HC Deb 27 June 1957 vol 572 cc426-32
The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. J. K. Vaughan-Morgan)

The House will be sorry to learn of the sudden illness of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, and that of the House, I wish to make a statement on lung cancer on his behalf.

In its Annual Report, and more particularly in its special report on tobacco smoking and cancer of the lung—which will be available in the Vote Office at 5 p.m. this evening—the Medical Research Council has advised the Government that the most reasonable interpretation of the very great increase in deaths from lung cancer in males during the past twenty-five years is that a major part of it is caused by smoking tobacco, particularly heavy cigarette smoking. The Council points to the evidence derived from investigations in many countries in support of this conclusion in particular to identification of several carcinogenic substances in tobacco smoke.

The Government feel that it is right to ensure that this latest authoritative opinion is brought effectively to public notice, so that everyone may know the risks involved in smoking. The Government consider that these facts should be made known to all those with responsibility for health education. The Minister of Education included in his recently published Handbook for Teachers on Health Education advice about the dangers of smoking and he is circulating copies of this statement to local education authorities and education authorities generally. Corresponding action will be taken by the Scottish Education Department in Scotland.

The Government now propose to bring these views to the notice of the local health authorities who are concerned under Statute in the prevention of illness and who are responsible for health education as a means of prevention. Local health authorities will be asked to take appropriate steps to inform the general public and in this task they will have the assistance of the Central and Scottish Councils for Health Education.

Once the risks are known everyone who smokes will have to measure them and make up his or her own mind, and must be relied upon, as a responsible person, to act as seems best.

The Medical Research Council is at present supporting an extensive programme of work designed to discover the way in which tobacco smoke exerts its effect and the relative importance of other factors, such as atmospheric pollution, which may also play a part in the causation of lung cancer. The recent expansion of this programme has been greatly assisted by a substantial grant made in 1954 by a leading group of tobacco manufacturers; on the advice of my right hon. Friend's predecessor, the present Minister of Labour, this sum was given to the Medical Research Council with complete discretion as to the choice of research projects to be supported and to the publication of results.

The work at present in progress consists largely of chemical and biological studies of the many different constituents of tobacco smoke and atmospheric pollution. In addition, surveys of the role of atmospheric pollution and of specific industrial hazards in the causation of the disease are being, undertaken. Work along these lines is being supported in many centres in different parts of the country and the Council has also established, as part of its own organisation, three new research groups in Exeter, London and Sheffield, where long-term studies of different aspects of the problem are being carried out. Every opportunity will be taken by the Medical Research Council to pursue any promising new lines of research which may become apparent.

Mr. Lipton

On a point of order, Sir. Is not the Parliamentary Secretary, in effect, answering Question No. 94, whether by accident or design?

Mr. Speaker

I gather not. This is a statement.

Dr. Summerskill

I should like to express the sympathy of my right hon. and hon. Friends with the Minister and the hope that he will have a speedy recovery.

I welcome the statement which the Parliamentary Secretary has made, because I believe it contains a warning, a rather overdue but important warning, to the smokers of this country. May I ask him two questions? First, will he also consider following, in his publicity, a practice which has been adopted in the public health field before—that is, to display notices in those places where large numbers of people congregate? Secondly, would the hon. Gentleman tell us how he proposes to counter the propaganda of the tobacco interests, who are seeking to allay the fears of the public?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

May I express to the right hon. Lady my gratitude for her good wishes to my right hon. Friend, which I shall extend to the Minister's wife, who has had some anxious hours.

On the point about publicity, we are proposing, in this case, to use the local health authorities as the agents for the dissemination of information. A circular is going to them today asking them to take appropriate steps to inform the general public.

Mr. Wade

May I add my sympathy with the right hon. Gentleman the Minister of Health in his illness?

I do not want to ask a frivolous question but the hon. Gentleman referred to the effect of heavy cigarette smoking on males. May we assume, first, that heavy cigarette smoking on the part of females might have a similar effect? In the investigations that are taking place, may I ask, secondly, whether the Medical Research Council will consider the comparative effects of different qualities of tobacco? Thirdly, will consideration be given to the effect of saltpetre in the paper which is used in the making of cigarettes?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

On the question of cigarette smoking by females, there has been an increase in the incidence of lung cancer, but I would ask hon. Members not to ask too many technical questions—I am not trying to evade anything—until they have had a chance to study the Report itself and the circular which is going out. I am sure that the Medical Research Council will bear in mind the other points raised by the right hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Turton

Can my hon. Friend say whether the Report contains any observations on the effect of giving up heavy smoking on the risk of contracting cancer of the lung?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

It does say that it helps to give up smoking at a certain period of life.

