HC Deb 29 November 1972 vol 847 cc432-510

3.49 p.m.

Mr. Jack Ashley (Stoke-on-Trent, South)

I beg to move,

add that it does not follow that I shall necessarily give way to every hon. Member who seeks to intervene.

The whole House will be grateful to the Leader of the Opposition for providing time to debate this tragic problem. It will respect the call for a constructive debate. That does not mean, however, that criticism should be muted, because quite enough voices have been silenced in recent years. So criticism—and a demand for action—will be stressed as strongly as possible. To do otherwise would be to rig the record by default. To do otherwise would be to fail the children, and far too many people have failed them already. I am afraid that no hon. Member of this House has any reason to feel proud of what he has done for thalidomide children in recent years, and that includes myself.

The Alf Morris Act helped all disabled children, but the problems of thalidomide children might have lain in a legal limbo for ever had it not been for a series of articles in The Sunday Times which was both brave and brilliant. The Distillers Company tried to gaol the editor of The Sunday Times for his pains but I believe that the House would wish to take the opposite view and would want warmly to congratulate the editor and his fine staff.

We are debating today a great national tragedy, none the less poignant because it happened 10 years ago. This is one tragedy in which the passage of time instead of healing the suffering actually heightens it, for children who were robbed of the magic of their childhood by a manmade disaster are now approaching the highly sensitive and emotional years of adolescence without arms, without legs and, in some cases, without organs. Adolescence is a time for living and laughing, for learning and loving. But what kind of adolescence will a 10-yearold boy look forward to when he has no arms, no legs, one eye, no pelvic girdle and is only two feet tall? That is the height of two whisky bottles placed one on top of the other. How can an 11-year-old girl look forward to laughing and loving when she has no hand to be held and no legs to dance on?

I ask the House to look at the photographs I have in my hand of these two children. In my view, the photographs illustrate dramatically the kind of problem which is all too easily regarded under the umbrella phrase of "thalidomide children". These are the human tragedies which the House must debate today. Yet the powerful and wealthy Distillers Company, with assets of £421 million and profits of £64 million, has had no compunction in fighting these children for no less than 10 years. This is a shocking example of man's inhumanity to man, not to mention this firm's inhumanity to the children.

The company aggressively marketed thalidomide from 1958 until 1961, despite two warning signals which were published in the British Medical Journal. One warning was heeded by the Americans, and they would not allow thalidomide into their country. But Distillers Company, undeterred, sold this drug with the following advertisement: Distaval"— that is, thalidomide— can be given with complete safety to pregnant women. That advertisement was a cruel travesty of the truth and it resulted in unsuspecting women swallowing thalidomide. The result was 432 malformed and deformed babies in Great Britain. Yet after more than a decade the majority of these children have not received a penny from the Distillers Company. The children's living standards are falling as the profits of the company are rising. We are witnessing not only a shabby spectacle but a grave national scandal, a display of moral irresponsibility which has seldom if ever been surpassed.

There are a thousand excuses why these children should receive no money, and every excuse has been scavenged by the company throughout the last decade. Twenty-four hours ago the company announced that it has increased its miserable offer of £3¼ million to £5 million. It is a remarkable coincidence that it should be announced only yesterday. But I do not expect many people to be taken in by what is palpably a gimmick, because it should be seen against a background of the settlement for thalidomide children which was made in 1968, which in itself was grossly inadequate.

One of these children, a boy named David, with no arms or legs, was assessed by a responsible actuary, taking actuarial considerations and inflation into account, as needing £106,000 to provide for extra care and to compensate for loss of earnings. The House should note the figure of £106.000. But by the time that a judge, and the Distillers Company, had finished with that boy, he received £9,600 for this purpose. The judge refused to take account of actuarial considerations because, the learned judge said, The time has not yet arrived". The judge also refused to take account of inflation. He regarded talk of inflation as inadmissible because—again I quote the learned judge— inflation is based on speculation and hear-say That is very good news indeed for the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food. As a result of that judicial decision, however, this boy was left with a sum, apart from compensation for the loss of amenities of life, which will run out when he is 27 years old. But the Distillers reduced even that sum by 60 per cent. because it denied negligence.

I ask the House to compare that figure with the amount awarded to an American thalidomide child, who received £321,000 for her injuries. It has been agreed in Britain that the other cases will be settled on the same basis as David's case. Thus, the company paid £1 million for 62 other children. That works out at a rough average of £16,000 per child. Yesterday's new offer of £5 million for the 370 children who have not yet received a penny will result in a rough average of only £13,500. So after allowing for inflation, as we must—the Government admit to inflation, although the judges do not—yesterday's figure, in real terms, will be only 66 per cent. of the previous deplorable level awarded to the other children. It is a scandalous offer which literally adds insult to appalling injury. These children need at least £20 million, on any realistic assessment. Many of us will look very hard to the company to make sure that the children get it.

So much for the company. What of the Government? I do not wish to approach the Government's responsibility in any party-political sense, for three reasons. The first reason is that no one in the House has a monopoly of compassion. The second is that the Labour Government took no steps to establish a fund when they were invited to do so. That was just after the court settlement in 1968 when it was reasonable to assume that the Distillers Company would settle the remaining claims fairly quickly. Thirdly, the children's cause will suffer if the issue becomes a party political one, and such a development is quite out of the question. Party politics have no place in the debate. But the Government's attitude and that of its agencies has been, and is, quite extraordinary.

In 1958 the task of classifying drugs fell to the Cohen Committee. I know that there have been lots of Cohen Committees but the one to which I refer was the Standing Joint Committee on the Classification of Proprietary Medicines. An impressive name, but did it do an impressive job? Its terms of reference stated that it had to consider and report on drugs and medicines of doubtful value. But it actually placed thalidomide in a category, the description of which included the words "New remedies of proved value".

The Cohen Committee was a Government agency, and its disastrous decision encouraged doctors to prescribe thalidomide under the National Health Service. That establishes clear responsibility. Now, of course, the Prime Minister is disclaiming responsibility on behalf of the Government, but I believe that his position is untenable. It may be argued that the Cohen Committee had no powers at that time. But the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Mr. Powell), later Minister of Health, said in 1962 that the committee had powers to say that a particular drug had not been satisfactorily tested. The committee remained silent, however. If the Government were not satisfied with the powers they then had, they were quite able to bring forward new legislation to cover the full eventualities. The situation existed, therefore, where over 400 children were born maimed and deformed and yet the responsible committee apparently had no powers and took no steps to obtain those powers either for itself or for the Government.

The Government's reaction today is equally remarkable because when I asked the Prime Minister to establish a special fund he said that we should await the outcome of negotiations. He says much the same in the amendment, and that is one of the reasons why the amendment is totally unacceptable. It is an astonishing situation. There is nothing to stop negotiations being dragged on by the company for another 10 years. There is no reason why the negotiations should not now be concluded. So the Prime Minister by his categorical statement and by the amendment is handing over to the company the right to veto the Government's actions—

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

The hon. Member will know that I am completely behind him in his general views on the subject, as, I think, are my hon. and right hon. Friends. But I beg him not to say that the Prime Minister did not go as far as it was possible for the leader of a Government to go when he made his statement the other day in reply to another hon. Member.

Mr. Ashley

I accept that comment in the spirit in which it was meant, and I do not refer to the Prime Minister in any vindictive sense. He has, however, written me a number of letters and he has answered Questions at the Dispatch Box. His answers were that he could take no action on the fund until negotiations were concluded. I make no personal attack on the Prime Minister, but he is responsible. I submit that he must change his mind. He has expressed his sympathy and his sympathy is welcome, but sympathy simply will not pay the bills that have been incurred for these children in the last 10 years; sympathy will not pay for the necessities of life for the next 50 years. We must have action rather than an expression of sympathy.

I hope that if the Prime Minister feels the need to bring legislation forward, he will say so. Hon. Members on both sides will willingly stay day and night to assist him in getting that legislation on to the Statute Book. I have no doubt that some measures will be brought forward which I hope will benefit the thalidomide children. I have no doubt also that after the terrible tribulations of these children, who have suffered for so long, new legislation which will benefit future generations of disabled people will be brought forward.

I hope that the disabled of the future will be able to carry their burdens into a more just and fair society, a society which has looked deeply into its collective conscience and which has reassessed its attitude towards disabled people. If that day dawns, as I hope it will, I hope that we as Members of the House of Commons will be able to look back and say that we all faced up to our moral responsibilities for thalidomide children.

4.7 p.m.

The Secretary of State for Social Services (Sir Keith Joseph)

I beg to move, to leave out from "children" in line 1 to the end of the Question and to add instead thereof and the delay in reaching a settlement between Distillers (Biochemicals) Limited and most of the children and their families recognises the initiatives taken by Her Majesty's Government to improve services for the handicapped and disabled; and welcomes the undertakings of Her Majesty's Government to investigate any case where the needs of a thalidomide child are thought not to be mat by the services available, and to consider, as soon as the cases are no longer sub judice, whether a trust fund needs to be established for thalidomide children ". Before I speak to the Motion there is an interest that I must declare. Through reinsurance effected in the early 1960s by a syndicate of which I was then a member I might be liable for a small percentage of a small share of the cost of any claim arising through legal action against Distillers. The amount for which I would be liable would be most unlikely to exceed several hundred pounds.

I also have to explain that because my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General has recently appeared in a case which is subject to appeal he did not think it right to take part in today's debate. I must explain, too, that I find myself as the Minister responsible over a wide range of services which thalidomide children need and, therefore, after listening to the debate, I shall seek the permission of the House to wind up at the end.

I know that the House would wish me to compliment the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on his speech. The House will not be surprised to know that I do not feel the freedom that he felt to comment as he did, but on the other hand I feel the necessity to go a good bit wider than he did, and I may therefore take a little longer than he took.

First, I should like to say a few words, in all humility, about the thalidomide families. They are not a homogeneous group. The parents came from a cross-section of the community and they endured a terrible shock. They carry a heavy burden under great strain. Under this burden some families seem in an astonishing way to have been actually strengthened, and some have been broken. Many of them did not know of the services available. How could they? They and their general practitioners had to find out what could be done.

Coming fresh to this group, I have formed an enormous admiration for the parents and their children and for the voluntary services mainly concerned. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman did not mean to impugn the activities of the Lady Hoare Trust when he said that we all had to blame ourselves. The trust has been a magnificent help to the families. Lady Hoare herself is away at present, but I have met some of her medical-social workers, and today I saw a film of what the parents and children, helped by all the other services, have been able to do. I saw a film of boys and girls without limbs, yet with a dignity, spontaneity and vitality that is wholly remarkable. I urge hon. Members to see the film as evidence of what can be done.

It is a sober tribute to the achievement of the parents, children, voluntary services and all the other services concerned that no fewer than 90 per cent. of the children concerned are living in their own homes, and 75 per cent. of them are attending ordinary schools. This reflects credit also on the local authorities, the National Health Service, the limb-fitting service and the schools—[An HON. MEMBER: "And on the other children."] I agree with my hon. Friend.

One benefit that has come from this tragedy is that there is now a scrutiny system for medicines. The Committee on the Safety of Medicines is in action, and while no human being can guarantee that there will never in any circumstances be such a disaster again, as a country we are now equipped as well as any in the world, and probably better than most.

I must remind the House that despite the understandable tide of emotion about thalidomide children they are not the only very severely congenitally disabled people. We have to keep a balance in our minds, which are filled with those who are limbless because of the thalidomide drug. There are other children suffering from very severe congenital disabilities also, with great strain on their parents.

