§ 9.9. p.m.
§ Mr. Cyril Bence (Dunbartonshire, East) rose—
§ Mr. Bence
No, Mr. Deputy-Speaker. I have given notice that I wish to raise the matter of the World Health Organisation. I gave due notice according to the Rules laid down some time ago and I understand that the Government Whip has notified the appropriate Minister. I understand that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health will reply.
Many of us look upon the W.H.O. and the idea of a world health research centre as being very important to the world. Tonight I want to deal with the possibility of establishing in this country the proposed research centre and to urge that it should be in Scotland, although I do not want to be accused of being parochial.
I appreciate as much as anyone how difficult it is to get all the members of the United Nations to agree not only about the establishment of a world health research centre, but on where it should be established. There are several agencies of the United Nations in Switzerland and there are others in France and the United States, but we do not seem to have any in Britain. I doubt whether the Government are pressing hard enough for the establishment of such a centre in this country.
There is some conflict among Ministers about the value of this concept. The Lancet reported Sir George Godber as saying that the establishment of a research centre should be based on a national health service and could not be established on a world basis. However, in answer to a Question in the House, the Prime Minister supported the idea of a world health research 736 centre. There seems to be a conflict of ideas among different members of the Government, from the Prime Minister down to the Secretary of State for Education and Science, and among the various agencies of the Government outside Parliament. The discussion has been going on for some time and no decision has yet been taken. No doubt this is because many governments, like our own, are equivocating about the desirability of the establishment of such a centre. However, in this respect Britain is unique, for we are part of a world-wide oceanic Commonwealth.
Much of that Commonwealth is poor and backward and much of it spreads across equatorial areas through climatic belts where many tropical diseases are common. In the last 100 years, much has been done by British medical research to fight diseases common to much of the British Commonwealth which runs through Central Africa, India, Malaysia, Australia the Caribbean and Northern South Amercia.
In London, there is now a meeting of Commonwealth Prime Ministers at which all sorts of questions are being discussed. A splendid contribution which the House of Commons can make—it would be one of the great contributions of this Parliament—would be to convince the Prime Ministers' Conference and the United Nations and its special agencies that we in Britain, particularly in Scotland, could establish a world health research centre to serve the British Commonwealth.
If we cannot get a world-wide decision, why should we not establish a regional health research centre serving the Commonwealth? Under the United Nations Charter, we are all striving for world order, world government and a world peace organisation, but as we cannot get that yet, we have to take the next best thing and have regional pacts and regional organisations. No one quarrels with that. We start with a small unit and build up, starting on the basis of the widest agreement. Why not start in this case with the Commonwealth and have a centre in this country serving the needs of all branches of medicine throughout the British Commonwealth.
This week Malawi, which was previously known as Nyasaland, celebrated 737 her independence in Blantyre. Nearly every institution in this country was developed by missionaries from Scotland. This country was discovered by Dr. Livingstone. The majority of its Christian establishments are derivatives of the Church of Scotland. The Scottish influence there is terrific. Malawi was once part of a federation which failed for reasons into which we need not inquire during this debate. The ties between this new nation state in Africa and the Scottish nation are the strongest that exist between a black nation and a white one, and anyone who visits that country soon learns that Scotland means something to the people there.
I am convinced that the establishment of a world health research centre would have a tremendous psychological effect on the nations of the Commonwealth, especially if that centre were in Scotland, because wherever one goes in the Commonwealth one discovers that the Scots are known as great medical and theological missionaries. Scots have played a tremendous part in the development of the Commonwealth. From New Zealand, right through to Malaysia one finds Scots who have served those countries in the Civil Service, in medicine, and in other ways.
I believe that this process should be continued by building this research centre in Scotland. The World Health Organisation is doing wonderful work. Its contribution to tropical medicine is well-known and admired by everyone. This research centre would bring together the doctors from India, from Africa, from the Australias and from the Caribbean. They would all congregate at this great centre of learning and research.
I have here a report which refers to the problems of developing countries, and to the need for research not only into biological medicine, but into diseases for plants, the use of insecticides and pesticides, and their effect on vegetation and the animal life in those countries.
