organisations try to deal with the problems that have arisen as a result of the pressure that is put on the young by modern forms of communication. The hon. Member for Fife, Central mentioned several of the criticisms that have been aimed at the family planning organisations. He defended such organisations against such allegations.

It is important to emphasise that the organisations encourage young people to discuss sexual matters with their parents. However, we must accept that often the ability of children—and some are not much more than children—to discuss such matters with their parents is virtually nil. I wish it were otherwise. We must accept that we are dealing with a practical problem and not an ideal situation. The family planning charities are filling a gap. If they did not exist to help cope with young people's problems, the situation would be far worse and there would be many more unwanted pregnancies.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central also referred to the allegation against the Family Planning Association that it attempts to increase the profits of its sales company to line the pockets of those involved. I remind the House that that sales company covenants all its profits to the association's charitable funds.

My hon. Friend will recall that that is exactly what I said. My point was that with such large profits it was debatable whether public money should be used.

I shall take that up later. Governments have encouraged charities to establish separate companies which can raise money to subsidise the charities. I am involved in a charity which in the last two months set up a sales company whose profits will be ploughed into the charity—a research and advisory organisation. In principle, there is nothing against that.

The Government have said that they wish voluntary organisations to raise money in that manner to be used by the charity in addition to the money provided from central Government. Of course, it would be possible for the family planning organisations to operate without Government subventions, but their work would be limited. As a result they would be much less capable of carrying out the role which society asks them to perform.

I believe that these organisations do a good job and that they fulfil an important role. On the other hand, it must be accepted that they are constantly prone to criticism because they work in a delicate and difficult area. No one can deny that, and the fact that there is occasionally a debate such as this, when the services are subject to some criticism, will emphasise to them how careful they must be. I believe that they have set a high standard and that it is their intention to maintain that standard. The money allocated to them by the Government is well spent and is put to excellent use.

12.30 am

I listened carefully to the debate and I am well aware of the general concern felt in the House on this subject. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) for raising the subject, because it is an important one and, as she said, it concerns parents and families and family stability. We all appreciate my hon. Friend's deep concern on those matters and how much she has done to help families, and we also appreciate her sincere feelings on these issues. She will know that much of my medical work was spent trying to help families and particularly young people. I also care deeply about these matters I listened carefully to my hon. Friend's comments, some of which were serious.

The Government are pledged to support and strengthen family life. Listening to my hon. Friend, I found myself asking questions that were also posed by the hon. Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) and my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Mr. Morrison). To what extent does a family planning service contribute, for many couples, to the happiness and stability of the family? To what extent does it help them to accept parental and family responsibilities? Those are fundamental and important questions. Are the services really contributing to the integration of family life, or are they, as has been suggested, leading young people into promiscuity and abnormal behaviour?

The answer is that a family planning service gives a choice to families and enables them to decide rationally the size of the family and the timing. We know that the sensible timing and spacing of children can mean better health for both the mother and the child. It can mean a more stable family life, and it can reduce the number of perinatal deaths. Those are important positive gains.

One can also, of course, look at what happens in large families such as those referred to by the hon. Member for Fife, Central, where the mother is unable to cope, there is a break-up in the family, an inability of the parents and child to talk and a high incidence of child abuse or baby battering.

We have given great thought to whether the family planning service should continue to be funded to the extent that it has been by the Government and whether it should continue to be a free service. It is a difficult question. I remember the discussions that my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds, North-East (Sir K. Joseph) had when he was Secretary of State for Social Services and in which I took part. He decided that family planning should remain a free service and that no one should be prevented from using the service by inability to pay.

Looking at the matter afresh, we have decided that it is right to continue the family planning service as a free service, despite the economic difficulties of the country.

I listened with great interest to the figures given by the hon. Member for Fife, Central. They are not the figures I possess. I will look into the matter carefully. I shall not go into detail about my figures, although I can supply them in a parliamentary answer if the House so wishes. Sadly, despite all the efforts that have been made, the total of illegitimate births, after falling for some years, is now rising again. The number is now 0·7 per 1,000 girls aged under 16, or about 1,400 births a year.

I am sorry also to have to tell the House that the abortion figures are rising again. I have the figures for the past 10 years. In the first six months of this year, compared with last year, abortions have increased from 73,343 to 82,624. They have increased by 10·1 per cent. in the National Health Service sector and by 14·2 per cent. in the private sector. This is a worrying trend. It is a matter of great concern. I suggest to the House that it makes the provision of adequate family planning all the more important.

Despite what my hon. Friend says, and despite the funds being made available, the incidence of abortion is increasing. The two matters do not match. On the one hand, funds are being ploughed in, but, on the other, there is an increase in abortion. Surely the argument is that more should be done to educate young people on the principle of general morality rather than providing artificial aids, a policy that manifestly is not working as illustrated by the incidence of abortion.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. As he will know, there are many different factors. Whereas the figures have been falling in recent years, they are now showing the most alarming signs of increasing. It is a matter of great concern.