I hope that the House will agree that I am not particularly unwilling to meet or listen to cases of need. I am quick to read, to meet, to listen and to visit, but the fact is that until very recently I was not aware of the circumstances in connection with thalidomide children. The Government have made a number of improvements in the benefits and service for the physically and mentally disabled. I shall not list them. There are never enough, but we have made a number of improvements, as is generally acknowledged. However, I was not aware in the front of my mind of this particular group of disabled.

When I asked myself, "Why not?", I uncovered the fact that the group and the voluntary service that particularly concerns itself with them—Lady Hoare's Trust—has not approached the Government in the past 2½years, except for one letter to me inquiring about the availability of attendance allowance for four children in particular. I am not making any excuse, but simply saying that as a matter of fact—whether because of despair, I do not know—the group, through the voluntary body particularly dedicated to them, have not approached the present Government.

Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton)rose

Sir K. Joseph

I should just like to finish this sentence before giving way to the hon. Gentleman.

I am not trying to make too much of what I have just said, because if I had been made aware of the group earlier I should not have been able, any more than any of my predecessors, to intervene in the legal case or negotiations, but I might earlier have identified cases where services are not available.

Mr. Heffer

I think the right hon. Gentleman has now clarified the point. During the days of the Labour Government I raised the matter time and time again with Ministers, urging that my own people should do something about it. I was therefore surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not know from his own Department that such approaches had been made, not only by me but by many other hon. Members.

Sir K. Joseph

No Government know anything about the private approaches to their predecessors. We know only the public approaches. I am well aware that hon. Members on both sides have pressed Governments, and I of course entirely accept that individual hon. Members have approached me on technical questions. The hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) has been very persistent about prosthetic arms, for instance. But the general question about thalidomide children has not been raised.

I must state clearly that compensation is not for the Government to provide. There is no legal liability on the Government. There is no implication about a drug because it was prescribed under the National Health Service. There was no scrutiny system until the Committee on the Safety of Drugs was set up as a result of the thalidomide tragedy. Compensation is a matter for the company.

Mr. David Ginsborg (Dewsbury)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there would be an obligation on the Government if there were a disaster currently as a result of the Medicines Commission's passing a drug after which there was a similar case? Surely, the Government would be legally and morally involved, with the manufacturer, if such an event occurred.

Sir K. Joseph

It is still the responsibility of the manufacturer to answer for his manufacture, whether there is a scrutiny system or not. By a scrutiny system we provide the public with as much protection as we can, but the responsibility is still upon the manufacturer.

Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

Whether there is or is not a responsibility on the Government is a very arguable matter. There are no party differences here. I refer to successive Governments in this matter. Whether any Government should be setting up an actuarial fund to deal with all such risks is a very arguable matter, I agree. But if the right hon. Gentleman says so categorically that there is no responsibility on the Government in respect of prescribing under the National Health Service, he is underlining—doubly and trebly underlining—the moral responsibilities of the firm, and is therefore really accepting the main principle of our motion.

Sir K. Joseph

I must protect myself from doing that which would be tantamount to intervening in current negotiations and litigation. But hon. Members on both sides have expressed themselves as very concerned about the responsibility of the firm. Those who were desperately worried about what appeared to be deadlock in the negotiations will have noted the new offer as evidence of active negotiations—[Interruption.] I ask hon. Members to recognise that at this delicate stage of the negotiations between the company and the parents nothing should be said that might discourage the efforts being made by both parties to reach a satisfactory settlement. Ministers cannot intervene in the litigation or the negotiations, any more than our predecessors were able to.

Mr Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

Let us try to fix the responsibility a little earlier. Am I not right in suggesting that the British Medical Association's medical advisory panel cleared the drug in 1958?

Sir K. Joseph

I cannot answer the hon. Gentleman. But the responsibility of the manufacturers seems to have been accepted by them inasmuch as they are now negotiating with the parents. I say again that we should be very wrong to prejudice the progress of those negotiations.

Meanwhile, I must ask the House to allow me to deal with a wider range of needs in addition to compensation. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and I invited parents who felt that they were lacking services to which they were entitled to write to us. We have had about a dozen letters complaining of various deficiencies, and we are informing ourselves urgently. The local authorities vary very much in the quality of their services, and they face a great many needs. The House will be glad to know that the 25 medical social workers working for the Lady Hoare Trust have offered to send to me a schedule of the services to which they think the thalidomide families are entitled and are not getting. As soon as I get that schedule I shall get in touch with the local authorities concerned. I shall pass the housing needs to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

The right hon. Gentleman has been arguing that the Government cannot intervene in litigation. Does he think that it would be so intervening if the Government were now to set up a trust to remove from the parents the financial pressure which is forcing some of them to accept unjust settlements? If the Government set up such a trust the parents would be free to litigate on equal terms.

Sir K. Joseph

I am not prepared to make any imputation about the firm. But surely it would be said by some people, if we were ready to make such imputations, that if the Government accepted responsibility for compensation a firm that so wished could feel less pressure than there is on the firm at the moment. I am not making such imputations, but the right hon. Lady will admit that some of her hon. Friends might say that.

Apart from services which are primarily the responsibility of local authorities under the various statutes, the Government have introduced the attendance allowance. It was included in legislation by the previous Government but it fell at the General Election. The attendance allowance gives payment to the most severely disabled. However, there are some anomalies which have been brought to the Government's notice. I am asking the Attendance Allowance Board to look at the matter in connection with the very severely disabled thalidomide children who feel that they should get the allowance and are not. About 20,000 children are receiving a tax-free allowance of £5.40 a week. We reckon that from December next year, with the extension of the attendance allowance rules, possibly another 50,000 children, including, it is hoped, all those thalidomide households not now receiving the attendance allowance, will receive the lower rate of attendance allowance.

The House may like to know that in 1974, compared with no expenditure on attendance allowance in 1970, there will be over £15 million in payment for children alone through the attendance allowance.

Mr. William Hamilton (Fife, West)

How many children?

Sir K. Joseph

About 70,000 children. I cannot be sure.

There will as the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South indicated in due course be the question of jobs. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Employment will be much concerned with that matter, as he is generally with employment for the very severely disabled. I know that a number of hon. Members will have read with great sympathy the views of the Disablement Income Group about the need for some special source of income, other than means-tested benefits, for the congenitally disabled. That raises all sorts of difficulties about resources, priorities and techniques. People who are congenitally disabled are entitled to means-tested benefits. The House can be sure that the Government are studying all the views of the Disablement Income Group and that they will be taken into account.

I have told the House that compensation is for the company. The new offer is an indication of active—

Mr. Harold Wilson (Huyton)

The whole House recognises the spirit in which the right hon. Gentleman is approaching the debate. Even if we may disagree with his conclusions, the House will pay tribute to the compassion and the spirit in which he is approaching these questions.

The right hon. Gentleman has just repeated what he said earlier about compensation and the company. He is supporting an amendment which relates to a decision not to take action ahead of the litigation. Is he not aware that there are abundant precedents for this House to act by legislation, even when a matter is sub judicel The House will remember that both the Prime Minister and I commended that the House should act in a serious matter in Northern Ireland which was sub judice, being subject to appeal, about the role of the troops under the Special Powers Act. We legislated to put the matter beyond all doubt before the matter came to final appeal.

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there have been many cases of tax avoidance where the courts have given a ruling contrary to the expectation of the Inland Revenue, and perhaps of Parliament, and where there has been legislation before others could cash in? Will he please put out of his mind the feeling that, whatever he may think about litigation, it is not within the competence of the House to legislate either to compel compensation or to set up a special fund, or some combination of the two?

Sir K. Joseph

I accept all that. I am not taking a legalistic view. There are two reasons why legislation, as recommended by the Motion, is unsuitable. First, it might prejudice the negotiations—[HON. MEMBERS: "Why?"]—because hon. Members who choose to be rude about the company keep on saying—it is their words that I am using, and not mine—that a company that wishes to avoid responsibility might welcome the responsibility being taken by the taxpayer. Secondly, desperate though the poignancy of the thalidomide children is, there are many other children equally disabled.

Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)

I appreciate the right hon. Gentleman's reluctance to intervene in the litigation. However, will he be prepared to consult the Lord Chancellor? Many people are concerned about engaging in litigation on equal terms. If the case goes to court it will involve hundreds of thousands of pounds. Will the right hon. Gentleman give an assurance to the House that he will be prepared to discuss the issue with the Lord Chancellor and ensure that no pressure will be brought upon any of these litigants through the Law Society and the Legal Aid Fund to compromise the claim, so that the company knows that if necessary every one of the legally aided parents can go into court. If the company knows that, and knows that the Government are prepared to go that far, it will be coerced into recognising its maximum liability to those affected.

Sir K. Joseph

I know that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, in response to a letter from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) has already discussed the matter with the Lord Chancellor. He has been able to satisfy himself that there is no question of the legal aid facilities being withdrawn. I think that I can give the hon. Gentleman the categoric assurance that he wants. Discussions have already taken place between the Prime Minister and the Lord Chancellor.

Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvin-grove)

The right hon. Gentleman has repeated that there is a comparison between the thalidomide children and other children who are also, because of genetic difficulty, born without limbs and so on. But does he agree that we are not comparing like with like? In one instance there is the kind of risk that can happen to any family, which is something for which human beings have no responsibility. In the other instance, there is the direct causal effect that the drug was known to cause these tremendous damages. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that he is saying, in effect, that there should be no legal obligation if somebody is injured by a motor car—

Sir K. Joseph

No. The hon. Gentleman forgets that it is precisely for the reason that he is saying that the company is now accepting responsibility for making payments in compensation.

Mr. William Price (Rugby)rose—

Sir K. Joseph

No, I will not give way. I have something to say which the House will want to hear before I sit down. I must say again, so that I do not lose the thread of the argument, that compensation is for the company and that the new offer indicates active negotiation.

The Government must recognise that there are others born with desperate congenital disabilities which gravely burden their families and which are as severe as the loss of limbs due to thalidomide. Such families are inevitably involved in all manner of special needs. Many of these needs are the responsibility of statutory authorities but there are other forms of help outside these responsibilities which could improve the life of a child and reduce the burden on its family. The Government accept that more needs to be done for children with very severe congenital disability whether or not caused by the taking of thalidomide.

In many cases the parents need more help in shouldering the various burdens which caring for these children entails. I have already paid tribute to the remarkable achievements of many of the parents concerned. The Government have therefore decided to make the sum of £3 million available for this purpose, virtually at once. It is not intended that this money should be by way of compensation for being disabled, but rather that it should serve to complement the services already being provided by statutory and voluntary bodies to help the families concerned.

With this in mind the Government will begin at once to consider, in consultation with the statutory and voluntary bodies likely to be concerned, what arrangements they can set up so that the money can best be used for the benefit of the children and their parents. The House can be assured that this will be carried out as quickly as possible. Further, in the light of experience with this operation and as soon as the cases are no longer sub judice the Government will consider whether to provide a similar further amount of money in trust.

I must emphasise that I am talking about children congenitally disabled—and by that I mean with very severe congenital disabilities found to be present at birth or immediately after. What we have in mind are children suffering from the most severe conditions analagous to the lack of limbs, such as those suffering from the extremely damaging forms of, for instance, spina bifida. We have some difficulty, because we must make a definition. Because we have in mind the sort of children mentioned by the hon. Member, I have had to exclude from this undertaking those who are born blind or those who are very shortly after birth discovered to be totally deaf. There has to be some limitation.

I come now to the motion and the amendment. Because we do not believe as the Opposition motion presses, that we should legislate at once, or that we should weaken the pressure on the parties to reach a satisfactory settlement, I ask the House not to approve the motion. The motion as amended, in the light of what I have been able to announce today, does meet the three tests which I believe all hon. Members should set. The amended motion does not prejudice the settlement; it does not wholly and in the light of what I have announced, leave out the other very severely congenitally disabled. It provides help now for thalidomide families, those who need help complementary to that provided by the local authorities in their noble effort to bring up these children. I hope that the House will not accept the motion. I hope that if it is pressed my hon. Friends will vote against it and support the amendment.

