HC Deb 29 January 1951 vol 483 cc675-8

Considered in Committee; reported without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed. "That the Bill he now read the Third time."

8.36 p.m.

Mr. Hector Hughes (Aberdeen, North)

This Bill has aroused a great deal of interest in the port which I have the honour to represent, and for that reason only I want to ask the Minister three questions before the Bill goes through this House.

My first question is on the application of the Bill. Clause 1 applies to a ship on board which a supply of medicine and medical stores is required to be kept under Section 200 of the Merchant Shipping Act of 1894, and that section applies to every ship navigating between the United Kingdom and any place out of the same. What is the position of trawlers, drifters and fishing vessels under Clause 1? Do they benefit? Their need is just as great and serious as that of ordinary merchant ships.

Secondly, I noticed that on Second Reading the Minister said that it was not proposed to make streptomycin available under this Bill. Why not? Clause 1 expressly applies the Bill to substances and preparations, the sale and supply of which is prohibited by the Penicillin Act of 1947. Does this not include streptomycin and other similar preparations? What is the definition of, and the limit on, the preparations to which this Bill applies? And if it does not apply to streptomycin, will a new Bill be necessary to make that available to the Mercantile Marine and also, with regard to my first question, to the crews of trawlers, drifters and fishing vessels?

My third question is: what guarantee will there be that the essential preparations which this Bill contemplates will be available in a fresh condition for the crews of the ships to whom the Bill applies?

I ask these questions not in any sense hostile to this excellent Bill, which will do a great deal of good, but merely because the officers and crews of trawlers, drifters and other fishing vessels are anxious to know what their position will be. Therefore, I hope the Minister will give them an assurance upon these three points.

8.39 p.m.

Lieut.-Colonel Elliot (Glasgow, Kelvingrove)

On Second Reading the Minister mentioned that the medical guide would be ready almost as soon as this Bill became law but, if not, a pamphlet would be circulated giving guidance on how to use this remedy. Can the Minister give us any further information as to the state of the medical guide?

I am glad that the Minister has decided not to include streptomycin. I do not think that the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes) has had many applications from the skippers or mates of trawlers in his constituency suggesting that streptomycin is a remedy which they desire to have applied by themselves or, from the crews that they would desire to have it applied. It would be a very evil day indeed for the crews of the drifters and trawlers of North Aberdeen if streptomycin, in our present state of medical knowledge, were casually applied by mates or by masters, and I trust that that will not be so. I doubt slightly the sources from which the hon. and learned Member for Aberdeen, North, derived his information.

8.40 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Blenkinsop)

I will reply briefly to the points raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Aberdeen, North (Mr. Hector Hughes). First, it is quite clear that trawlers and drifters will not be covered by the Bill because they will not come under the definition of the 1894 Act, which required records to be kept by ships navigating between the United Kingdom and any place outside it. It is essential, of course, for proper precautions to be taken, for the full records which are required in ships doing foreign voyages to be kept, and for the instructions that will be included in the medical guide to be fully adhered to.

As regards streptomycin, I fully agree with the point mentioned by the right hon. and gallant Member for Kelvingrove (Lieut.-Colonel Elliot). It is regarded by all medical authorities as undesirable, at any rate at present, that streptomycin should be made available on board ship without a doctor being present. If, however, at any time this should prove desirable, it can be included within the scope of the Bill, and in such a case official instructions would be included in the medical guide; but that is not contemplated at present. On the question of the danger of penicillin, for example, being stale in a ship's locker, we must rely on full compliance with the instructions that will be included in the medical guide. These instructions will include recommendations on the steps to be taken to ensure that the penicillin is fresh.

I mentioned on Second Reading that we hoped the guide would be ready shortly but that, if not, we would see that a pamphlet or leaflet would be produced so that the necessary instructions would be available in the meantime. The guide, I gather, will take rather longer to produce than we had hoped. It is a comprehensive and large document—a large book, in fact—and will take some time to print; it is the printing which is our problem. We will, therefore, adhere to our promise to issue a special leaflet, which will, I hope, be available very soon. I commend the Bill to the House. We are grateful for the approval it has had from all quarters, and I am sure that it will be of value to many men at sea.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed, without Amendments.