HC Deb 17 February 1937 vol 320 cc1320-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Captain Margesson.]

11.3 p.m.

Mr. Rowson

I want to raise in the House to-night certain matters relating to Papworth Tuberculosis Sanatorium and Papworth Village Settlement. I do so for two reasons. The first is that certain information has come into my possession concerning Papworth which is disquieting. The second is the unsatisfactory nature of answers given to some questions I had on the Order Paper last week to the Minister of Labour and the Minister of Health. I would like to say at the outset that I have no intention and no wish to do an injury to anyone. I want to avoid being vindictive, and I do not want anyone to think I have taken up this matter because I want to do any harm either to anyone in the institution or to those who govern it. At the same time, there are certain things which ought to be brought to the public notice, and if a remedy can be found for these things I shall be quite satisfied. It may he that to some of the criticism I shall offer there will be a perfect answer, but the answers given up to the present time have been very unsatisfactory and very disquieting indeed.

I had this matter brought to my notice because a patient died at Papworth on the morning that he was instructed to go to work. I know that the Minister of Labour will probably not be able to answer effectively this particular point, but I think I ought to make a point regarding this case. It is the case of a young man who had been suffering from tuberculosis for a considerable length of time, and was known to be in a fairly acute stage of tuberculosis, and yet was asked to prepare himself to go to work in the printing shop. Then are two stories told of this case. The first one is that the man was on his way to see the doctor, but quite satisfactory information—and I am given to understand authentic information—was given that this young fellow was actually on his way to work in the printing shop at Papworth and collapsed in the corridor and was dead within 15 minutes. It does seem to me that with all the people who are unem- ployed in this country at the present time, it should not be necessary to ask a patient who is suffering so acutely from tuberculosis to do any work of any kind. I am told, and I do not want to attempt to compete with doctors, that this victim died from what is known as a pulmonary aneurism. I have looked up the dictionary to find out what a pulmonary aneurism is. One definition is this, from Chambers' Twentieth Century dictionary: A soft tumour arising from the dilatation of an artery acting on a part weakened by disease or injury. In Stormont's English Dictionary this is the definition: Dilatation of an artery, a tumour filled with blood which communicates directly or indirectly from an artery and arises from a wound, laceration or a simple dilatation of an artery. It ought to be possible for medical men who are continually supervising tuberculous cases to find out the stage in the disease when a thing like this may happen. If you have a person who is suffering from general weakness, such a state of things as this is always likely to arise, so I am given to understand by medical men. If the people of Papworth are correct in dealing with cases of this kind, many sanatoria authorities with which I have been connected as a member of the Lancashire County Council are absolutely wrong in the methods they are adopting. Another case occurred where a man collapsed at his work suffering acutely from tuberculosis. Surely we ought not to be asking people in this stage of the disease to do work of any kind. There is another case that I want to raise. I am sorry the Minister of Health is not here.

The Minister of Labour (Mr. Ernest Brown)

There may be a misunderstanding. I understood that the hon. Member desired to raise not health but industrial questions, and that is why I am here.