4.34 p.m.

Mrs. Barbara Castle (Blackburn)

I feel sure that everyone will be grateful to the Opposition for having provided this half-day debate and will bitterly regret the fact that the Government have not been able to make it into a whole day. Because there are clearly so many hon. Members who wish to speak and so many points that we could pursue, I will try to be brief as possible. I believe, with my hon.

Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), in that superb and moving speech of his, that we all bear some history of responsibility. Looking back we can all be aware that we have shared in the national lethargy on this subject until it was brought vividly to our attention in recent months.

Surely the fact that we accept our past misdemeanour heightens the need for action now? We cannot now say that we do not know. This is the division between us today. In our motion we call for immediate action, for immediate legislation, for the immediate establishment of a trust fund. The Government's only answer for that is to say, "No, we must wait".

Mr. Fell

That is not so.

Mrs. Castle

I listened to the right hon. Gentleman with great care. I do not know what it is we are supposed to be waiting for. We are told that we must wait and we cannot have the trust fund until the litigation is over, until the whole issue is settled.

Mr. Fell

My right hon. Friend has just said that he is setting up a fund which may be drawn on when necessary.

Mrs. Castle

I will come to the right hon. Gentleman's announcement in a moment. I am talking about the major issue that is set out in the motion and rejected in the amendment—whether we should have immediate legislation on the matters which have proved to be so urgent. One of the reasons why the Government have said "We can afford to wait, why should we set up a proper trust fund?" is that they are giving, they say, such massive help through the social services.

We welcome the right hon. Gentleman's announcement about this £3 million which the Government are to find for all the congenitally disabled, for a general category of people. But this £3 million offer is not good enough—any more than is the Distillers' additional £2 million offer—to make our motion unnecessary.

I want to concentrate on some points about which I have had correspondence with the Prime Minister but before doing so let me refer briefly to the social services. In his opening remarks the right hon. Gentleman admitted that in dealing with this kind of desperately severely disabled case there are serious gaps in our social services and that the parents of a number of children are still being told that they have to wait.

Sir K. Josephrose—

Mrs. Castle

Let me give the right hon. Gentleman my examples before he intervenes. I am anxious not to take up too much time.

Sir K. Joseph

I said that local authorities varied enormously in their services. I have had letters from parents who say that they have had all the help they could possibly ask for from their local authorities. In some cases that is not true; in others it is.

Mrs. Castle

If the right hon. Gentleman had saved the time of the House by waiting, as I asked him, he would have heard of three examples which I am about to give. I will quote two, which he has mentioned. First of all there is the attendance allowance. He has admitted that a number of these thalidomide children do not qualify under the present definition of "constant attendance by day and by night". He has admitted that a number of them will have to wait until December, 1973, before qualifying. That has been a gap. Whoever may have been responsible, it is a gap.

Then he talked about the arguments of the Disablement Income Group and its plea on behalf of all severely disabled people who cannot qualify under an insurance scheme. The Group argues that we should accept the need for a disablement income. It is not good enough for the right hon. Gentleman to say that he will consider very carefully what the group has said. We have at the moment a Social Security Bill going through the House which carefully omits to provide a disablement income for this category of persons. I have asked the right hon. Gentleman whether he will accept an amendment to include this provision in the Bill. If he had made an announcement today that he intended to do that, then that would have been a change of policy which would have had a fundamental effect.

I refer to a third point because I have been asked to do so by the mother of a thalidomide child. It concerns the question of transport. I know that a certain amount of help with transport has been given to the parents of these unhappy children. I propose to read from the letter sent to me by the mother of a 10-year-old boy who has no lower limbs and precious little of what we would call arms. She writes: I have a small, second-hand car, bought solely for the purpose of transporting Anthony to limb fitting centres, shopping, visiting his school friends, etc., outings which with a normal healthy boy would raise no problems. All I want is help with the Road Tax for my car. Believe me, I have endeavoured to obtain this, but without success. The last letter received was a masterpiece—help could possibly be received when Anthony was 16 and able to hold a driving licence! The child will never be in a position to drive a car". We are all familiar with the problem of mobility for disabled people.

No doubt the Secretary of State will say that he has set up the committee under the chairmanship of Lady Sharp. I am aware of that. All I am saying is that there are serious gaps in provision through the social services. I hope that when we get Lady Sharp's report the Government will announce that they are prepared to act on it. We must not be complacent about the adequacy of our social services in dealing with the victims of disablement. That is all the more reason why we should use the resources and authority of the State to help to secure a reasonable settlement of the tragic cases we are discussing.

All that we have had from the Minister is a repetition of the Government's argument that they cannot intervene because the case is sub judice. But the Distillers Company has never accepted legal liability. All its offers have been made in discharge of what it calls its moral responsibility. When the Government say that they cannot even comment on the talks which are taking place, let alone do anything, such as setting up a trust fund, which might prejudice them, they are saying, in effect, that they refuse to comment on whether the Distillers Company has discharged its moral responsibility. That response is totally inadequate.

There was incidentally a remarkable change of argument by the Government when the Secretary of State told us that the Government could not set up a trust fund now because it might prejudice, not the position of the Distillers Company in the discussions, but the position of the parents of the thalidomide children.

Mr. Fell

Are not they more important?

Mrs. Castle

Of course they are. But has the Secretary of State asked the parents what they want the Government to do? Some of us have been in close contact with the parents, and carrying this motion would give them new heart and hope.

Mr. Alexander W. Lyon (York)

Is not the answer to the Minister's argument that, if the Government were to set up a trust fund by legislation and to take over, for the trustees of the fund, the rights of the parents and children against the Distillers Company, the legal proceedings could continue as long as was necessary without pressure being brought to bear on the parents to settle?

Mrs. Castle

My hon. Friend is right, and it is on that point that I wish to concentrate.

We are taking a ludicrously unrealistic attitude to the question of who is pressurising whom. The simple fact is that the parents of these children have been under financial and legal pressure and pressure by their solicitors—indeed, pressure on every front—to settle on terms which they bitterly resented as being inadequate. The question which we must ask is whether or not it is our duty to step in and insulate them against pressures which are leading to unjust settlements.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

What has been exercising my mind is how a distinction can be drawn in principle between a situation such as that which arose at Aberfan, where a disaster fund was immediately established yet litigation was contemplated and indeed ensued, and the matter we are considering. I fail to see the distinction.

Mrs. Castle

I entirely agree. It is all the more essential that we should take the financial pressure off parents to settle hurriedly and inadequately because of all the other pressures to which they have been subjected. I maintain what I said at Question Time on another occasion: all the resources of the powerful Distillers Company are being used to pressurise the parents into accepting a settlement which they feel is unjust.

When I intervened at Question Time a few days ago I gave the Prime Minister examples of what I meant. I sent him a letter reiterating them and spelling them out. One of the examples I gave came directly within the Government's responsibility because public funds were involved. It concerned the question of legal aid about which the Prime Minister said the Lord Chancellor had given satisfactory assurances. He has not given them to me. I sent to the Prime Minister evidence showing that a number of parents have been threatened with the withdrawal of their legal aid certificates because they refused to accept the advice of their solicitors to accept the settlement.

I offered to provide names and asked for an assurance that none of the parents would risk losing legal aid. I received a reply from the Lord Chancellor's office asking me to send particulars. I replied at once sending details of three cases in which the people concerned were prepared for all the details to come under scrutiny. I offered to supply more names, but I was told that that would not be necessary. Today I have had a reply from the Prime Minister telling me, quite correctly, that the decision to discharge a legal aid certificate rests with an area committee, and he explained that …if as a result of the information it has received it considers that the assisted person has required the proceedings to be conducted unreasonably so as to put an unjustifiable expense on the Legal Aid Fund the area committee might withdraw the certificate. The right hon. Gentleman went on to say: I am told that in the present case no report has been made to the area committee which would enable it to act under this Regulation…". But the Prime Minister misses the point. He is tragically out of touch with what is happening to certain parents. The fact that no approach has been made to the area committee does not mean that parents have not been pressurised. The pressure lies in the threat of withdrawal made by their solicitors.

I sent the right hon. Gentleman the details of three cases. Yet he has sent me this incredible reply: I know of no justification for the suggestion that any of the parents have been threatened with the withdrawal of their certificates. The Prime Minister knows of no cases. Does he not know, or does he not want to know? I have sent him the names of three parents who are willing to swear an affidavit that they have been so threatened by their solicitors.

The Prime Minister (Mr. Edward Heath)

It is the right hon. Lady who is missing the point. I told her the position. The Lord Chancellor has advised me that only the area committee can withdraw, or threaten to withdraw, a certificate. No cases have been raised in the area committees. Therefore, as the right hon. Lady is in touch with the parents concerned, it is right for her to reply to them that they cannot be threatened effectively with the withdrawal of a certificate unless it is done by the area committee, because the area committee is the only body which can withdraw a certificate The right hon. Lady can give a full assurance to those parents that, unless the area committee comes to the conclusion that the parents have behaved, in the accepted phrase, unreasonably, there is absolutely no danger of their having their certificates withdrawn.

Naturally it is fully accepted in the House that when a Minister replies to an hon. Member the hon. Member then communicates that information to the person involved. It was not for me to communicate direct when the right hon. Lady had been so kind as to send me the details. She can tell the parents that nothing has been raised with an area committee and that area committees are the only bodies which can threaten—which they would not do—or actually withdraw a certificate, and no cases have been raised with them.

Mrs. Castle

The whole argument whether parents need the moral and financial support of a trust fund rests on the sort of treatment they have had in trying to press their legitimate claims. The simple fact is that during the past 10 years pressure of this kind has been made, and made successfully. If the right hon. Gentleman wanted to know whether a fund were needed and whether the parents wanted it, he might, for instance, have arranged for the three parents whose names I sent him to be interviewed. I can give him details of a fourth case.

The Prime Minister

The right hon. Lady is now completely changing her ground. I am dealing with the specific case of the withdrawal of a legal aid certificate. The right hon. Lady has been given every assurance, which she can pass on to the parents, that it cannot be done except by an area committee which is satisfied that the parents have been themselves unreasonable. If any solicitor who is serving these parents makes a threat of that kind, the parents can tell the solicitor that it is unjustified and they can themselves take action with the area committee. Let the right hon. Lady stick to that point.

Mrs. Castle

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that until we on this side of the House started to ventilate these cases even that assurance was not forthcoming and there was no public or moral support for these people in their one-sided battle?

Let me give the Prime Minister a fourth example where his assurances have come too late. It is the case of a Mrs. Clark who is at this moment in the Public Gallery and who is one of the parents who was pressurised into accepting the 1968 settlement.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

Order. The right hon. Lady should not refer to people in the public Gallery.

Mrs. Castle

Very well, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I withdraw that. I will repeat that Mrs. Clark is just one of the cases that were pressurised into accepting the 1968 settlement. This is what Mrs. Clark wrote to me: When, for reasons which are too complicated for this letter, we tried to go to the Press with the evidence that certain matters were being withheld we were told by our QC that if we persited we could have our legal aid certificates withdrawn, which obviously meant no case. Who could afford to fight? The Sunday Times and Telegraph in 1968 attempted to draw attention to several incidents, including those involving us personally. My daughter Heather was the first girl of the 62 to go into court. In other words, she set the precedent for the girls. We asked to see Mr. Ackner's pleadings for her"— Mr. Ackner was the QC— and the replies. We even asked for a resume' to have an idea of what he had stated. This request and others were refused on the grounds that ' there was only one copy '. Naturally we informed our solicitors of the grand invention, the photostat machine, and offered to pay for copies but were refused. The 40 per cent. settlement was done in a room with all parents of the 62 after much changing of dates and venue. At the end of three hours, Mr. Ackner doing his utmost to convince us that we were wrong to go further with the cases, he suggested we accept 40 per cent. of an unknown figure and at the end of the three hours we were given a paper to sign of acceptance. People signed like lambs. They were told there was no alternative ".