Our experience in dealing with these developing countries has equipped us to run this research centre. After all, for centuries we have been regarded as the mother country. People in the West Indies still regard Britain as the mother country. It sounds remarkable, but it 738 is true. Although some of them have never been here, they regard Britain as the mother country, and even those who on visiting this country for the first time have been treated rather harshly regard this country in that light. Such an institution as this, particularly if it were established in Scotland, would make a great contribution.
Why do I think that it should be established in Scotland? Something must be done to redistribute the Metropolitan aspeet of London. Whenever we get the idea of establishing an organisation in Britain, everyone thinks in terms of establishing it is London. We could create in the North, and in Scotland in particular, a sort of regeneration—a movement towards Scotland of all forms of investment—if we had there something symbolical of the Metropolitan area, or something besides St. Andrew's House as a sort of centre to which people look.
We have the Edinburgh Festival. That has done a great deal of good for Scotland. Cultured people all over Britain and Europe now look upon Edinburgh as the Athens of the North. This does good for Scotland. It is a good thing for all those people who come to Scotland to the Festival and see the reproduction not only of their own art but the art of this country, and meet the Scottish people. If a world health centre or research centre were established in Scotland it would again put Scotland into the vision of the peoples of Europe, the developing ountries and the underdeveloped countries, and this would enable Scotland to recover the tremendous position which she held many years ago.
The potential is there. We are training medical people from the underdeveloped countries in our universities and colleges. They are going into European schools of medicine and then going back to their own countries. It would be highly desirable if we could have a large medical research centre with a capacity sufficient to serve both in basic research and applied research—biochemistry and inorganic chemistry. To put this in Scotland would render great service to our Commonwealth, and would give a lead to the United Nations and the other nations of the world to come closer together in research in order 739 to alleviate some of the sicknesses and diseases in the under-developed countries.
I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary can give us some hope that through the Commonwealth we can give a lead which the other nations of the world at present do not seem prepared to give.
§ 9.22 p.m.
§ Commander C. E. M. Donaldson (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)
Normally one would expect that the final subject before the House would be that which was last printed on the Order Paper—and that today it would be the one in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Sir C. Black) concerningthe practice of the Metropolitan Police in supplying information and fingerprints regarding convicted persons.I am well acquainted with the proceedings of the House and I know that that matter having been disposed of and the House not having been informed that anything would follow thereafter except the normal procedure of adjourning the House and the cry of "Who goes home?" a further subject has been raised.
There may be complaint about this, but by a peculiar set of circumstances this has been a peculiarly Scottish week. Upstairs in Committee we have dealt with a divorce Bill concerning Scotland, and Scottish business was the main preoccupation of the House today. When I saw the name of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) on the enunciator I came into the Chamber wondering how he was relating his argument to the last subject that appears on the Order Paper. I now find that he has been relating it to something which is not on the Order Paper. He has referred at some length to his visit to Central Africa and has related his arguments to Nyasaland. He will recall that he and I were together in Nyasaland and in Central Africa.
The hon. Member has been arguing for the establishment of a World Health Organisation centre either in Scotland or somewhere in Britain. I could not agree with that more. The subject was raised in this House some months ago when there was a reference to a research department. I suggested that it might be 740 sited in Scotland, but I did not receive any satisfactory answer. I agree with the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East that this would be a desirable thing to do. If the Government are attracted to the idea of a department being established in this country, I wish to support the suggestion of the hon. Member that it should be sited in Scotland.
I see that on the Opposition Front Bench is seated the hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross), who never seems to sleep, who is always alert and always able to talk on whatever subject is raised in this Chamber or in a Standing Committee. The hon. Gentleman speaks with great knowledge, great intelligence and sometimes with a sense of humour. I see him sitting there, and I see that the hon. Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson) is seated next to him.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East because I was not in the Chamber at the moment when he started to speak, but I did not anticipate that this subject would be raised tonight. I am sure that few of the 630 hon. Members knew that it would be raised.
§ Commander Donaldson
The fact is that this subject was not placed on the Order Paper. I am one of those hon. Members representing Scottish constituencies who tries always to be alert.