Mr. Lipton

May we have an assurance from the Parliamentary Secretary that the Government will not impose any restriction on reasonable expenditure by local health authorities in the publicity they want to undertake to let people know of the dangers of lung cancer? Will he also say whether, in the case of local health authorities that do not take appropriate action, measures will be taken to compel them to do what is necessary?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

The publicity material will be supplied by the Central Council for Health Education and it will be purchased by the local health authorities, who receive an Exchequer grant of 50 per cent. of their expenditure. As to defaulting authorities, we will see how they get along.

Dr. Bennett

Will my hon. Friend bear in mind the possibility of his Department encouraging the putting up of notices banning smoking in places of public assembly, in view of the fact that many who do not smoke find themselves inhaling other people's smoke in large quantities in such places?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I am sure that that is a point which will be brought forcefully to the attention of all local health authorities.

Mr. Blenkinsop

Would the hon. Gentleman agree that what is needed here is continuing education rather than a single, settled campaign? Secondly, would he give us an assurance that there will be no limitation on the availability of finance into further research into this problem, as it becomes possible'?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

On the latter point, I will, if I may, quote my own words in an Adjournment debate on 1st March: It can fairly be said that there is at present no promising line of research which is being neglected for lack of funds."—[OFFICIAL, REPORT, 6th March, 1957; Vol. 565, c. 1645] The limiting factors are personnel and ideas. I am sorry, I have forgotten the hon. Gentleman's other question.

Mr. Blenkinsop

The other question was on continuing education.

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

Yes, this is a question of continuing education.

Lady Tweedsmuir

Will my hon. Friend say whether it is now considered that smoking is a major cause of cancer? Will he also say what grant is given by the Government to direct research into this particular cause of cancer?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I want to choose my words very carefully on the first part of the noble Lady's question. I think it would be best if hon. Members drew their own conclusions from the Report. Words in this matter are of the greatest importance.

As to the amount which is being spent, the Medical Research Council's expenditure on this particular item has risen substantially and now amounts to approximately £40,000 a year. That is quite apart from expenditure on cancer research generally.

Mr. Usborne

Has the Minister considered a slightly different aspect from that which has been put by my right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) and an hon. Member opposite—namely, that the public object to inhaling the atmosphere created by other smokers, so much so that I want to ask whether he will consider banning smoking altogether in public vehicles, or, at any rate, seeing that smoking is forbidden at peak hours, and whether, in particular, he will see that there are more non-smoking carriages in railway trains?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

Many of those are questions which should be addressed to some of my colleagues. As a non-smoker myself, I should not allow myself to be prejudiced in my reply.

Mr. Fort

Would my hon. Friend point out to the health education authorities that local authorities have the power to stop smoking in cinemas and thereby to bring this country into conformity with almost every other civilised country in the world?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I am sure that all local health authorities will pay great attention to everything which has been said today.

Mr. M. Stewart

Will the hon. Gentleman, together with his colleagues, consider whether central and local government and public corporations ought any longer to accept advertisements for tobacco in any of the media under their control?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

That raises rather different issues, if I may say so.

Mr. C. Howell

Now that the Ministry has accepted the fact that lung cancer or carcinoma is on the increase, and since I also presume that it has accepted the fact that tuberculosis is on the decrease, would the Ministry now consider giving directives, or making recommendations, to the regional hospital boards that where facilities are available, and where beds are becoming vacant in tuberculosis hospitals, they should be turned over to chest investigation units?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I do not think that a general answer on that matter would be very helpful. I think that that ought to be considered in detail in particular regions. As for the first part of the hon. Member's question, what the Government have done throughout is to make available to the public the facts as they have become known.

Mr, Langford-Holt

My hon. Friend said that local health authorities are being asked to take appropriate steps to inform the general public. Do we infer from that that they are being asked to consider or to take no other steps in that direction, but merely to see that the public are informed?

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

That is their main duty, as the authorities responsible for the prevention of illness. The means by which they carry it out is for the moment for them to decide.

Mr. Woodburn

Would the hon. Member consider making use of the valuable services of the B.B.C. in this direction, because science on television will bring home to people more quickly than anything else the terrors of this disease? A great many people think of cancer only as a name, but if the B.B.C. could show the speed with which this disease works on the lungs I am certain that it would bring the matter home to people in a far more serious way.

Mr. Vaughan-Morgan

I shall be giving some information on B.B.C. television and radio today.

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