Mr. David Waddington (Nelson and Colne)

I know that the right hon. Lady wishes to be fair. She commenced this part of her argument by saying that all the resources of the company had been used to pressurise the parents. Surely all she has said in the last few minutes is that the lawyers acting for the parents have pressurised. Where is the evidence that the company has pressurised the parents? Will the right hon. Lady, in the interests of historical accuracy, because this is a point that has not yet been made on the Floor of the House, acknowledge that any offer made by the company must have been an offer not so much coming from the company as coming from the company's insurers and the company cannot have made any offer unless the insurer had allowed it to make the offer?

Mrs. Castle

In recent years attempts have been made by a number of newspapers to bring these matters to the public's attention. Tribute has been paid to The Sunday Times; it has certainly done an outstanding job. Other newspapers, uneasy and unhappy, have tried to raise these cases and have always come up against reactions from Distillers (Biochemicals) Ltd. which have tended to keep these facts dark.

I come to another example of the Prime Minister's complacency. I gave him another example of the way in which parents were being pressurised, the way in which five parents who held out against acceptance of the proposed settlement were taken to court by their own solicitors as no longer acting in their children's best interests. These parents were actually replaced by the Official Solicitor as their children's next friend in law. If Lord Denning had not reversed this decision on appeal, those parents would not still be righting now.

I put this in my letter to the Prime Minister just as I put it in my supple- mentary question in the House. The Prime Minister's reply to me was: … what happened was that the great majority of the parents felt it was wrong that a small minority should be able to prevent all the children from benefiting from the proposed trust fund. I think this feeling was readily understandable and it was a representative of the majority of the parents, and not, as you say, the solicitors acting for the minority, who took the initiative in seeking to bring in the Official Solicitor. This morning I read the extract from the Prime Minister's letter to the parent of one of these thalidomide children—Mr. Mason, who had taken the initiative, first in resisting the settlement and, secondly, in taking the matter to appeal. Mr. Mason's comment to me was very restrained in the circumstances; he told me that the Prime Minister was "totally incorrect".

I will explain what Mr. Mason told me actually happened. It was Mr. Mason, a man of some resources and, therefore, greater freedom of action than most of these parents have had, who fought the ruling that the majority of these applications were out of time. The other parents had been told it was too late after the 1968 settlement. Mr. Mason fought it because he had funds. He won it. It was he who won leave to issue a writ. It was he who chose Messrs. Kimber Bull & Co. as solicitors because they handled the original 1968 offer.

When in June of this year Distillers made its second offer, the one which worked out at an average payment of £8,000 per child, Mr. Mason took the initiative in rejecting it. He did not regard £8,000 as good enough for a child without arms or legs. It was Distillers who insisted on an all-or-nothing settlement. This is another piece of the pres-surisation which has taken place. Mr. Mason said, "If the others want to settle, then they can go ahead, I do not want to stand in their way. But, by heaven, my child has no arms or legs and I am going on to fight."

It was Kimber Bull & Co. which threatened to make his daughter a ward of court because he was not taking the £8,000 offer lying down. It was Mr. Mason who fought the application for the appeal against the introduction of the Official Solicitor. He fought the matter with his own money and risked facing legal costs amounting to several thousand pounds. Five parents backed him and they won and got their costs. They won overwhelmingly, and Lord Denning said that it was not unreasonable for those parents to want to continue to fight for their children's interests. But other parents have been in no position to take these financial risks

Mr. Mason has now new solicitors, but he is still facing endless obstacles in pressing his claim. The new solicitors wrote to Kimber Bull & Co. asking it to transfer the existing papers relating to Mr. Mason's case in respect of his daughter. They were refused—[HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] Yes, they were refused. And we are talking about not pressurising Distillers! We have left these parents alone and helpless for years.

The Prime Minister

I hope that the right hon. Lady will give way before she goes any further. Nothing she has said so far has in any way contradicted the information I gave on the best advice available in my reply to her—not one single thing. Of course, it is true that the case was taken to the court, that it was appealed against by the minority of the parents, and that they won. I said that myself and nothing she has said has contradicted that. But the point I wish to make is this. I hope that she is not suggesting that any of the lawyers—be they solicitors or members of the Bar who advised the parents, whether they be those who have settled, or the majority who have not yet been able to settle, or the minority who do not wish to settle, or the Official Solicitor—have in any way been influenced by the Government or a Government Department or any Minister. There is not one shred of evidence of that. Therefore, I hope the right hon. Lady will stop accusing me of being complacent about this matter, or will stop implying that the Government have a responsibility for legal advice which is given to parents, whoever they may be. If she is making that implication, it is a most disgraceful suggestion.

Mrs. Castle

Really! The right hon. Gentleman is justifying my strictures on him this afternoon. Of course, I am not saying that I am holding the Government responsible for solicitors' advice. All I am saying is how right the parents were to resist. And let us remember that because they rejected an average settlement of £8,000 they were threatened with having their children made wards of court and the Official Solicitor was wheeled in. Let us also remember that the very threat of a House of Commons debate has forced Distillers to increase its offer still further to £5 million. So who were right—the parents or the solicitors who brought pressure upon them?

The point I wish to make to the right hon. Gentleman is this. This has been an unequal and unfair fight, and it is time we threw the authority of the House of Commons into the situation so that the parents are relieved of their financial anxieties and so that they are put into a position to fight. If an average payment of £8,000 in June is now admitted by Distillers to be inadequate, let us keep up the pressure, set up a fund and we may then see that £5 million offer turned into £15 million before long—certainly something far nearer to the human justice which we need to have.

I want now to conclude because so many hon. Members want to take part in the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] Of course hon. Members opposite want me to conclude but the parents know that these are the things they have asked me to put before the House.

I conclude by outlining the final struggles of Mr. Mason on behalf of his daughter who, as I have said, is without arms and legs. I have already said that the transfer of the papers in her case was refused. Therefore in desperation the solicitors turned to the Chailey Heritage Hospital where Mr. Mason's daughter Louise has been since birth. I wish to say at this point that in talking to me about his daughter's case Mr. Mason expressed nothing but admiration for the Chailey Heritage Hospital. This is what he said to me about that hospital: They are a fantastic body of people and I have nothing but admiration for them. But when his solicitors wrote to the medical administrator of the hospital asking for a complete medical report on his daughter and a history of the injuries which Louise had sustained from birth, he received the following reply from the medical administrator. Let us remember that the solicitor had not been able to get the papers from the former solicitor and that this was the only hope open to Mr. Mason to obtain evidence about his daughter's case. The letter said: Re Louise Mason. In reply to your letter of 3rd November, asking for a medical report on this child, I think it might be better if I passed this on to one of my colleagues here. I was in fact involved in the original case, and I was the paediatrician retained by the Distillers Company, and I think it might be rather invidious if I get involved at this juncture in this claim. Can we be surprised if these parents of thalidomide children feel that they live in a Kafka-like world where everywhere they turn for justice the tentacles of Distillers spread before them and when even the man in the hospital who is in charge of one of the victims has been retained by these people.

Mr. Keith Stainton (Sudbury and Woodbridge)rose—

Mrs. Castle

No, I am sorry, I have not time to give way. I say that a policy of non-intervention by the House is not good enough. I say to the Government that to say that we must wait for a settlement before we can do anything is to condemn these unfortunate parents to impotence. Once the case is settled by this type of force majeure, can anyone doubt that the Distillers Company will lose interest? We shall have lost the lever of public opinion which we can bring to bear against the company and the burden on all our consciences will be "Too late, too late".

5.8 p.m.

Mr. John Astor (Newbury)

Following the speech made by the right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle), I hope to reintroduce a more conciliatory note into the debate. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] First I should like to say how fortunate I am to be the first backbencher to be called from the Conservative benches, because I am sure that I have the support of all my hon. Friends when I offer congratulations to the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on the way in which he introduced the motion at the Opposition Dispatch Box. We all greatly respect the work he does for disabled people and we fully recognise his sincerity.

Everybody in the House shares the hon. Gentleman's concern expressed in the motion about thalidomide children.

Indeed, the official Opposition motion appears to have had its origin in an all-party early day motion which was tabled at the beginning of the Session and which has been signed by 265 hon. Members from all parts of the House. That figure shows how widespread is the concern for disabled people, and it also shows that the great majority of the hon. Members consider that these problems of disablement should be treated on a non-party, or perhaps I should say on an all-party, basis of responsibility.

I hope that during the rest of the debate the rather conciliatory tone which prevailed in the opening speeches will be resumed, because I am certain from the experience I have had as a member of the all-party Disablement Group, in co-operation with Opposition Members and many of my hon. Friends, that the degree of co-operation and non-party feuding which we have achieved has been of great benefit to disabled people.

Naturally, I sympathise with a great deal of the thought behind the motion, but I recognise, in practice, as a lot of fair-minded people will, how much my right hon. Friend has already done, not only in respect of thalidomide children but for disabled generally, and how much he is still doing, and will continue to do.

I recognise that the thalidomide children are a very special group, struck by a terrible tragedy which affected their families as well as themselves. Unfortunately, such tragedies are not confined to the effects of thalidomide, and, as my right hon. Friend said, there are other groups of people and children who suffer from accident or congenital deformity whose cases are just as tragic. We should not lose sight of that. This is one reason, I believe, for not being impetuous about setting up a fund in the terms of the motion, so that all aspects of the matter may be properly and carefully considered, for the strains on these other families and the difficulties that they experience are just as great in their own way.

Although Distillers (Biochemicals) Limited has been criticised, I at least welcome the fact that it has felt able to increase the value of the offer which it originally made, and also to relax the conditions of acceptance of its offer. I am pleased that this move has been made, also, because it now looks as though, if the parents decide to accept the new offer, the end of this long drawn-out negotiation is at last in sight.

Whether the present offer is fair and reasonable is a matter of opinion, and people will vary in their judgment as to whether it is generous or mean. But I think it difficult, without having detailed knowledge of each individual case, to make that judgment, just as it is extremely difficult to assess human tragedy in terms of cash. What is, perhaps, more significant is that no one, whatever figure he picks on at this stage, can accurately foretell whether that sum will be adequate to meet the needs of these children as they grow up and move through later life. We hope that they will have a normal span of life. But we do not know how far ahead we shall provide them with support. We do not know what technology will produce in the way of new sophisticated electrical equipment which could be of benefit to them, or what its development will be.

There are so many uncertainties that I do not see how anyone could establish a figure which would be adequate for all time. This is why I feel that we must adopt a more flexible approach, and that is the main reason why I am grateful to my right hon. Friend for repeating the promise made by the Prime Minister that, as soon as the litigation is out of the way, he will give full consideration to the setting up of a national fund to provide the additional services, equipment and support which will be needed in future years.

We all welcome my right hon. Friend's announcement this afternoon of the availability of £3 million very soon to meet the most immediate needs. He has undertaken, also, to investigate any individual cases in which it is claimed that these children are not receiving the support which they need.

I am sure that the whole House, backed by public opinion, would wish all possible support to be given to these children during their education, in their job training and job opportunities, and in their general living conditions, to ensure that they may live as full and independent a life as they can and to ensure that we do all we can to overcome the handicaps with which they were unfortunately born. I am sure, also, that we should seek to relieve the parents at least of the financial anxiety in so far as it is within our power to do so.