I hope that when my hon. Friend replies to this debate we shall be told whether the Government agree that an organisation should be set up in this country, and whether we are to contribute to it financially. I am not certain whether it is the desire of the Government that such an establishment should be set up in this country, but if it is I hope that it will be sited in Scotland because of the difficulties experienced there in relation to unemployment and other things. It could be established in the Borders where depopulation is going on. It might not bring the kind of industry we need, but it would provide housing for a number of people and it would be very pleasant for those so engaged because they would be situated 741 in an area of beauty contiguous to Edinburgh with all the facilities needed.
It is only for that reason that I intervene in this debate. I realise that some of us, especially Scottish hon. Members, have spent many hours here throughout this week, but this matter having been raised by the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East, I could not let it pass because I have raised it in a different sense earlier. I hope that my hon. Friend, when he replies to the debate, will say that if this centre is to come to Britain it should come somewhere south-east of Edinburgh, contiguous to Edinburgh, in the constituency I have the honour to represent.
§ 9.31 p.m.
§ Mr. E. G. Willis (Edinburgh, East)
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) on his ingenuity in raising this very important matter this evening. I remember at the beginning of the year, when the possibility of a world health research organisation being established in Scotland first flashed in the headlines of the Scotish Press, how welcome that was to the people of Scotland, especially those in Edinburgh. The idea was hailed as bold, imaginative, far-seeing and one which could bring great credit and advantages to Scotland.
It was pursued in this House by my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline Burghs (Dr. A. Thompson) and others of my hon. Friends. We pursued it both in deputations and by Questions in this House. We were most disconcerted to find that the Government apparently did not look upon the scheme with the same favour as we did and that the United Kingdom representative had spoken against it when the executive of the World Health Organisation first considered the matter. We failed to see why the Government were taking this attitude. Then we were told that the Government had consulted the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy and it was on the basis of a report from that Council that they had taken this decision.
Not until two or three weeks ago, on 25th June, was the advice tendered by the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy published. We are now able to see the reasons which were proffered 742 to the Government. They were very powerful reasons, but we felt that the Government ought also to consult the large number of scientists in this country who seem to be in favour of the scheme. Clearly, there was a division of opinion among scientists in this country, a great many of whom thought that the idea to establish a large research centre having three functions was a good one. while the Advisory Council came down against it. We should like to have seen the reasons why other scientists differed from the view of the Advisory Council. We have never been able to find this out.
Very eminent men have given a lot of thought to this and are in favour of it. Eminent professors in Scotland and in England are in favour of the scheme. I do not wish to mention names because that would be invidious, but the Government know that this is a true statement. In view of the nature of this scheme, the Government ought to have gone to more trouble than they have taken to try to get an accurate assessment of its real value. I am not convinced that they have taken enough trouble. Their reply is, "The Advisory Committee are prepared to accept the idea that an international organisation for the purpose of health communications and for the assembly and processing of information is a good idea. They felt that the world centre for epidemiology was a good idea. But they did not think that a world health centre for biological research was a good idea, and the Government have accepted their view".
From conversations and discussions which I have had from time to time with my hon. Friends, I believe that they agree with me when I say that this attitude is not good enough. The Government ought to show much more aggression and enthusiasm in tackling this problem. What are the arguments which divide the scientists? Why should not the Government try to find out the other side of the case, which I understand is a good side? If they are to take a useful attitude the next time the matter is raised in the World Health Organisation, the Government must find out the other side of the case. We should like the Government to be in such a position, when the matter comes up again at the World Health Organisation, that they will be able to support 743 us. It is difficult for us to claim that the centre should be put in this country if we are opposed to it. We must be much more positively in favour of the idea than we have been up to the present, and we ought to be finding arguments in favour of it and inquiring much more into its possibiliites.
The arguments of the Advisory Council are set out in cc. 111 and 112 of HANSARD of 25th June. I respect them and they include some very powerful arguments, but there is also a case to be made against some of them. These are the aspects which the Government ought to be pursuing.
