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Sale Of War Toys (Prohibition)

Volume 124: debated on Tuesday 8 December 1987

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4.56 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to prohibit the sale and advertisement of toys and games which are based on military and other weapons.
It is commonplace these days for politicians and others to deplore the current levels of violence in our society, and of course they are right to do so. However, few if any seem prepared to acknowledge that from the earliest formative years we encourage violence among our male children by the toys that we give them.

Last week, the Government produced a White Paper on firearms and there was a general welcome on all sides for the proposals to tighten controls on the holding of firearms. Many of us thought that the proposals did not go far enough. However, if we truly wish to attempt to reduce the levels of violence in our society, we must look to the root causes. War toys are just one of the many influences that create an unhealthy acceptance of violence in our society.

Children are presented with a wide range of violent images. They see them in films, comics and videos and, most important, they see violence on television. The influence of television on children's behaviour for good or bad is almost beyond reasonable question. Through all the different media, violence is super-abundant. In most cases it is sanitised and often glamorised, and we use violence as a form of entertainment. The overall impact is to lower our resistance threshold to violence.

People are not born violent; they acquire such feelings and attitudes as part of the learning process. If the House is serious about wanting to create a less violent society, it must be prepared to go right back to the time when the first messages and images of violence are received by our children. It is generally accepted that play is essential for the psychological development of children. Therefore, the toys with which they play are of great significance and the gun culture has its seeds in children's play.

In our society we stereotype our children from the beginning. We give our male children guns, and to girls we give dolls. In effect, we condition boys for war and girls for childbirth. It cannot be a mere coincidence that nearly all crimes of violence are committed by men, often against women. I mentioned earlier the influence of television on children. Anyone who looks at children's television at the moment will see just how many advertisements there are for toys. Many of those toys fall into what I would describe as the category of war toys.

A recent TV Times contained an insert put out by what was said to be the world's biggest toy superstore—Toys `R' Us. One of the toys shown in the insert is a photon electronic warrior battle game. I understand that it is very popular. Boys will be boys, and the idea is that they actually fire at each other and the hits that they record are electronically registered. This is target practice and is precisely the sort of thing that the police and the armed forces go in for, for more serious purposes. We are teaching our children to point weapons at each other and to fire them accurately.

In the various toy shops that I have gone round, I have seen children using this toy. Christmas is supposed to be a time of peace and good will, but toy stores like Hamleys in London look like a cross between Aladdin's cave and a terrorist's arms dump. Hamleys refused to co-operate with me, but I went there all the same and examined just some of the war toys that are on sale this Christmas. For the child of three years and upwards there are any number of toys that represent in horrifying accuracy machine guns, bazookas, knives, hand guns and grenades. Many of those toy weapons come with realistic firing noise accessories that have made cowboy guns and caps seem relatively wimpish. I shall describe a few of them.

The SA80 weapons system by Lone Star is described in a sales blurb which says:
"A 50-shot quick fire military rifle. Specially designed, insulated non-slip grip. Sight range adjuster. Cheek support for steady aim. Combat shoulder butt. Hand grip allows firing from hip or shoulder. Removable magazine diecast metal. Recommended for three years and older."
That is the sort of toy that is being put in the hands of children who are three years of age and older. There is also the combat force set by Arco. It consists of
"a rapid-fire machine gun, combat pistol and holster",
and something called "soft and safe hand grenades". I have never heard of a soft and safe hand grenade.

There is another toy that is described as "America's newest hero". On the box there is a picture of Rambo and the toy is called a bazooka. The blurb says:
"It comes with real bazooka shooting sound."
That is for four-year-olds and upwards. The Rambo character is widely used at the moment in the media. At one point Rambo is seen as a big hero, but after the recent Hungerford massacre Michael Ryan was described by the media as a Rambo-style killer. We are giving our children totally conflicting messages, and it is not surprising that so many of them are violent, aggressive and wholly confused. There are many other such toys. I cannot go all the way through them, but the last one that I shall mention is called a 36 balloon grenade by Entertech. Its attraction is that one can load it while on the run and is recommended for seven-year-olds and upwards.

War toys claim 20 to 25 per cent. of the toy market in Britain and most of them are imported from the United States, West Germany, Macao, Taiwan and China. I am mainly concerned about the realism of today's war toys. They seek to replicate the genuine article. Indeed, that is their strongest selling point when trying to attract children or their parents.

My Bill would seek to impose a ban on the sale or manufacture of toys based on post-First World War weapons. In Sweden, a voluntary agreement was reached in 1979 between the Government and the Association of Swedish Toy Retailers to cease marketing toys, games, and modelling kits based on post-1914 war images. In 1982, a resolution was adopted by the European Assembly which expressed concern about the role of the mass media in creating a culture of war and violence, which in turn created the demand for war toys. The resolution went on to request EEC countries to take steps to ban the advertising of war toys and the manufacture and sale of replica guns and rifles. The assembly noted that, in West Germany, the EEC's major toy manufacturer, opinion polls have shown that 83 per cent. of the population were in favour of banning war toys.

It is encouraging to report that I have received dozens of letters from all over the country in support of the measures proposed in the Bill. I have had only two expressing opposition—[Interruption.] They were not from toy manufacturers. Those two letters could be classified as coming from nutters in the "get back to Moscow" category.

Some commentators have said that, even if the House accepted the Bill, children would simply use pieces of wood to represent guns. That is true. One cannot hope to eliminate overnight the accumulation of years of conditioning that we have all received. My Bill would be but a start. It is vital that we start eliminating images of violence and there is nowhere better than at the outset of a child's life.

We are now in the middle of the Christmas present buying season. There is no necessity to be a Christian to find the idea of giving toy weapons wholly incompatible with the Christmas message of peace and good will. It is a very long way from Jesus Christ to Rambo. No adult, even remotely concerned about the level of brutality in our society, should contemplate purchasing war toys for children. To so so is to accept the enfeebling attitude that we can do nothing, because violence is part of the natural order. I do not accept such an assertion, and I beg leave of the House to introduce a Bill which will seek to remove one of the root causes of violence in our society.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Tony Banks, Mrs. Ann Taylor, Mr. Dennis Skinner, Ms. Jo Richardson, Mr. Mark Fisher, Mrs. Audrey Wise, Mr. Chris Mullin, Ms. Clare Short, Mr. Harry Cohen, Mrs. Ann Clwyd and Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.

Sale Of War Toys (Prohibition)

Mr. Tony Banks accordingly presented a Bill to prohibit the sale and advertisement of toys and games which are based on military and other weapons: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 22 April and to be printed. [Bill 67.]