I listened with care to my right hon. Friend's opening speech, and from the assurances which he gave I am entirely satisfied that he will do all in his power to see that the wishes of the House and of the country are fulfilled in giving full support to this group of children and, indeed, to the wider groups of disabled people generally.

I hope that, in order to preserve the genuine feeling of mutual concern on a non-party basis, the Opposition may yet feel that the amendment, coupled with my right hon. Friend's opening speech, will satisfy them. If there is a Division, it will be a division of emphasis, I think, rather than a division of good will, for I believe that good will will continue to exist on both sides of the House. I certainly greatly hope that it will be in the interests—the primary interest with which we are concerned—of the welfare of disabled people, and the thalidomide children in particular.

5.16 p.m.

Mr. Frank Tomney (Hammersmith, North)

I wish to broaden one aspect of the matter which has not yet been touched upon. There are tragedies which have lain upon the conscience of the world like a scourge. One was the terrible sufferings of the Jews in the concentration camps. Another was the massacre at Katyn. Another was Stalin's deliberate murder of the peasants in the early years of the Russian Revolution. But it is a purely civilian tragedy with which the House is now concerned—the tragedy of thalidomide—and whether it could or should have been avoided is one of the questions which I shall consider.

We are living in a complex scientific world—a world becoming more complex every day—in which life is becoming scientifically based, in which politicians and lawyers have very little knowledge of some of the influences and developments at work, yet one in which responsibility for the administration of the changes and problems brought about by science falls directly upon the legislative assemblies of the nations.

The knowledge which is forthcoming, and the pace at which it is forthcoming, is both disconcerting and dangerous. I am sure that the House will agree about that, with the present tragedy in mind.

We cannot grasp the scale and range of drug manufacture now, totalling as it does about £7,000 million in turnover throughout the world. One company follows another in what is called molecular roulette. A company takes another's product and tries to add something to it or subtract something from it, just to corner the market and sell its own new product. The thalidomide tragedy was a tragedy of that kind.

Medicine is a biological science and, as such, it is based on observation. A basic tenet of that principle of observation is the rejection of authority—a refusal to accept something just because someone said so, or reckoned it to be so. The true scientist wants confirmation of any statement by independent means of verification. I shall show that all the signals and all the danger flags were flying in this tragedy, yet, apparently, no one took much notice.

I have in my private files details of the cases to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) referred. I was glad that she dealt with them so adequately, for it was necessary that these personal cases should be brought out.

We have only to look at what happened in Germany where the federal tax laws on drug control were very slack. The Chemie Griinenthal company, which was the first to manufacture thalidomide, time and again refused to accept scientific critical papers for examination and investigation.

A remarkable Penguin book has recently been published. If what is stated in it is untrue, it is actionable for libel. It is called "Thalidomide and the Power of the Drug Companies" and is written by two Swedes, Henning Sjostrom and Robert Nilsson. The story related in this book is frightening. This is why some of us are afraid now. We do not want this kind of legal manoeuvre repeated in this country by any company, no matter how powerful or what its base is. The Distillers base is well known—it is whisky.

There will have to be an action in the courts, and that action will have to be conclusive. No Statute of Limitations should debar anybody whose child has been crippled for life claiming damages. The parents themselves have to bear the burden.

No man can really understand or conjecture the psychological change in a woman who is bearing a child when that child is born and suffers in these circumstances. No compensation can wipe out the memory of that first vital hour, which can destroy the mentality of any woman. So let us have no fiddling, no ducking, no legal arguments, no turning back. Let us say that if money is to be the answer in this case it must be as high an amount as possible to reduce the suffering which will come in later years.

We know that as far back as 1952, according to the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, a drug called Aminopterim was used in 12 cases of therapeutic abortion. This drug is derived from glutamic acid, which is the main ingredient of thalidomide.

There was an unknown, unobserved, scientific doctor attached to the Food and Drugs Administration of the United States Government—Dr. Frances Kelsey. The alarm bell started to ring in her mind when this drug was brought to the American market and she refused to give it clearance, despite fantastic pressures put upon her to break her will and to allow this drug on the American market. It reads like a horror story. However, she stuck out. She would not countenance it. It the end President Kennedy awarded her the highest American civilian decoration for saving countless numbers of American women from this tragedy.

The warning flags were flying at that time. What really gets me is why we did not know. I have tried to get information about the responsibilities of the BMA, its clearance committee and advisory panel. I was not very successful.

In 1961 the Distillers Company was advising medical men that Distaval, the trade name of this drug in Great Britain, 'can be given with complete safety to pregnant women and nursing mothers without adverse effect on mother or child'. Unfortunately in the event doctors relied upon these assurances given by the company. In most scientific journals and branches of science knowledge is made readily available for examination and criticism. I believe that in this instance somebody should have been aware of this knowledge. Has the BMA no readers, analysts or examiners? I repeat the question which I put to the Minister earlier, which has not yet been answered: was this drug given clearance in 1961 when it was offered over the counter for sale, less purchase tax?

Dr. Miller

Will my hon. Friend accept that, although the medical profession bears responsibility, there were doctors who did not prescribe Distaval? They watched the flags which were flying and obeyed the signals.

Mr. Tomney

I am grateful to hear that from my hon. Friend, who is a respected member of the medical profession.

Who made up the board of the BMA? Who are these eminent gentlemen? According to "Who's Who", the chairman of the board has a page of small italic print to himself. How any man can undertake so much I do not know. I know what we have to do within our compass and how busy we can become. So, whether it is neglect, whether the BMA did not know or had not sufficient researchers or advisers to find out, we will never know.

Arising from this tragedy, the Medicines Act 1968 has now afforded us protection against an issue which concerns the whole world. It is no longer an issue concerning Germany, Great Britain or the United States; it is an issue concerning the whole world. There-ford somebody somewhere had better set up an authoritative international committee with geneticists, analysts and pharmacists who can say that so much of this kind of production is based on competition and has little medical or therapeutic value. Let us follow narrow defined channels strictly in the interests of the patient. This must be done, because this thing is so vast.

Mr. David Crouch (Canterbury)

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way, because what I am about to say is by way of helping him. I must declare an interest in the pharmaceutical industry. At the time that thalidomide was put on the market, no tests were being carried out in the drug industry on the effect of drugs on a foetus. Today, as a result of this tragedy, such tests are required to be carried out before any drugs can be marketed.

Mr. Tomney

I concede the point that the hon. Gentleman makes. However, it is bolting the door after the horse has gone.

Dr. Kelsey was alerted because peripheral neuritis was associated with the conditions which have been produced in thalidomide children. So the warning flag was obvious at that early date.

In order to make sure that this kind of tragedy is never foisted on the British public again, we must charge an international body with this responsibility.

The Distillers Company, whose main occupation is marketing whisky with an annual turnover of £453 million and a net profit of £64 million, is now most intimately concerned with the question of damages, and damages in a case like this just cannot be assessed.

I am amazed at the law history of this case. If I were a lawyer of the age at which men produce offspring, I should be chary about going into the courts to defend a case like this. At the back of my mind I should have the thought that it might have been my wife or my child. Instead of indulging in all the legal niceties and legal tenets, and addressing one another as "My lord "or" My learned friend', those concerned should look again at what should be done in a case like this. We have to think about Mr. Justice Hinchcliffe, the Lord Chancellor, the Statute of Limitations, the three year period, the difficulties to which my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn referred, the people who have missed the boat, those who have been pressurised into missing the boat and those who could not even afford to get on the boat.

There is a responsibility on us in Parliament, but the law courts as such must have known that this was a case in a million. They should have known that this was something new and somebody, somewhere, should have come to the Lord Chancellor and to Parliament and said "There is existing law under which this case can be settled but we do not think, in all humanity, that the law meets the situation", and of course it does not.

But that was not done, and we have heard this afternoon of the misjudgments of some learned judges and of awards of £8,000 to £12,000 to children who have to suffer this penalty throughout their lives. These awards are ridiculous. There was no provision in British law to meet the situation. The matter should have come to this Chamber, and we should have made the necessary legislation available to deal with the issue.

We should make sure now that if it can be proved and held that Distillers are responsible they are made to pay, and pay heavily. A man is responsible for the issue of his own folly, and the folly in this case was profit. Instead of advancing arguments about briefing counsel or anybody else, Distillers and the directors should say that this was a tragedy, that it was of their making and that they accept responsibility for it.

5.33 p.m.

Dr. Gerard Vaughan (Reading)

I appreciated the wide-reaching and thoughtful way in which the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) presented the motion.

As a first step may I say that I appreciate not only the welcome money which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has made available but also the humane and understanding way in which he has approached this problem. This is not a party political problem, and it is right that we should be discussing it today. It is a difficult problem to discuss, because it is easy for us to get carried away by the emotional issues—and this is a very emotional issue—and overlook some of the real problems that underlie them.

I say that because, medically, I have had to examine all the 60 cases which have so far been before the courts. I think I ought to be open about that. I have been through this court procedure on behalf of the parents. The right hon. Lady the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) mentioned certain solicitors by name. My experience with them was that they could not have been more humane, painstaking and kindly in their approach, but the right hon. Lady may have examples of their actions which do not fit in with what I have seen them doing.

I am accustomed to seeing handicapped children, and it worries me a great deal when people say that thalidomide children are essentially the same as other handicapped children. I thought, when I went to examine them, that I should find them the same as other handicapped children, but I was shocked at the effect they had on me. They are different. I suggest to the House that it is a shock which we all share and there are various reasons for it and for their being essentially different.

First, the cause is different. Several hon. Members have already referred to this. Knowing the cause, our attitudes are bound to be different. The attitudes of parents are also different, with the result that the stress for them has been greater than for parents of other handicapped children. As a society I feel sure that we have a moral and general responsibility for what has gone on.

Another difference is that in these cases the parents themselves very often asked for the drug. For various reasons, which are too complicated to go into, they frequently demanded from their doctors that they should have what was called this safe drug. Later on, when the drug turned out to be anything but safe, they felt doubly guilty.

Then there is the fact that at the time doctors themselves—and here I include myself—believed this to be not just a safe drug, but an outstandingly safe one, so that if patients were reluctant to take it I would put a bit of pressure on them because I felt it was so much safer than their favourite remedies—only to be proved tragically wrong.

There is another side to the majority of these handicapped children and that is that they are of normal intelligence. With other handicappeds it is unusual to see a severely damaged child with normal or well above normal intelligence. Some of these thalidomide children are highly intelligent, and I assure hon. Members that it is a most distressing experience to hear these highly intelligent 8, 9 and 10-year old children talking about their handicaps, their hopes for the future and their awareness that their future will not be normal.

This degree of intelligence has been particularly upsetting for the parents. It has meant that these children have been very critical—and as a member of society I am ashamed to say rightly critical—of the appalling artificial limbs with which we have presented them. One sees a small child coming into a room looking like a deep-sea diver dressed up in a mechanical abortion, and at the first opportunity he throws the whole lot off because he says it is intolerable to him. Those who have feet have developed the most outstanding ability to feed themselves, to write, to unlock doors and to undertake a great range of activities to show how clever they are. All this is very disturbing to the parents who have to look after them.

Lastly on that side, they need special educational equipment, much more freely than we have given them so far. Despite the efforts to provide equipment, for which my right hon. Friend rightly draws some credit, many of these children are still not getting the mechanical devices, let alone the other things, which they need.

For some reason which nobody knows, thalidomide children sweat excessively. This does not sound very worrying but it is an appalling problem for someone who is tied up in a lot of equipment and makes him increasingly aware of his handicap and difficulties.