In Scotland we felt that this was an enormous thing for us. Edinburgh Corporation has made representations to the Secretary of State supporting the proposal and asking that the Development Council of the Scottish Office, the Secretary of State and the Government should pursue the matter. There is a general interest and enthusiasm here, because Edinburgh, in particular, and the surrounding district have a long medical tradition. Edinburgh is one of the world's foremost medical centres, and the men associated with Edinburgh are world-famous. I name Simpson, and I could go through a long list, but I do not wish to do so. Edinburgh is noted for this even today. People come from all over the world to Professor Dott, probably the greatest brain specialist in the world today.
Medicine has been the life of Edinburgh for generations. Men and women have come there from all over the world to gain their knowledge and skills. This proposal is regarded there as one of the most imaginative that has been put forward for a long time. There is tremendous enthusiasm for it and we should like to see the Government pursuing it with the same enthusiasm and trying to overcome the difficulties so that we can go forward to the World Health Organisation to support the idea which is being brought before its Council at the beginning of next year.
We should like to have the centre in Scotland, but no matter where it is we think that it would be a good thing for this country that a world-wide organisation, a gathering ground for world scientists, should be established here. There is 744 a centre at Dounreay to which nuclear scientists come from many parts of the world because we in this country are ahead of other countries in the researches pursued there.
This proposed international organisation would be a body where ideas would be exchanged and research promoted and developed and which would give benefits to scientists from every country, including our own. Surely this is something well worth having and about which we should be displaying much more enthusiasm and interest than is being displayed at the moment. I know that my colleagues share any feeling on the subject. We do not have a great many things to get excited about under the present Government but this is something about which we could all get excited, and if it brings any germ of consolation to the hon. and gallant Member for Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Commander Donaldson) I would say that I should not mind if it were located in his beautiful constituency.
It is interesting to note that in spite of what the Government have said and the reasons given by the Secretary of State for Education and Science and by the Minister of Health and various other Government spokesmen, and in spite of what has appeared in HANSARD and the statement since by the Advisory Council, the people most closely concerned with promoting this idea in Scotland are still convinced that it should be supported by the Government. In view of all this, I appeal to the Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health to convey to his right hon. Friends our feelings on the subject and to rouse enthusiasm for it within himself and convey that to his colleagues.
Let them get a move on and forget the election for a day or two and think about this. The election will be forgotten within a few months, but this idea will go on. Let them convey this feeling of enthusiasm. Let us try to find out all the answers. The Government must not base their attitude on one side of the case only. This is a project about which eminent men hold different views.
What are the other views? What have the Government tried to find out? What have they done to canvass the support of scientists as distinct from the Advisory Council? Have they tried to 745 find out why so many eminent scientists in Scotland and the South are in favour of this idea? To what extent have the Government tried to take the initiative and promote the project?
If we can have a progress report from the Government tonight on what they have been doing about this tremendously important project, the debate will have been well worth while, and I shall be most grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East.
§ 9.46 p.m.
§ Mr. William Ross (Kilmarnock)
I also am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Dunbartonshire, East (Mr. Bence) for raising this matter. We Scots get the blame for a lot of things, but I nearly began by asking whether a Scot might intervene in the debate. The first speaker in the debate was a Welshman, the second was a Canadian and the third was an Englishman, all Members representing Scottish seats. This shows the catholic nature of Scotland in these matters. Scots recognise merit wherever it comes. This is probably part of the reason why we are able to see much more clearly and imaginatively the value of a scheme such as this when first it is brought forward.
This is not an idea thought up overnight. The suggestion for a world health research centre was the result of a deliberate study over a full year by scientists and doctors from all over the world, including Britain. Two of them were Nobel prize winners. It was not something thought up by politicians. As the president of the World Health Organisation said, it was the logical outcome that the World Health Organisation should extend its work in international research. The suggestion is that there should be a world health research centre, with three divisions. It would study epidemiology and the infectious diseases from a world point of view. Everyone will readily appreciate the value of that. I am certain that the Parliamentary Secretary will. I express our thanks to the hon. Gentleman for coming to the House tonight and taking a continued interest in this matter. As he came in, I thought that no one would know more about the value of such work than he. He knows what happens in many parts of the world. He will remember where we first met and the places we travelled over more or less 746 together. I am not sure whether he returned the book which I lent him in 1944. He will remember Ceylon, Burma, Singapore and places East of Suez. We all know what has recently happened in Scotland—an epidemic suddenly descending on the cleanest city in the country. We must not, therefore, for a moment think that all the necessary study on infectious diseases has been done.