Mr. Rowson

The questions that I wish to raise are mainly industrial, but I expected the right hon. Gentleman would be here. The next point is as to an answer given me to a question with regard to people working in the workshops. I have been to Papworth as a result of the questions that I put on the Order Paper and letters that I subsequently received. I thought it better not to depend on mere hearsay. I went there a week or two ago and investigated the matter as far as I was able. The result was that I put further questions on the Order Paper last week. I want to refer to an answer that I got regarding men from training centres being sent to Papworth to work in the workshops side by side with the victims of tuberculosis. Here again the Minister of Health comes in. This is the reply that he gave to me: These young men work in hygienic workshops and also in the open air. They are aware before they come that they will be employed in a tuberculosis village settlement. They do not reside there. The tuberculosis patients are under constant medical supervision and are trained in the necessary precautions to guard against conveyance of infection. In these circumstances, I am advised that no special risk is involved. I put a further question to him as a supplementary regarding these sanatoria being set up mainly for the purpose of avoiding infection and contagion, and the Minister of Health gave me this reply: I do not think that there can be any objection. These men go quite voluntarily, and, as far as any risk is concerned, they are just in the same position as the medical staff and the nurses, and other people associated with them."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1937, col. 553, Vol. 320.] I confess that that reply gave me a vigorous shock. In fact, we have always advised that people suffering from T.B. should be isolated as much as possible, and the very fact that a person might sleep in the same room as a patient suffering from T.B., even when there is no expectoration whatever, is a source of danger. All the medical men with whom I come in contact say that there is a possibility of infection if you are only breathing the same atmosphere. I wonder that the Minister of Health should have put over a thing like this having regard to his responsibility. It it were a case of diphtheria, smallpox, typhoid fever, scarlet fever, or any of these infectious diseases which have to be isolated, and someone said that they wanted to act as nurse, and children were going into the room and so forth, would any medical man say they were only running the same risk as the doctors and the nurses and the staff run? The thing is utterly preposterous. I cannot appreciate the position that the Minister of Health took up, and from the point of view of infection alone, this practice of sending non-T.B. workers to Papworth should be put an end to as early as possible. When I went down to Papworth I had no idea that I should meet with what I saw and heard. The Minister of Labour, in his reply to me last week, said: I understand that 24 men who were trained at Government training centres, as well as a considerably large number of other non-tuberculous men, are at present employed at the Papworth Village centre."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 11th February, 1937, col. 551, Vol. 320.] These men were informed he said before they took up employment at Papworth. As far as I am concerned—and I want to say this in common fairness to one of the medical men on the staff at Papworth—I do not know how it is that I have different figures. I was shown a list by a certain medical man at Papworth of 28 names of men employed in building, carpentry and cabinet making, who were trainees. The two men to whom I spoke came from what I consider to be distressed areas. One of them came from Wallsend and the other from Liverpool, and both these men as well as others told me that they were not warned of the kind of place in which they were to be employed. They were offered a job, and they made the further statement—and I hope that the Minister of Labour will make further investigation into it—that they had been told by one of the foremen or chargemen or whatever you may call them, that they were not going to be sacked. No matter how much they were dissatisfied they were not going to be discharged, and they dare not leave on their own account. I want the significance of that last remark to be fully borne in mind, because I understand that this "dare not leave on their own" would mean that if they went away they would be charged with voluntarily leaving their employment, and if they were out of work, there would be no unemployment benefit for them. I do not know whether that is true or not. I am giving the information which was given to me, and I was asked to do what I could for this type of case.

Captain Briscoe

Did either of the men complain to the manager in any form?

Mr. Rowson

Yes. They have complained.

Captain Briscoe

Both of them?

Mr. Rowson

So the hon. Gentleman said. I am passing on the information as it was given to me, and very much uncoloured. These two men were sent there and were working in the same place. There were other non-tubercular men in the place, and there were also patients suffering from tuberculosis in various stages. These men object on this ground also, that they felt that if they went to any other place of employment after they had finished at Papworth the stigma of having been employed in a tubercular settlement would still hang around them, and it would be detrimental to their getting further employment. That is the nature of the complaint that was expressed to me freely.

There is another matter to which I should like to draw attention, and that is the rate of pay. These men are engaged on woodwork, and one of them, I understand, had had a certain amount of training as a ship's carpenter. They complained very bitterly about the rate of pay, namely, 38s. for a full week. I do not see how we can defend that, even if we regard them as semi-skilled men. If it be correct that these men are being paid this rate, it is most unfair.

They made a further complaint that sometimes they are sent out on erection work which involves their staying away from their lodgings from one to five days, and they have no extra allowance for staying away, but have to provide for themselves. If they were engaged in the building trade and were sent away, they would get an allowance for living away from their homes. As trade unionists, we take a very serious view when this kind of thing is going on without let or hindrance.

One further point. This settlement has the reputation of being a tubercular colony, and as far as I am concerned up to the end of last month my opinion of the Papworth Settlement was a very high one. I could offer certain criticisms but I am not going to do it. What gives me cause for dissatisfaction more than anything else is this, that whilst I was there I met a young man who had been there nearly a year. He has recovered to some extent and he wishes to remain at Pap-worth and to colonise. He gave me his case. He said that if he was sent back to London he had not a friend or relation in the place. The man wants to stop there. What gives me cause for disquiet is that two men who are longing to get away, who are not suffering from tuberculosis cannot get away and a man who is suffering from tuberculosis and wants to stop there is not allowed to do so. If that is going on then I say that Papworth can no longer be called a tuberculosis colony for the treatment of tubercular patients.

11.21 p.m.

Captain Briscoe

I want to say that I am astonished that any speaker in this House or anywhere else could have spoken for more than two minutes without paying the highest possible tribute to one of the finest institutions in this country. The method by which this question was raised in the House, by question and answer, was unfortunate enough and the speech of the hon. Member this evening has been still more unfortunate. His questions have caused intense resentment among the people who have been interested in Papworth from its inception, and the fiercest indignation among the vast body of men employed at Papworth. They have asked me to let it be known here and elsewhere that the vast majority of workmen at Papworth are more than satisfied with their conditions. They appreciate the great work that has been done for them in curing them of their illnesses and giving them health and happy employment and all that has been done for their social welfare and recreation. These men are proud of the place which has done so much for them and intensely resent the form of the questions and the sort of speech that has just been made.

11.23 p.m.