The hon. Member for Fife, Central, referred to the reduction in the number of shotgun marriages. He is right in saying that the number has gone down, although not to the extent, I suggest, that he gave. My figures show that, whereas in 1970 there were 26·6 per 1,000 women, the figure had fallen to 11·5 by 1979. This is not the fall to a quarter, as he suggested, but it is right to say that there has been a fall.

The Government thought it right at this stage to continue a free family planning service and to continue to support reputable voluntary organisations working in this sphere. We have already heard a good deal about the amount of money that the Government have been spending on everyone's behalf. The largest contribution last year was made to the Family Planning Information Service via the Health Education Council. The amount was £155,000. This provides a telephone advice service and widely circulated information leaflets. A number of hon. Members have sent me copies of various leaflets. I should like to return to this matter, because it is important to deal with leaflets sent out today and not necessarily those sent out a few years ago.

The Government also support the regional work of the Family Planning Association. In 1979, this support amounted to just under £69,000. The Family Planning Association has asked that the amount should be increased. This year, my right hon. Friend has agreed to an increase to £120,000. There are also Family Planning Association courses for professional people, the Brook advisory centres, which receive £21,000, the Catholic Marriage Advisory Council, which gives advice on natural, if I can call it that, family planning methods, which also receives £21,000, and the National Association for the Childless, which receives £10,000. So at the moment there are direct grants of about £170,000 and indirect grants of about £200,000 a year, in addition to the overall cost of the statutory National Health Service provision.

I realise that some of this work is highly controversial and that some people sincerely feel that the very availability of contraceptive advice can cause promiscuity and the erosion of ethical values. My hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston has been clear in her view that this is so. That is a matter of great concern to us.

I agree also with my hon. Friend that guidance is best given, and must be given wherever possible, within the family, by loving parents. Most parents gladly accept and undertake this duty. But, as my hon. Friend will realise, there are also people, from loving families, who are best helped by someone outside the family. This is where statutory, more objective, outside-the-family advice can be of help—or through a voluntary organisation. Then, as I am acutely aware, there are those from disturbed and totally unloving backgrounds.

As the House will know, we have reviewed the guidance to health authorities on the provision of contraception for under-16s. I mention this because the concept of parental responsibility, on which my hon. Friend rightly put so much importance, was very much in my mind when considering this matter. We have set out clearly the fact that we expect doctors and other professional counsellors who advise young people always to consult the parents unless there are strong and exceptional reasons why it would not be in the young persons' interests to do so. That surely must be the approach. The parent should know, unless that would clearly not be in the interests of the child. We believe that this framework will be observed equally by agencies outside the NHS which work with young people in this way—especially those which receive Government support.

Could the Minister enlighten the House a little more about the person who is making the decision whether the child's parents are better left out or better told? If it were to be a family doctor, who knows the family background and understands the circumstances in which the child lives, it would be perfectly acceptable that a decision should be made on that basis. But is not the Minister aware that many of the doctors in these clinics have never seen the child before, know nothing of the background, the parents or the home circumstances? How can such a person make such an assessment from just seeing the child?

I understand that point. We would expect this advice to be given by medical people or by professionally trained counsellors. We must have confidence that they will carry out their job in a proper professional manner. I will come back later to the subject of abuses.

We certainly believe that organisations which receive Government support will follow the Government's guidelines. The Family Planning Association was among those which warmly welcomed the statement about turning to the parents first unless there were strong reasons against. We also believe that agencies such as the FPA share our view that information about sexual matters which is given to children and young people should not be restricted to the mechanics of sex in isolation from the emotional aspects of loving, caring and lasting relationships.

The FPA makes particular reference to this in its objectives. Thanks to the kindly help of a number of people, I have been looking at some of the literature. The most offensive literature which has been referred to has, in fact, been withdrawn. I have looked at something which many people think is a good and adequate piece of literature. I came across, for example, the following:
"There is no reason at all to feel that you must have sex because you think everybody else is doing it all the time."
Further down, I read:
"Sleeping around when you are young, without real feeling for your partner, could make it more difficult for you to be a happy, contented person as you grow older. With something like 50 years ahead of you, it's worth thinking about whether you really want to have sex with someone just because he or she says you must."
It goes on:
"If you have any doubts, you should talk your feelings over with a sensible older person."
It then says that the most suitable people are one's parents.

Bearing in mind what a difficult subject this is to talk to people about, I should have thought that that kind of information was helpful and constructive and the sort of thing that we ought to support. For example, quite recently, when my right hon. Friend asked the Family Planning Association to cease stocking a book—not published by the association—it agreed at once. There was no argument about taking it off its bookshelves.

I assure the House that we do not dismiss the concerns expressed tonight by my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston and other hon. Members. I have asked the Department to keep a very close watch, while recognising the immense range of good work carried out, particularly by organisations such as the Family Planning Association, on what kind of advice is being given and the way in which it is given, and to let me know of any complaints which should be examined. It must be the Government's role to ensure that public money—my hon. Friend is quite correct about this—is spent in a responsible, ethical way which will increase family stability and raise moral standards and not have the opposite effect.

If hon. Members would like to bring to my notice any practices which they think are harmful, I shall certainly look into them. Where the welfare of the young is concerned, we are very much aware of our responsibilities. We are all grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Edgbaston for raising this matter tonight.