The second object is the collection, dissemination and translation of information on health and research matters, so letting the world know what is happening and what progress has been made. Many people are shut off from this information and are very anxious to get as much of it as possible. I gather that the Government are not against this. These two things are at present being done by the World Health Organisation, but the proposal is to extend the work, and extend it in the way of centralising in one place.
Then there is the setting up of the complex of laboratories of fundamental research. Bio-medical, cellular, molecular research—call it what we will—is fundamental and basic to our physical lives and is probably the field in which we could, by mastering the problems of lengthening the life span and, in lengthening it, making it comfortable, make advances. There is the problem of cancer, the degenerative diseases, and all the medical problems arising out of ageing. We have been very worried by the Government's attitude of opposition because of difficulties. They have certainly given us the impression that they have been slow even in giving support in principle. They could have done far more.
The Government rest their opinion on advice they were given, but it took us a long time to find out what that advice was. This is not the first time we have raised, this subject. An Adjournment debate we had on the matter just before Whitsun was the climax of quite a number of discussions, Questions and debates—and deputations. I remember that my hon. Friend took a deputation to see the Minister who is now Secretary of State of—all that accumulation of nonsense—the bellringer. We were not terribly happy about the result.
747 Eventually—on, I think, 9th April—we had a series of Questions, and once again my Scottish colleagues were trying to wrest information. I remember on that occasion winding up that series of Questions by asking the Government to publish the advice they had been given. We were told that the Government were working on advice given by the Advisory Committee on Scientific Policy and the Medical Research Council, and the Minister of State for Higher Education said that the Government would consider whether or not to publish it. By means of pressure, we eventually got it on 25th June. There is no doubt that the Government got advice, and acted on it.
The point is that this was again considered at Geneva. Once again there was no support for it from the British Government but, despite that, the project is not dead. It is a tremendously imaginative and extensive scheme, and it deserves continued study. The decision was that there would be study for another year.
Our concern is whether the Government will rest upon the advice that they have been given or will take into account the mood of many people in the country who know something about the problem and who have been actively concerned with its international aspects. Will they bend to the will of the world about the needs in this matter? In other words, is further study being given particularly to the third division of this suggested project by the Government? I want to know more than that. Who else has been consulted? If the Government have not consulted anyone, if they say that they are satisfied that the advice which they got at that time was right, will they look over the whole history of medicine and of every imaginative project ever put forward? Even governments have said, "No"—they must go easy. My hon. Friend mentioned Simpson. I do not blame the Government of that time, but we can blame the Establishment that he conducted the researches in his own room with his own family and friends. That house is still there in Edinburgh and is used, I believe, by the Church of Scotland.
§ Mr. Ross
Queen Street, Edinburgh. I did not know the street, but I could 748 have taken the hon. and gallant Member there. I could take him to other places nearby which are a disgrace to that same City of Edinburgh.
When contemplating the conditions under which earlier research was conducted, we must pay tribute to the imagination, ability and persistence of those who did it. There is no doubt that Edinburgh has gained greatly in the reflected glory of the doctors, surgeons and medical men who trained and worked there and gave their ability, not only to the people of Edinburgh, but to the people of the world. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] If Scotland has given to the world more than anything else in the way of professional men, it has been doctors. My hon. Friend spoke about missionaries. Most of the missionaries were doctors. Many of them still are. I remember being at the Church Assembly this year and hearing debates about this and deploring the fact that today, unfortunately—I hope that the Joint Parliamentary Secretary is not wearying in this eulogy of our land. We are always being told by hon. Members opposite, when they are here, that we run Scotland down. We do not. We run down the government of Scotland.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Bernard Braine)
I had no criticism of Scotland or of Scotsmen in mind. The hon. Member remarked at the outset of his speech that this was a remarkable debate in that, until he rose to speak, the applicants for this project were not Scots although they represented Scottish constituencies. I hope that the hon. Member will allow me sufficient time to reply to his arguments. I assure him that I was listening with rapt attention to every word he uttered.
