On this day in 1936, Their Lordships' House met ... as you would expect, at a leisurely hour in the afternoon ... for a debate on the tantalising subject of "The Nation's Physique."
The debate was opned by Lord Mount Temple. His qualifications for talking about Physique may have been various. He had built a striking Art Deco house in London in which the bathroom, known among the wags as 'Lady Mount Temple's Crystal Palace', was walled with mirrors. Were the journalists prurient to speculate about the social function of such a room? Indeed, when Philip de Laszlo had painted her portrait in 1920, he had skilfully left debatable the question of whether she was wearing any actual clothes as such.
This was a decade in which Naturism was quite a fad. So were fashions such as Racial Improvement and its evil little playmates Eugenics and Contraception. All the best people ... etc.. And Germany ('Jarmany' as our elite often pronounced it) was a Mecca ... no; wrong word ... a country of intellectual resort for the intellectually fashionable. So Lord Mount Temple's speech in the Lords this day was not an enumeration of his wife's charms, but an impassioned appeal that our Youth should be as healthily attractive as, er, the Youth of Germany. He had been to Germany; he chaired the Anglo-German Fellowship, which gathered together some three or four hundred of the 'influential' and advocated friendship with that land. On meeting Herr Hitler he had been impressed by his thoughtful opinions. As so many others had been. Not least the new King Emperor, Edward VIII, one of the conquests (together with Herr von Ribbentrop) of a Mrs Simpson.
The 'Dodgy Doctor' indicated by my rather vulgar heading was, however, not Mount Temple, who was happily innocent of any medical practise, but a Lord Dawson, the next speaker in the Lords debate. Dawson shared his Noble Friend's admiration for the Youth of Germany. He thought ... but no; let us be fair to him, and tune in as he speaks for himself through the echoing pages of Hansard. (You're going to need Hansard as we make our way through the Covid Years.)
" ... we are preventing the death of the unfit as the result of our civilisation, but we have not planned any adequate substitutes. So far as I can see, there is only one adequate substitute, and that is to promote the fit on the one hand, and to see to it that we take care of the inherently unfit and prevent them from vitiating the race. If we allow the policy of promoting the fit to affect our policy, and we turn to our social and intellectual services, I suggest that we have to make them more selective; that is, while securing for the child of average abilities every opportuunity in the limited sphere of usefulness for which it is fit, we have to do everything we can to push forward the better and the best. The administrative difficulties might at first be great, but if we could, say at the age of fifteen, put down a sieve and let those pass through and go on to the next stage, and again at sixteen or seventeen put down another sieve and see how many get through it, and then take the final filtering, there is no money that it would not be worth our while to spend to push that filtrate forward. ... the ... inherebntly unfit ... are the tares in the field of life. Now, in days gone by those inherently unfit were eliminated, not entirely, but in larger numbers; they were cared for but little. They just floundered along as best they could. Today we are preserving them. It is quite proper we should. But we have to protect them and to protect the race. From the point of view of education, surely those who are inherently unfit should be given a kindly, simple shelter, and no effort should be made to raise them above their biological level. If you raise them above their biological level and plant them on the community, you run the risk of vitiating the race by the increase of their defects. These defectives, whether they are physical, mental, or moral, if they happen to be carriers of disease to descendants or if they are undesirable parents, should, I suggest, be discouraged from reproduction and, where possible, prevented from undertaking parentage. ... it is only an accident that we doctors at the present time have not the power of offering--only offering--to these poor things relief from the dangers of parentage. It is a mere chance, and that chance is this, that back several hundred years ago, when there was an awful practice of getting someone to maim you in order that you might escape military service, there arose a law against maiming. That law existed down to this day. It was never meant to apply to any skilled profession, but the law is there. At the present time it is doubtful, and more than doubtful, if I would be enabled to advise the prevention of parenthood, however grave the risk to the person involved. I should lay myself open to be guilty of a breach of this law against maiming. I suggest, as a remedy, simply that the medical profession be exempted from the terms of that ancient law and that we be enabled to extend our powers of preventive treatment in such cases as we are asked to treat and where it is right to proceed. ..."
Is it remarkable that Lord Dawson believed in "exempting" a "skilled profession ... [us] doctors" from regulations and moral imperatives binding upon other people? Perhaps it will appear a little less so if we bear in mind that, only ten months earlier, he had with his own hands murdered King George V.
More on Lord Dawson, and his colleague Sir Julian Freke, in a day or two.