We do not know what the future holds but the court accepted that puberty was likely to be a disturbing time for these children and they are now beginning to move into that age. The court also accepted that there would be difficulties when they arrived at their later teens, when they began to realise that they would never get married, or were unlikely to get married, that they would never have normal jobs, and that as most of them were sterile they would never have children. When these things start to come home to them it will be difficult to say what financial assistance they should have to offset that kind of disability.

Some of the children are not only outwardly damaged to a major degree: they have some very subtle disturbances. For instance, of the 60 no fewer than four, and perhaps six, are autistic children, which is a very rare condition. We have spent a lot of time in the last two-and-a-half to three years discussing the prob- lems of autistic children; here is a group of children with both handicaps.

Then there is the aspect of schooling. As an individual in society I have been horrified to notice that the children who are doing best are those in rural areas and villages, where the local community takes them on and they go into normal schools without difficulty. Many of the children, far less severely damaged, who are doing worst are those in our cities and urban areas, where we have lots of special schooling for them. This is a reflection on all of us.

I should like now to mention the families. My right hon. Friend said that some of the families had broken up, which is true, and that some of them have drawn together. It is relevant that we in this country have kept 90 per cent. of the children at home, whereas in Germany most of them have gone into institutions. But every one of the mothers of those 60 children is ill, taking tranquillisers for her nerves, and has done so virtually continuously since her thalidomide child was born. This is important to realise.

We are dealing here not just with parents of handicapped children but with parents who are themselves under great stress and difficulty. This is a very powerful added reason why the cases should be concluded in the courts as soon as possible. One could speculate why so many of the mothers are disturbed like this, but I will leave it there for now.

Many of the parents have given up work; many have had to change their houses and go into bungalows. The local authority provisions to help people to go into bungalows so that they can be on the ground floor are all available if one knows how to get at them, but many of the families have not known how to get the aid which is available.

Lastly I would remind the House what is involved in the court procedure. The children are professionally examined. The court, without actuarial provision, assesses their minimum likely needs. It has then—we have then—turned this into a financial sum, as we would perhaps for a child involved in a car accident. The children will then get 40 per cent. of the minimum of what the court, on the most stringent lines, has decided is absolutely essential for their future. If this is natural justice, it is a very strange quirk of the law. Those who do not come into this particular 60 will then get, I understand, 60 per cent, of the 40 per cent., so that they go even further down the scale.

We should all recognise that there is a manifest social injustice here. In a recent case, a girl who was blinded at school—a very tragic thing—got a very large sum. Here, because of our legal procedures, somebody else who has been accidentally damaged is likely to get a pittance, a token of what he actually needs.

I am absolutely delighted at what my right hon. Friend has already said. I hope that at the end of the day we will have four lines from the Government which we could pursue. First, I hope that more funds will be available immediately for the social and educational services so that they can operate a little more flexibly and rapidly for these children. Second, we have discovered through this case that the ordinary court procedure is not rapid enough. I hope we can set up an inquiry to examine our legal procedure in handicap cases of this kind.

Third, I hope that when this court case is finished the Prime Minister's promise to consider setting up another fund will still stand. Fourth, because of what the families and the children themselves have said, I hope that my right hon. Friend will set up some procedure for increased research into the provision of equipment for handicapped children. We are in the Middle Ages in our provision in this respect.

5.45 p.m.

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

We lead the world in aids for disabled people and disabled children. What concerns me deeply is our slowness in applying them to the children. I appeal to the Secretary of State for Education and Science to see to it that the Fleming Fulton School in Belfast, where there are thalidomide children, gets some POSSUM equipment quickly, because those children are making rapid progress.

We must try to compensate these children for their physical limitations by applying known technologies. It should not be the subject of charity but should be something of right which comes from the State. I urge the right hon. Lady to look carefully at the problems of schools like Fleming Fulton, Chailey Heritage and Hephaistos.

I welcome the fact that the right hon. Gentleman will make £3 million available now for equipment. However, he will find that it is not enough. I should be grateful to help him spend it, because I have a fair file on people who are desperately in need.

As for the fund, I am not so happy. I know that people have said that these parents should not worry about solicitors telling them that they will lose legal aid, but let us forget the machinery involved; if one's solicitor says that legal aid will be withdrawn, one tends to believe him. The fund should be set up now, before the cases are over, so that help can be given now and the anxieties and the burden can be taken from these people now. If it is done after the cases are settled, the great problem will be that Distillers will have yet another excuse to lean on these people to get them to accept a low settlement.

I have a reasonable suggestion to make. In Germany, where there is the same problem, Chemie Griinenthal went fiddling on in the legal jungle for 10 years, until everybody had had enough. It strikes me that we today in this House have had enough of all the legal wrangle. It is about time we stopped it. In the end, Chemie Grünenthal said that it would realise all its tangible assets and give its profits for the next 10 years to the children.

In a first-class speech, my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) said he thought that £20 million would do it. It would not repair the damage, it would not take away the suffering, it would not relieve the anxieties and the weariness of the parents. But let Distillers, at this last late hour, say "We will do what Chemie Grünenthal did." The company would still survive, it would still have massive profits: it would not know a damned thing about it. Suppose we take my hon. Friend's figure of £20 million—although I would make it £50 million. Distillers' assets are £400 million, so the firm would not notice it there. By the same token, its profits over the past 10 years have totalled £260 million. It could give a share of that.

I would say to Distillers, "Act now. You really have been in this rat race far too long. Get the hell out of it and give these people justice by making an allocation outside the courts, and then leave them to fend for themselves."

5.49 p.m.

Mr. Anthony Fell (Yarmouth)

In briefly following the remarks of the hon. Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), I would say that had the Distillers Company's offer been four times as much as it has been, I should have found it difficult to say that it was enough.

As I promised you, Mr. Speaker, I have only three or four minutes to say what I have to say. Therefore, I ask hon. Members to forgive me for not following their remarks, except in saying how much admiration I have for the speech made by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and for that of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Dr. Vaughan) from his deep knowledge of this subject.

My qualifications for saying what I shall now say are slender. They are based on two simple facts. The first is that I have been a Member of the House for nearly 18 years. The second is that during those 18 years' service to the House of Commons I have come to love this place. I do not believe that at any stage—I hope that the Press will repeat nothing I say—I have either let myself down or let the House down.

I simply want to appeal to the House on this enormously serious topic, on which there is basically no division between hon. Members in any part of the House. I make the appeal to Members of Parliament that they do not act tonight in a way which will so debase the currency of Parliament—let us face the fact that it is already debased enough—by turning these tragic children into a political shuttlecock by voting on the issue.

I pray to hon. Members, with prayers which are directed not to my side of the House alone but also to the Opposition benches, that they will feel that the right way to treat this matter is for the House of Commons to act in the only sensible way that it can, and that is to do every- thing it conceivably can towards the help of these poor, tragic kids.

5.52 p.m.

Mr. David Steel (Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles)

I shall be equally as brief as the hon. Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), who has set us a very good example.

First, I echo something said by the hon. Member for Reading (Dr. Vaughan) and by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney). We have to remember that we are dealing with a drug which as well as bringing dire tragedy to a few brought at the time great comfort to many. That is true of many drugs which are in common use. Indeed, I am told that every day or two in Europe someone dies through taking penicillin. We are, however, well aware of the benefits that penicillin has brought.

I start on a point of disagreement with the Secretary of State. We all agree that compensation must ultimately be a matter for the company, but it is my belief that because of the complex processes of the drug industry and the testing machinery we now have—we should remember that we have to look to the future as well as the past—and because of the contractual relationship between the National Health Service and patients today, it is no longer good enough in 1972 that we sit aside and say that this is a private matter between the person who takes the drug and the company which manufactures it. That is in no way to diminish their responsibility, but society and the National Health Service have a right and, therefore, the Government have a duty to intervene in a matter of this kind.

Secondly, we must all be appalled and concerned for the parents and the cost of the litigation involved in this case. I am increasingly concerned, as an ordinary Member of Parliament dealing with constituents, about the growing number of complaints from ordinary people, in all manner of cases, about the complexities, costs and difficulties in the processes of the law. It is high time that the House held an inquiry into the methods of operation of the legal profession. Very often justice delayed—this is such a case—can be justice denied. That is a second reason why it is right that the Government, on behalf of the public, should intervene in this case and seek at least a temporary remedy.

Thirdly, I believe that one of the effects of this debate, and certainly of the whole issue being raised, is to highlight the totally inadequate facilities we provide in our Welfare State by the National Health Service for that small minority of our population who are either physically or mentally handicapped, a group in which we may include the thalidomide children. I am constantly concerned about the individual cases which are brought to me in a non-urban area. I agree with what the hon. Member for Reading said about schools in rural areas. I admire the work done by people who work with the handicapped. But as a society, under successive Governments, we have not been prepared to devote enough of our national resources to helping these people. I hope that this is one thing which will emerge. For that reason I welcome the start made by the Secretary of State in announcing the £3 million to help these people.

The real point of difference that has emerged from the debate is that some of us believe that the Government ought to set up a trust fund to establish machinery for settling, in whatever way the judgment may be exercised, the claims of individuals and that the Government should take over the legal battle to recoup the money from Distillers Company. After this period of time, that is the least we are entitled to ask. Therefore, unless the Government are prepared to move in that direction, I have no alternative but to advise my hon. Friends to vote in support of the motion.

5.57 p.m.

Mr. William Shelton (Clapham)

I should like first to say how much I have admired the work done by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley). I also mention the Sunday Times. The more that this matter is brought to the attention of the public, the better it will be for these unfortunate children. I welcome the debate although, like my hon. Friend the Member for Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), I hope that there will not be a vote.

I draw the attention of the House to an article in the magazine Community Medicine on 24th November, with the headline Squalid wrangle over thalidomide issue makes people despair of party politics. The article goes on to say: The thalidomide children have now become a party-political issue. That became certain last week. This is very much to be deplored. Anyone present at this debate will realise that that is not so. If we do not have a vote, this will become apparent to everyone.

I was very pleased to be one of the six original sponsors of the hon. Gentleman's motion, which in some ways initiated discussion of the matter. I approached the debate with some misgivings because it seemed a difficult position for the Government and for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to say that however much sympathy we might have—indeed, we all have it—it would be difficult to do anything until the legal wrangles had ended, especially as those wrangles have been going on for 10 years.

The situation has changed slightly since yesterday or the day before. I give the same sort of modified welcome as that of other hon. Members to the increase in the Distillers Company's offer. I do not know enough about it to know whether it is enough. Probably it is not enough. Its timing must be regarded as slightly suspect, being 24 hours before a debate in this Chamber. That seems to be too much of a coincidence.

I warmly welcome the £3 million for all handicapped children announced by my right hon. Friend. This sum may well not be enough, but at least it is an earnest of good faith. My right hon. Friend was right to remind us that there are many other children with disabilities as grievous as those we are discussing. My right hon. Friend referred to the possibility of a trust fund. Should it become necessary, would that second £3 million in the trust fund be for thalidomide children only or for all handicapped children?

My next question is of great importance to me. I accept the Government's arguments that the trust fund legislation should not be initiated while the legal argument continues as £3 million has already been allocated. But if the legal argument were to continue for another six months, another year, two years or even 10 years, would this mean that the Government, whatever Government might be in office in 10 years' time, would still be waiting for the legal arguments to end before the matter was reviewed?

Mr. Richard Crawshaw (Liverpool, Toxteth)

I am following the hon. Member's argument with great sympathy, and what I wish to say does not reflect upon the Minister because I know that his heart is in this matter. Is the hon. Member suggesting, however, that all people are equal before the law? Speaking as a lawyer I know only too well of the pressures that are brought upon people to settle these issues. Is it right that people should be confronted by a barrister who says that he does not know whether they will win the case but that he would settle for a certain sum? In so doing people might settle for a ridiculous amount. Is it not right at this stage that the Government should set up a trust to safeguard those people while the test case goes before the House of Lords, if necessary?