§ It being Ten o'clock, the Motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, without Question put.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Peel.]749
§ Mr. Ross
This plan is certainly beyond (he means of any one country. The research that requires to be done is beyond any one country's means. It will bring tremendous problems to the country that becomes the home of this research centre. Certain financial commitments would have to be entered into.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary will know that although we have been laggard in supporting the scheme, there is considerable support internationally that if the scheme comes forward it should be in Scotland. Indeed, at least one authority—Fife—has offered free an estate of 63 acres on which it could be built. The site is fairly near the new Forth Road Bridge. I am certain that facilities in Edinburgh would be offered if the decision were taken, as I hope it will be, that it should be there.
We will not argue about where it should be. I should be happy if it was anywhere in Britain. It so happens that, for historic and other reasons, certain parts have their claim. The first thing on which we must fasten is the need to get the Government even thinking that the possibility is worth while. I wish that they would get their feet out of the sloughy mud of politics. They have become obsessed with votes and forget their obligations, not just to the next General Election, but to the next generation.
We have always in this field been able to give a lead to the world. We have prided ourselves that, although we have lost part of our great military glory and, it may be, some of the economic power that we once wielded, we still have this knowledge and right to lead in these matters. We ask that the Government shall give that lead. Let us not lag behind.
I ask the Parliamentary Secretary, first, whether there has been any decisive change of heart by the Government in this respect. If they are still thinking about it, with whom are they thinking? Have they taken any further advice other than that from the Advisory Committee on Scientific Policy and the Medical Research Council? If they have sought advice from other bodies or persons, perhaps from universities, will they tell us from whom they have sought it?
I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not give us 25 minutes of waffled 750 apology. Although Parliament has only a few weeks to go, this matter will be in our minds and our debates until that time and thereafter, and I sincerely hope that the hon. Gentleman will treat it, as I am sure he will, with the seriousness that the subject merits.
§ 10.5 p.m.
§ The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health (Mr. Bernard Braine)
The hon. Member for Kilmarnock (Mr. Ross) generously recognised at the outset that I heard of the intention of the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire. East (Mr. Bence) to raise this subject only a very short time ago. In view of the importance which the hon. Member for Kilmarnock attaches to the subject, and the criticisms which he has been hurling at the Government, it is a pity that earlier notice could not have been given. However, I acquit the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East of any blame in that repect because I know how courteous he is. I fully recognise this to be an important subject and because of that I should have liked longer notice in order to give the fullest possible answer.
§ Mr. Ross
The hon. Member will appreciate that business which was to come before the House tonight was withdrawn only yesterdsay. That was all the notice we had. We did not know that the proceedings in the House would collapse at an early hour until about half an hour before it happened. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will appreciate that my hon. Friend could not have given earlier notice. In the situation, notice having been so short, we pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman for being present.
§ Mr. Braine
What I am trying to make plain at the outset is that in the circumstances I cannot be expected to give as full and detailed a reply to hon. Gentlemen opposite as I know they would wish and as I myself would have liked to give.
I thank the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East not merely for raising the subject but for the way in which he has done so. I followed his remarks with great interest. I entirely agree with him about the importance of the World Health Organisation and the necessity for any civilised Government to support it as much as it can. Indeed. 751 I think we can be proud of the contribution that we already make to the World Health Organisation. I have had time to look up the statement setting out the contributions of member States to 1965 of the Organisation's budget, and I think it should be put on record that, after the U.S.A. and the Soviet Union, countries larger in population and resources than our own, we are the third highest contributor. Secondly, it ought to be said, since it is sometimes a charge that we do not devote enough of our resources to medical research at home, that in recent years Government expenditure on civil science has been stepped up considerably. In 1963–64 the amount devoted to medical and health research alone was more than three times greater than in 1950–51.
A specific question has been raised about the proposal for setting up a world health research centre, and a specific claim has been made for this to be done in Scotland. I will do my best to answer. The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East said, as subsequent speakers have also done, that there was a certain amount of confusion and division in the Government on this subject. This is not so. Moreover, we ought to be clear at the beginning about the status of the proposal and the stage which it has reached. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock implied that the idea that there should be such a research centre was mooted a considerable time ago. I think, however, that it was only in January that the Director General presented a paper on the subject to the Executive Board of the World Health Organisation. The Board gave some preliminary consideration to the paper and requested the Director General to secure the views of member States and to continue his study.
