HC Deb 12 April 1960 vol 621 cc1152-7

6.45 p.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Miss Edith Pitt)

I beg to move, in page 3, line 3, to leave out "or" and to insert "including a".

During the Committee stage of the Bill, an Amendment was put down by hon. Members opposite which would have had the effect, had it been accepted, of adding the words "and how many of them are living", relating to the number of children born to the mother, but in subsequent discussion in Committee it transpired that what hon. Members were concerned with was the number of stillbirths born to a particular mother and, at the end of the discussion, I promised that we would think again about the purpose hon. Members had in mind.

We have, in fact, considered this matter in the light of what was said in Committee, and we have put down Amendments in the names of my right hon. and learned Friend and the Secretary of State for Scotland. The purpose of these Amendments, which are, I think, in line with the arguments deployed in Committee, was to make it clear that information may be obtained at the registration of a birth of the number of previous children who were still-born as well as the number live born.

After the debate in Committee, it was realised that the Bill might with advantage make clear what was to be recorded as to the number of children and that this should be done in such a way that information could be obtained about the number of previous still-born children. This, I think, meets the main point raised by the hon. Lady the Member for Warrington (Dr. Summerskill) and her hon. Friends in Committee that it should be physically possible to compile statistics of still-births. We agree that it would be useful in giving more information about the factors influencing still-births, and the Amendment will enable the Register General to compile statistics. I think that is what hon. Members had in mind. We feel on consideration that they would be useful, and I hope, therefore, that the Amendment will be accepted.

Dr. Summerskill

I expressed pleasure before and surprise. I confess that on this occasion I feel a little like Alice in Wonderland, because in Committee when Amendments of this kind were put forward I intervened six times to press my point, but I am afraid that I was not successful.

I am now very glad to learn that the Minister recognises that this will be a useful addition. I think that probably I did not appreciate fully why there was this resistance. I have come to the conclusion that the reason was that there was perhaps a feeling in the minds of the Minister and his advisers that a woman would feel that it was a little impertinent to ask for this further information.

I think that everyone should feel reassured about this. I do not believe that any woman who has already provided information about her own age, her husband's age, whether she was married before her marriage to the father of the child and how many children she has had already would mind saying whether any of those were still-born or not. Most women when they have a still-born child regard it as purely accidental and do not understand the true significance of it. I think, therefore, that women, far from thinking it impertinent, would be anxious to help the doctor, or whoever was ask- ing for the information, to have a true picture of their obstetric life. Therefore, we should have no apprehensions about whether a woman would feel a little uncomfortable about providing this extra information.

Amendment agreed to.

Further Amendment made: In page 3, line 12, at end insert: and how many of them were born alive or were still-born".—[Miss Pitt.]

6.50 p.m.

Miss Pitt

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

We have had a fair amount of discussion on the Bill on Second Reading, in Committee upstairs and again on the further Amendments, which have invoked discussion on Report. I propose, therefore, to refer only briefly to the main points in moving its Third Reading.

I think I can say that we all agree that it is a useful Bill. It does away with the need for the annual renewal of the Population (Statistics) Act and will thus save us the trouble of considering the matter annually in the Expiring Laws Continuance Bill. On balance, it reduces slightly the questions to be asked at the registration of births and deaths, which is in itself some slight benefit to members of the public. It will also make possible some improvement in the statistical information produced by the Registrars-General, particularly in relation to still-births in England and Wales.

The Population (Statistics) Act, 1938, was passed to help us to evaluate and make better use of the significance of changes which had been taking place in the birthrate and how these and subsequent changes were likely to affect the future size and age structure of the population. The Bill enables us to go on doing that.

The Bill also has the important object of providing more information that is relevant to medical research, including research on genetic questions, and it is this that has been emphasised by hon. Members who contributed to debate on the earlier stages of the Bill. Interest in genetic studies has perhaps received a new impetus from their relevance to the effects of ionising radiation. We believe that the new information will be valuable to geneticists, but it is in the nature of studies in human genetics that they must take time to mature. It would therefore be misleading the House if I were to leave any impression that the additional statistics to be obtained will suddenly throw new light on genetic effects from whatever source.

It is not only in relation to genetic studies that the new information about the causes of still-births is expected to be of value. There are many other factors which play a part in the causation of still-births and we hope that the new information will help in finding out more about these other factors as well. The Bill provides for the collection of the information and for the compilation of statistics from it by the Registrars-General. It thus provides some of the raw material needed in population and medical research and we may hope that the research which it encourages will be fruitful.

6.54 p.m.

Dr. Summerskill

This has been an interesting Bill, though most of us deplore the reason for its having had to be introduced in the first place. It stems from the Report of the Medical Research Council in 1956 when it asked for further information. Nevertheless, I always welcome statistics because I feel that only adequate statistics can guide one to a true evaluation particularly of social services in a country. We accept statistics here in the most complacent way, but one has only to go to another country, particularly an Eastern country, and ask for the simplest statistics to find very often that they have not been compiled and one gropes one's way through the information available in order to try to evaluate the standards of another country.

We have the statistics now, and I am glad that the Amendments have been made today, particularly the one which brings forward the date of operation. There is need to make as much speed as possible in obtaining this information in order that the scientists can use it. I should like to thank everybody, particularly my hon. Friends who helped to amend the Bill. I am quite sure that the Bill as it goes on to the Statute Book is an infinitely better Bill than it was on Second Reading.

6.56 p.m.

Mr. Ross

I should like to say a fond farewell to the Bill. [Laughter.] The Parliamentary Secretary may well laugh, but this means a lot to me, because I am now denied an annual opportunity of making a speech on this subject. My right hon. Friend the Member for War-rington (Dr. Summerskill) said that we regretted the reason for the Bill. The reason was that the 1938 Act was due to expire in ten years from that date and, since that time, we have been continuing year after year the collection of what everyone concerned regards as valuable statistics on this rather tenuous basis of renewing the Act annually. It was only in 1957 that we were suddenly informed of the radiation aspects of this matter in a debate in another place.

If in England and Wales we had had this information giving us the greater aggregate totality of statistics which has been available and has been collected in Scotland over the years we would have been in a much better position in the matter of research and evaluation. The Parliamentary Secretary rightly said that it will be some time before we are in a position to better evaluate the situation and to make a progress report. That is because we have left this matter for so long.

We have come to a decision now, and I am glad that we are to have this additional armory of statistics which will enable us properly to study this question which so vitally affects the country. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warrington very rightly pointed out that it was brought out in the Report of the Royal Commission on Population that in a country which considers its social advances and social studies so important we have very little information. In so far as the Bill adds to that information in respect of England and Wales and adds something else in the Schedule in respect of Scotland, I certainly welcome it, but I hope that next time we have a Bill like this we shall not have the Scottish Office jumping the gun.

The last thing we did in respect of the Bill was to add an Amendment to what is politely called the First Schedule, although there is only one Schedule, which completely foxed me and caused me to start looking for the second and the third. This means that the form printed in Scotland will be scrapped. I wonder how much money has been wasted in the Scottish Office over this. I am tempted to put down a Question. At any rate, we welcome the Bill and we are glad that England and Wales are to come up to the standard of information which we in a supposedly taciturn Scotland have been able to acquire about our population.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.