Mr. Shelton

I take the point entirely; that is a difficulty. While I understand the hon. Member's argument, however, there is a counter-argument that for legislation to be undertaken at this stage would in some way, perhaps, relieve the pressure on the company. It would relieve the liability on the company also. There are two points of view. It is a tragedy that this should happen but I believe that to undertake legislation now would reduce pressure on the company.

I want to know how long we must be prepared to wait before we say that we can wait no longer and that we must do something, perhaps set up a trust fund even though that might prejudice the case and even though it might take pressure off the company.

6.4 p.m.

Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) moved the motion as a matter of urgency and in very strong terms. I am sure that the whole House is indebted to him and to the Sunday Times for their persistent efforts on behalf of these unfortunate children. My hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney) referred to a book which has been written by two Swedish scientists. I hope that if hon. Members have not read it they will do so. Those two men were engaged in research and dealt with many thalidomide cases and with the effect of many drugs, and they therefore had an intimate knowledge of the subject.

The book emphasises by reference to actual cases the terrible results that may ensue from the use of medicinal products and drugs, and it emphasises the vital necessity for a long period of observation and testing before they are put on the market. I know that this has been recognised to some extent in this country by the Medicines Act 1968. We have a Committee on the Safety of Drugs; a licensing committee has been set up on the safety and efficiency of drugs. But the Medicines Act does not appear to provide a civil remedy. It prescribes penalties for offences in regard to the regulations that it specifies. Under Section 64 the appropriate Minister may prohibit the sale and supply of medicinal products or make conditions for their sale. The operative word is "may", not "shall".

The motion calls for immediate legislation to deal with the problem of children, and I suggest that it is essential that that Act should be re-examined with a view to making it more effective, particularly the provisions dealing with advertising. The only effective remedy for injury resulting from the use of a medicinal product or drug appears to be by proving negligence. As was shown in the thalidomide cases that were settled, it is very often difficult to prove such negligence. The onus is upon the plaintiff, and the burden of proof is often a very difficult one to discharge. A criticism has been made by a number of people about the lawyers, and I suppose that, as a lawyer, it is a little dangerous for me to intervene in the debate. But the lawyers who are acting in this case can only advise and act on existing law, and I am sure that they have advised and are doing what they think is in the best interest of their clients. The moral obligation is upon the company; the lawyers can only give it legal advice. I know a case can be made out about the delays in the law, but that case has been made again and again, and I hope and understand that something may have been done about it.

The real need is for the law to be overhauled where it applies to the testing and marketing of drugs before they can be prescribed for human use. It should never be possible, as was done in the case of thalidomide, to have a drug of that kind put upon the market without the necessity of prescription.

Dr. Tom Stuttaford (Norwich, South)

I believe that the hon. and learned Member is mistaken. Distaval always needed a prescription, and prescriptions may have been given too casually, but nevertheless a doctor's prescription was needed to obtain it.

Mr. Weitzman

I understand that originally thalidomide could have been purchased without a prescription. [An HON. MEMBER: "Not in this country."] That should never be done with a drug of this kind. I see someone on the Opposition Front Bench nodding his head. My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South raised this aspect in the Adjournment debate and made that clear. There is a vital need to see that when a medicinal product or drug is put upon the market for human use there is an express warranty that it is reasonably safe for the purposes for which it is intended to be used and that a person, including an unborn child, who suffers because of a breach of that warranty has a remedy in law. Moreover, when an action is brought the provisions of the Limitation Act 1963 have to be met. As is shown by the conflicting views of judges in the recent case of Central Asbestos Company Limited v. Dodd—(1972) 2A.E.R1135—the victims in cases dealing particularly with effects of diseases resulting from conditions of employment may be denied their remedy. The provisions should be looked at again.

I am glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Mr. Ron Lewis) has used his luck in the ballot to present, appropriately today, a Bill entitled the Dangerous Drugs and Disabled Children Bill, dealing as far as a Private Member's Bill can with this very problem. I hope that as a non-party measure it will receive the support of all hon. Members. I know that my hon. Friend would dearly have liked to include a provision that a fund should be created by the Government to help these unfortunate children, but he cannot do that in a Private Member's Bill. That can be done only by the Government. I am glad that the Amendment says that the Government will consider the establishment of a trust. But for the life of me I cannot understand why that trust cannot be created now. How would it prejudice the rights of litigants in the cases before the courts? They could proceed with their cases. Surely the Government should say today "We recognise the difficulties of these unfortunate children. We are prepared to establish a trust now so that they will not suffer in any way."

I again beg the Secretary of State to see that that argument is considered a little more closely. Let him not stick to the idea that if a fund is established it will in some way prejudice the cases now in progress. If it is established in a certain way, there is no reason why it should. Of course, it might well be said that any damages obtained by the children can go to the fund eventually. But the fund should be there as a guarantee for their future.

I hope that the strong feeling expressed today will result in speeded action to ameliorate, even if we cannot entirely resolve, these problems.

6.12 p.m.

Dr. Tom Stuttaford (Norwich)

I join other hon. Members in congratulating the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on moving the motion, and I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Dr. Vaughan). I had not heard such a brilliant medical exposition of the case before my hon. Friend's speech, and I do not think that we shall be privileged to hear such an exposition again. I shall not speak for very long, partly because I could not possibly better that.

But I want to emphasise one or two points. The first is about the heterogeneous nature of the parents. They are not a tight group. When their children were born they did not know that they had anything in common with other parents in the country. They were not in a position to take immediate action, but now the Distillers Company says "It is not we who caused the delay, but the parents who caused much of it." That is not true. There was delay initially because the medical profession did not realise why the children were affected as they are, and it took time for the parents to come together.

When we look at the time the law has taken we see that it is not entirely blameless. When a trade union is fighting a case there is on one side a very powerful body and on the other usually a fairly powerful boss. A good example is to be seen in the case in which ICI rubber workers were found to develop a cancer of the bladder. In three years their trade union had the problem completely settled, because on the one side there was a united group of workers and on the other a well-established boss.

The problem of thalidomide is completely different. The patients are scattered all over the country, and cannot get together. They should not be blamed for failing to make any form of group approach. They have done remarkably well with few funds to achieve a considerable degree of unanimity. If there has been a lack of pressure up till now it was partly because they are not a group and partly because they have been fighting various test cases. It was very difficult even to get the disclosures right initially. They have not had the assistance they might have had from the Distillers company.

On the question of compensation, we must realise that the hurdles for the children are still to come. There is the hurdle of puberty, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Reading spoke. There is the hurdle of adult life. But, above all, there is the hurdle of isolation when the parents die. We have no concept of what the costs will be for the children if they have to live from the age of 40 to, say, 60 or 70 with no support from parents. They will certainly find the sums given to them by Distillers are totally inadequate.

It would seem reasonable, perhaps, to persuade Distillers to make a proportion of the equity of the company over to a trust fund so that the children are protected to some extent against inflation. If it made over, say, £20 million to the trust fund that would dilute its capital only slightly, and there would be protec- tion against inflation for the children for the whole of their life span.

Thirdly, we must realise the climate in which the drug was prescribed. There has been a great revolution since the war. Before the war the pharmaceutical industry had little to offer patients, and doctors hummed and hawed uselessly by the bedside. But from 1935 onwards we were able to help patients. It was an era of euphoria in prescription. We handed out drugs far too readily and easily, and did not always understand the consequences.

Many people in society benefited from these advances. The 400-odd children whom we are debating are the casualties, the price we have had to pay for the benefit that many families have enjoyed. In any adult audience, one in five of those present owes his or her life to a modern drug. The price we pay is the 400-odd children who are hopelessly and appallingly maimed. Society as a whole owes them a debt.

It was not only doctors who were euphoric. A great deal of industry was euphoric and money was made very fast. Therefore, apart from the well-established large ethical companies, many other tried to jump on the bandwagon to diversify their interests. Thus we had a German company with an unpronounceable name, which was really a subsidiary of a lipstick manufacturing firm, manufacturing Distaval in Germany, and by all accounts doing so extraordinarily badly. Then we had in this country Distillers, which is really a distillery company, diversifying into drugs. Regrettably, it manufactured thalidomide extremely efficiently, so it was that much more dangerous than the German variety, which was so badly made that it did not always have the lethal effect that it might have had.

Society has benefited from the pharmaceutical industry, and still does. At the top end of the spectrum the industry was even then testing very thoroughly, but at the bottom end the testing was pretty dicey. The companies involved were often subsidiaries of other companies. They are the people we should be condemning today, as well as admitting that we in society owe a debt to the children, a debt we must repay by saying that we must certainly sooner or later set up a trust fund for them.

6.19 p.m.

Dr. M. S. Miller (Glasgow, Kelvin-grove)

I am constrained to enter this debate because I believe that the medical profession has a responsibility in the matter.

I do not think that this is an occasion for a balanced argument. There is an outcry in the country, and if the House is not a place where we can shout about it when something appears to be hidden behind a smokescreen of legal procedure, God help the ordinary people when it comes to claiming their redress of grievance.

I add my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) on the most eloquent plea he made. I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) on her powerful speech, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney). I add my high regard of the speech made by the hon. and qualified Member for Reading (Dr. Vaughan). It reminded me of the best traditions of the clinical lecture theatre; only the patients were absent. But I could conjure up very readily the horrifying scenes which were vividly depicted in the hon. Member's speech.

I have said that the medical profession must bear some responsibility, and we do. We are the cause of a new disease, the iatrogenic illness caused by our own medicines. We have prescribed these medicines. We have given them to our patients, and our patients have every right to feel confident in what we say, in what we do and in what we give them. When a situation like this evolves we must bear a degree of responsibility.

Perhaps there is a tendency on the part of some members of my profession not to be humble enough about the damage that they can do in addition to the good which they can often do. I remember the blandishments which were made upon me by the pharmaceutical industry when I was in practice as a family doctor. I was pushed by Distillers Ltd. in respect of Distaval. But I am one of those rather peculiar doctors who feel a little old-fashioned about succumbing to all the claims which are made for the more fashionable cures. I am not detracting from the claim made by the hon. and qualified Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford), that we must try new methods and new remedies because it is only in that way that we can make advances.

However, I believe that it is also incumbent upon the medical profession to treat with extreme care the claims which are made for drugs, especially when there are flags flying of danger. There is a plethora of drugs on the market which are totally unnecessary. The hypnotics which were pushed at the time of Distaval fell into that category. They were pushed merely to increase the profits of some of the drug companies.

If I may digress for a short time, this highlights the problem of the testing and the evaluation of drugs. We are perhaps shortly to debate vivisection and the care of animals. I advise my hon. Friends to be extremely careful about what they say in that respect.

But the main responsibility lies with Distillers. There is clearly a cause and effect situation. Nobody disputes that. I do not believe that any of my hon. Friends are criticising the Government for lack of provisions in the National Health Service. I think the Secretary of State must be complimented in doing everything possible within the scope of the health service. But the Government are being criticised for not relieving the kind of pressure which is obviously being made upon many of the parents who are attempting to redress their grievance. I believe, as my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Toxteth (Mr. Crawshaw) said, that the Government could set up a trust fund without prejudice to the cases now proceeding.

Everyone has sympathy for all sufferers of severe congenital abnormalities. However, we are not dealing now with that situation as a whole; we are dealing directly and specifically with a cause and effect situation. We are pinpointing an aspect of congenital abnormality which has been the direct cause, and it is something for which we bear some responsibility.