I understand that at the meeting of the Assembly in March, the Board transmitted the paper to the Assembly only for its information and not for definitive action. I believe that at the Assembly there was little support for setting up an autonomous international centre for fundamental and biological research. The Director General himself, in summing up the discussion, said that no final decision could be expected at the 752 present stage and the matter needed further study.
The hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East, called the proposal for setting up an international research centre bold and imaginative—but it was not the sole proposal that had been put forward. As the hon. Member for Kilmarnock pointed out, there were others. First, there was the proposal for an international laboratory for fundamental research. Secondly, there was a proposal for more extensive development of international epidemiological studies. Thirdly, there was a call for easier dissemination of information about the results of scientific investigations.
I want to make it plain that the British Government fully support the second and third of these proposals. Indeed, we have done a great deal in both these fields already. The hon. Member for Kilmarnock mentioned that he and I first encountered one another in South-East Asia at the headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander in the war against Japan. Since then both of us have travelled a great deal. I think that I have been to every Commonwealth country in Asia and Africa. I have been to many other Commonwealth countries as well and to many foreign countries. One cannot go anywhere in the tropics without being reminded in some way of the activities of British medical scientists, whether in an earlier age when Scottish medical missionaries went to what is now Malawi and other parts of Africa—and one must never forget David Livingstone, a Scotsman, who was one of the first Europeans to venture into Central Africa—or whether in more modern times by British medical teams and advisers at work in the unceasing struggle against ill health and disease. The eradication of malaria, tuberculosis and a host of other diseases which have been killing vast numbers of people and crippling even more owes a great deal to the work of our own people.
But in considering any proposal to set up a new research organisation in this country, whether in England or Scotland, the House would naturally expect us to look at it very closely and to take the best possible scientific advice. This is what we did. We sought the advice of the Advisory 753 Council on Scientific Policy. This is an extremely weighty body. Its Chairman, Lord Todd, is a most distinguished chemist. Its members include Sir Harold Himsworth, Secretary of the Medical Research Council, Sir Harry Melville, Secretary of the D.S.I.R., Sir Solly Zuckerman, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Secretary of State for Defence, and other scientists of considerable stature and of world renown.
The Council had considered the subject of international scientific cooperation two years ago. In the statement which my right hon. Friend the Minister of State for Education and Science made in the House on 25th June, he quoted the Council as having given its views on this subject in its Annual Report for 1961–62 and said that it had considered the World Health Organisation's proposals in the light of the general principles which it had laid down at that time. The Council said in a reference to the dissemination of information and to epidemiological studies,… we consider that the World Health Organisation should operate mainly through national organisations, and that there should not be any need to set up centralised laboratory facilities in order to do what is required in these fields.The Council said that they had carefully considered the main proposal, namely, that a large international laboratory for biological research should be set up and financed internationally, and was unanimously opposed to it for reasons which it set out. Hon. Members will have had the opportunity to study those reasons, which are compelling and cogent. Perhaps I may summarise them.
In its Report for 1961–62 the Council had pointed out the disadvantage of concentrating the best scientific talent in one place, thus isolating it from teaching functions in national universities, and it recorded the view that centralised institutions were valuable only where the research facilities required were of such an extensive character that they could not be provided on a national basis. It now considered—and this is the reply to those who say that this is far too big a task for a single country—that:The facilities required in this case need not be exceptionally costly, nor beyond the 754 means of most countries with a capability for the kind of research which is in question.it said that our most urgent need at the moment in this countryis to increase the supply of suitably trained research workers. It would be harmful to this country, and to its progress in biological research, if a number of our leading biologists were to withdraw to an international laboratory.The Council went on:The belief that the concentration in one very large institution of leading scientists from a number of countries would promote an interchange of knowledge and ideas which does not take place at the present time is, in our view, mistaken. We believe that, on the contrary, concentration of this kind might well have a sterilising effect, and reduce the influence of the people concerned on the development of research.The Council also said:We consider that the basic objectives of the World Health Organisation proposals could more readily and more economically be obtained by improved co-ordination and support for decentralised national efforts of member countries.These were the Council's reasons for unanimously advising the Government not to support this aspect of the proposal.