Mr. E. Brown

The hon. Member first raised this question by question and answer without having had any previous correspondence with me on the matter. I have only a few minutes in which to deal with questions which also affect the Minister of Health, and there are one or two statements of the hon. Member which must be answered. Let me take the first case the hon. Member mentioned. The case of the man who died. The hon. Member had some correspondence with the Minister of Health, and he knows the answer. Let me read a letter which the Minister of Health wrote to the hon. Member, but which he has not read:

"Ministry of Health,

Whitehall, S.W.I.

15th February, 1937.

Dear Mr. Rawson,

I am now in a position to inform you of the result of the inquiries which I have caused to be made by the Medical Department of the Ministry in connection with the question which you asked in the House on the 28th January as to the employment in factories at Papworth of persons suffering seriously from tuberculosis. I am advised, as a result of very careful inquiry, that it is not the fact that persons suffering seriously from tuberculosis are employed in the factories at Papworth or that they are so employed until a few days before death, save in the exceptional case of a patient who is otherwise fit dying from rupture of a pulmonary aneurysm, an event which cannot be foreseen. It is, however, of course, the case that patients who are receiving sanatorium or hospital treatment, as well as ex-patients who are settled in the village settlement, take part in work in such degree as may be medically prescribed as suitable in the individual case. I am also advised that at Papworth every possible care is taken in each case in deciding from the medical aspect what form and amount of work is proper for the particular patient, and that the prescription of work by the medical officer is based from day to day upon his intimate personal knowledge of the physiology, pathology and psychology of each patient. The therapeutic value of patients engaging in light occupation on proper medical prescription is well recognised and it could not, I am convinced, be carried on with greater care than that exercised at Papworth.

Yours sincerely,

Kingsley Wood."

I would add that I am informed that it is not the fact that the man died at work, but that he died on his way to a medical inspection. I am further informed that the man who died was not doing anything that could be described in the ordinary sense as work. He was given the occupation of moving the lever of an addressograph with one finger. It is most desirable that tubercular patients, where it is practicable and where they are not too ill, should be given something to occupy their minds, if not their bodies. I understand that medical opinion supports that, without question, and, as even those who have no medical knowledge well know, a pulmonary aneurism may collapse at any time.

I would point out that the last complaint the hon. Member made was more a compliment than a complaint. He refered to a man who wanted to get to Papworth, but could not. The reason is that this great institution is so valued by those who suffer from this dreaded disease—as the man to whom the hon. Member referred knew—and my information is that the Settlement was full. The hon. Member is taking a very peculiar way of making it easier to enlarge this beneficent institution by raising the matter in the way in which he has tonight.

There are many things I could say if there were time, but I will restrict myself to one or two things. First of all, the hon. Member said that the men to whom he has spoken have the feeling that they are in danger if they leave, but I can disabuse their minds of that idea. That fear is completely ungrounded, and the facts with regard to the trainees is a clear proof of that. There have been, since last August, 38 trainees from four different centres who have gone voluntarily to Papworth, and of those, 14 have left. Since the question was raised, I have had inquiries made of all the 14 cases, and I can only find one case in which there has been a disallowance of benefit, and that was after inquiry by a Court of Referees, in which case the benefit was cut by three weeks. It is clear that the 14 trainees left this institution without any harm whatever. If the particular men to whom the hon. Member referred have that feeling, let them approach the Cambridge Exchange manager, and they will soon have their minds disabused.

As to suitability of work, the opinion of the medical officer has been given and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health gave his opinion on the Floor of the House on Thursday and I can add nothing to that. I can only say it is a very strange thing that this question should be raised in regard to 24 trainees now working there when, side by side with them, are journeymen trade unionists who are paid the full trade union rates of wages. There are 88 ordinary work- men, working under similar conditions, the bulk of them in the building trade working out of doors, but others engaged in carpentry and leatherwork. They are working in the colony for the benefit of the whole institution. They go there voluntarily; they have no fear and they get no harm. As the Minister of Health said, it is never possible in these cases to-say that there could be no danger at all but there is no special risk, according to medical opinion.

Mr. Paling

Why are the 88 workers there?

Mr. Brown

Because there is work to do and they are glad to do it. Of course they do not live in the settlement; they go in and do the job at the full trade union wage and they are glad to get the work.

Mr. Paling

Then it is not a tuberculosis colony?

Mr. Brown

It is of course. I can best sum it up in this way: If hon. Members opposite will turn to the "Daily Herald" of l0th February, they will find a great article entitled "T.B.," by H. V. Morton. It is an article about Papworth, and I commend to them and to the House this paragraph: In a sane and rational world, Papworth would not be in any way remarkable. It does not merely soothe the social conscience by doing something and failing to do enough. It strikes to the root of the problem of T.B. by realising that many people can be cured, and can lead profitable lives if they can work, after their cure, under specialised conditions which do not exist elsewhere.

It being Half-past Eleven of the Clock, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.