I was asked whether the Government had sought advice from any other quarter. I should have liked notice of that question, but I am clear in my own mind that we consulted the Medical Research Council, as the House would expect. The House will know that there is no more powerful body, no better equipped body, in the world than our own Medical Research Council to supervise the conduct of medical research. I think that I am right in saying that the members of the Medical Research Council fully support the view of the Advisory Council on Scientific Policy.
§ Mr. Ross
We asked the Council to do this on 9th April. The hon. Gentleman will find Questions in columns 1201 and 1202 of that date by my hon. Friends the Member for Motherwell (Mr. Lawson), the Member for Glasgow, Craigton (Mr. Millan) and myself, asking the Government to seek further advice. The Minister was not able to answer us then, but we had thought that by this time the hon. Gentleman would be able to give us some information. We do not necessarily ask for 755 names, but if he can tell us that further study is being undertaken, it would be helpful.
§ Mr. Braine
Not having had experience of the Government machine, perhaps the hon. Gentleman can be forgiven for not knowing how the system works. The Government have at their disposal, at any time, advice from experts. There are serving my Minister, a whole host of standing advisory committees which are composed of the very best brains in the medical and scientific world. At any given time a Department of the Government can obtain advice of this quality.
The party opposite constantly harps on the need to take into account the scientific and technological revolution which is taking place. That is good advice, but I come back to the advice given to us by the Advisory Council which said:We have had occasion, in our Annual Reports, to comment on the condition of the biological sciences in British universities. Something approaching a revolution is in progress, and a new biology—which is more closely associated with the physical sciences—is now developing. But there is still an insufficient supply of first-class scientists to lead research and teaching in this field at our universities…The Report went on to say that our most urgent need was to increase the supply of suitably trained research workers.
It is all very well to suggest, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East did, that this is a wonderful idea, that it is bold, imaginative and far-seeing. The question that we have to ask ourselves is whether it would serve a useful purpose.
§ Mr. Braine
I cannot be drawn further in this regard. The hon. Gentleman must be aware that, having obtained this advice, we would not treat it lightly. In the light of the best advice available, it is the Government's view that this project would not serve a useful purpose at this stage.
If I had all the information available, and had a week in which to prepare for this debate, I would not attempt to 756 explain the differences which may emerge between scientists. No evidence has been advanced to show that the Advisory Council was talking nonsense. Not a single argument has been advanced to show that the Medical Research Council was talking nonsense.
§ Mr. Willis
I did not suggest that they were. I said that the reasons they advanced were powerful ones. I do not dispute that, though I do not necessarily agree with them all. What is important to us at this stage is to ask the hon. Gentleman whether this now represents the Government's fixed view so that we can expect no change before January of next year, or whether the Government are keeping an open mind on this matter and are prepared to accept arguments and representations which might tend to influence them the other way.
§ Mr. Braine
I noted that both the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East and the hon. Member for Kilmarnock asked me a specific question on that subject. They asked whether there is to be a further study—whether our minds are open on the subject. We must realise that this proposal has to be considered by many other countries. It must convince not merely the Government of the United Kingdom but those of many other countries. It would be quite unreasonable of the hon. Member to expect me to give some specific assurance on this tonight.
I could, as the hon. Member for Kilmarnock recognises, have sat here and listened carefully to the whole debate, and I could not have been criticised, according to the precedents and customs of the House, if I had sat back and said nothing. I know that the hon. Member is an experienced Parliamentarian, and at times a very generous opponent, and that he recognises the truth of what I am saying.
But I did listen carefully to what was said. I congratulate the hon. Member for Dunbartonshire, East upon his special pleading. If there were to be a proposal of this kind it is not a bad thing to stake a claim for one's own constituency or ones own part of the Kingdom, but I can do no more tonight than to say that I will convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Educa- 757 tion and Science, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Scotland, and my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, what has been said. This I will gladly undertake to do, but beyond that, in all reason and fairness, I am sure that 758 hon. Members would not wish to press me.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Adjourned accordingly at twenty-seven minutes past Ten o'clock.