The current issue of Community Medicine has been referred to, a copy of which I also happen to have. In the current issue the political writer says: there has come the increasing realisation among MPs that the politicians have a direct responsibility too. This drug, after all, was prescribed on the National Health Service. It was tax exempted. These are matters of direct Parliamentary responsibility. But there is a further political responsibility which has so far been the concern only of a minority. When Distaval came on the market there was no proper monitoring system for drugs. The article continues: It is one of many examples of dangers and responsibilities whose significance continued to be overlooked until unmistakably signalled by a disaster. For that the politicians and the deficiencies of the system over which they preside, must take the blame. I plead with the right hon. Gentleman to try to bring some kind of pressure upon Distillers. The best type of pressure which could be brought would be the setting up of a trust fund for the victims. If some further action is taken as a result of this debate, my right hon. and hon. Friends deserve praise for having initiated it.

6.27 p.m.

Mrs. Jill Knight (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

The Economist of 25th August, 1962, when speaking about thalidomide, said: This is a situation that requires a cool head to warm hearts. If the intervening 10 years has heated up some of the heads it has cooled none of the hearts. There is absolutely no doubt from everything that has been said that there is unanimity across the Floor of the House in concern for these children. That cannot in any way be questioned. But what worries me is that we are being asked in the motion in the name of the Leader of the Opposition to allocate funds to people who will be getting some provision on top of that.

Much as I admire the splendid and tremendously informative speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Dr. Vaughan), I find it immensely difficult to be divisive in the help which I wish to make available for all handicapped people. That is the difficult point, not whether we shall upset the courts. I could not care less about upsetting the courts. What worries me is that there is not a bottomless pit of cash. There is, however, an unlimited number of people who need our help. That is the problem which the House faces.

Can my right hon. Friend possibly announce, in view of all the things that have been said, the setting up of any research into foetal life or teratogenic effects. If nothing else can be done tonight, something of that kind would be of immense help.

I was appalled when I found the number of names which thalidomide goes under. Distaval has been mentioned. It is Softenon in Finland; Kevadon and Talimol in Canada; Noctosediv in Spain; and Neurosedyn in Sweden. There are 37 different names for various drugs containing thalidomide. Will the Medicines Act cover the whole world? It seems that this is a many-headed hydra with many names. How can we be sure that there is some central sifting of medicine information whereby something which has popped up and been condemned in one country cannot pop up in this country and not be recognised?

6.30 p.m.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

There is, basically, only a difference of emphasis between us on this issue, but it is an important difference which was reflected in the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight). She says that she cannot be divisive about the treatment of the handicapped and disabled, and there is obviously a great element of truth in that. But she misses the point of the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), which was that there is here an essential moral obligation which falls upon the nation—not upon political parties but upon the nation.

On the legal case, I share the view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), who said that he cannot see—as I cannot see—how the Government would prejudice the negotiations by setting up a new disaster fund or subscribing more heavily to the Lady Hoare Fund. I can see no specific difference of principle between that position and the one that arises as a matter of everyday occurrence in legal practice, where, for example, an employer who values the services of an employee who has had the misfortune to suffer an accident—perhaps a road accident—decides to pay that man his ordinary salary, perhaps on the basis that it will be repaid as a result of the litigation. I can see no distinction in principle between that situation, which does not impair or prejudice negotiations, and the present one. It can be made subject to terms.

The Government have to meet that point. Why cannot they establish a fund on such a basis? Why should it impede the negotiations? Why has it been possible to do this elsewhere without having a disastrous effect on litigation? The Distillers company says that there is no legal liability, and this is not the place to argue that point, but it seems to accept a moral responsibility. I cannot believe that if it is honourable in conducting these negotiations it would seek to shuffle off its responsibilities if the Government were to establish a trust fund now. Another factor which I find rather extraordinary is that in this totally extraordinary case the Distillers company has not taken it upon itself to help the people in the interim before a final settlement is arrived at.

This case demonstrates the absurdity of the equipment available to lawyers and the law generally to deal with such totally exceptional circumstances. This case cannot be dealt with along the customary lines, neither for the assessment of damages nor so far as the necessity to establish negligence in order to succeed in circumstances such as this is concerned—the point of burden of proof which my hon. and learned Friend made.

On the question of damages, the Law Commissioners themselves have pointed out that the legal method of fixing damages in English law lacks any mathematical, actuarial, statistical or other scientific basis, and they recommend that in future such factors should play their full part. But, as The Times pointed out in a recent article, there is no sign of that suggestion being translated into law.

Obviously, an enormous difficulty confronts legal advisers at present. We have a rule of thumb element which can be disastrous when dealing with a situation of this kind. There can be no doubt that many cases must have been settled at far below really acceptable figures, and this is because insufficient funds are available to some of the people. There may be an inadequacy in the legal aid system. There has been perhaps in some situations—I am not making any reflection on the legal advisers in this case—inadequate advice. There is also uppermost in the minds of people the threat that costs might be incurred which they could not afford to bear even if legally aided, since in some cases they might have to make a substantial contribution. They must also bear in mind that they are facing an organisation with vast funds which can take the case to the uttermost limits, which the ordinary individual cannot face the prospect of doing.

Mr. Leslie Spriggs (St. Helens)

Is my hon. Friend aware that ordinary people very often are advised to take what is offered rather than allow their case to proceed through the courts and possibly lose everything thereby?

Mr. Davis

Of course I am aware of that. Most people, lawyers and non-lawyers, in the House are aware of it.

This terrible and tragic case illustrates how inadequate our present system of the law of negligence is in dealing with such appalling situations.

6.36 p.m.

Mr. Kenneth Lewis (Rutland and Stamford)

This has been perhaps one of the most compelling debates any of us have listened to in the House for a very long time, beginning with the speech of the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley) and carried on by many other hon. Members on both sides. It can only be destroyed as a compelling House of Commons operation if the Opposition persist in a vote against the Government tonight. I hope that they will not do it.

The Opposition motion is not basically critical of the Government and the Government amendment does not propose that the Government should escape responsibility. This House has, of course, no responsibility—although it may be critical of it—for the Distillers company as such. We can criticise—and certainly I do—the delay which has taken place. We may deplore the inadequacy of the offer. The fact remains that there is no actual responsibility in this House for the Distillers company, but there is a responsibility, of course, for these children, and we accept, and must accept, that responsibility.

Hon. Members opposite must recognise that this case has gone on for 10 years, during part of which time there was a Labour Government. It has been said that none of us has raised this matter in the House. The Labour Government did nothing about it.

I appreciate very much the announcement by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. My heart said to me a few weeks ago that I must sign the Motion which was put down by the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South, but I did not do so. I want to tell the hon. Gentleman why. It was because I happen to have a sister who is matron of a unit for the handicapped and disabled—a hospital-come-workplace. We are pleading today for a particular group, and we are right to do so. But we must not forget that the House of Commons and the Government stemming from it have a responsibility for the disabled in the widest sense. We cannot legislate on the basis of a particular group. My right hon. Friend has provided extra money. It is not only for the thalidomide children but for others as well. He has to look at the whole situation of the disabled, as we have. This Government have done a great deal. The services provided are considerable. They are still not enough. If the debate draws attention to the fact that all Governments have failed to provide sufficiently for the disabled in every category in our community it will have done a valuable service.

Whatever happens to these particular children, they will be financially a great deal better off than many who are disabled for other reasons. Money does not solve the problem, but money they must have, because it enables them at any rate to have the kinds of services that they require. Although they will get it in due course—and we hope that it will be soon and that the delay will be ended by some means or another—and although they will get additional finance, let us not forget that the House has a duty to all those who are disabled. If the debate draws attention to that, it also will have justified our not dividing the House.

6.41 p.m.

Mr. Alfred Morris (Manchester, Wythenshawe)

The House is always at its best when debating such deeply sensitive issues as the fate of severely disabled children. Unfailingly, the House shows its humanity on these occasions. There has, of course, been great pressure on time. Many hon. and right hon. Gentle- men have spoken, and I know that many more wanted to speak.

It is generally agreed that we had a superb and memorable opening from my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South (Mr. Ashley), and there have been many other distinguished speeches from both sides of the House. If I may make one other prefatory remark, it is that we should talk less of the thalidomide problem and more of the thalidomide children and their families. A drug prescribed for morning sickness for pregnant women has created the prospect of lifelong heart sickness for the thalidomide families. All of us must agree that, by definition of the word "family", if one member of the family is disabled the family as a whole is disabled.

Many of us have heard in recent days from the families of thalidomide children. One of the most grievously disabled of all the thalidomide children was born in my constituency. I refer to young David Jones, who was born without arms and without legs. I have had a letter from his mother in recent days. It is a powerful, but deeply distressing, document. It is not my intention to read the letter to the House, but the Secretary of State said he would welcome information about the suffering of thalidomide families. I shall, therefore, pass the letter from David's mother to him, as I shall also pass a letter which has been handed to me by my hon. Friends the Members for Batley and Morley (Sir A. Broughton), and for Leeds, South-East (Mr. Cohen) from the father of a thalidomide child. This further distressing letter is from Mr. Ryan of 21, Harriwell Avenue, Sherwell, Morley, Yorkshire.

I should like directly to quote the comments of two thalidomide children. The first is the daughter of Gordon Piller, of the Institute of Child Health. Many hon. Members on both sides of the House are familiar with his outstanding work among severely disabled children. He told me that what is so sad for his family is his daughter's question: "Mummy, will my stumps grow?"

I should also like to quote words used by another thalidomide child, Patrick Pope of Dibden, Purlieu, Hampshire, who has had 42 operations in the last 10 years. He says to his mother: "Mummy, please do not let me have any more operations". I am sure that we all appreciate the tremendous bravery of the thalidomide children and the great fortitude of their parents. We have been asked in the debate why we refer particularly to the problems of thalidomide children alone. My reply is that through their bravery and suffering the thalidomide children are a symbol of the very much larger number of severely disabled children. Even in the last 12 months there has been a deterioration in the condition of many of the thalidomide families. Let me quote what was said by Miss Jacqueline Wetter, a welfare consultant with Lady Mary Hoare's Thalidomide Trust. She says that there has been "a perceptible lowering of morale over the past year."

Writing in the Sunday Times on 1st October, 1972, Brigadier George Chatter-ton, the Administrator of the Lady Hoare Trust, said: We became convinced that the policy was to sweep these children under the carpet and for the whole episode to be forgotten as quickly as possible. The Secretary of State said that he had not heard much from the Lady Hoare Trust in the past two years. I must, therefore, quote what was said by Lady Hoare herself to the Daily Mail on 21st December, 1971: These families are cracking under the strain. Distillers have kept these people waiting for ten years while they quibble over how much compensation they are prepared to pay. In the motion we make two main propositions. We say that Distillers (Biochemicals) Limited must face up to its moral responsibilities. Secondly, we urge that society as a whole—not just the Government of the day, but society as a whole—must face up to its responsibilities.

The motion was drafted entirely without party animus. The hon. Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) strongly argued that the Motion was not critical of the present Government. He referred to his sister. I know her well through correspondence she has had with me. If I may say so, I deeply admire the work she does among severely disabled children. Her brother is eminently right to say, certainly I would say, that she is a distinguished person in this respect.

I say again that it has been none of our intention to inject party animus into the debate. We have tried very hard to keep to the spirit of the Early-Day Motion. We felt that it ought to be possible for both sides of the House to tell Distillers (Biochemicals) Limited that it must face its moral responsibilities. Further, we hoped that both sides of the House would recognise that society as a whole has responsibilities to these children.

My hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South fully delineated the moral responsibilities of the company. If Distillers was prepared to make a profit out of thalidomide, it ought to be prepared to make a loss. Every hon. and right hon. Member must recognise that. There can be no question of the company's ability to discharge its financial responsibilities to the thalidomide children. My hon. Friend the Member for Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones) referred to the capital assets of the company. He referred also to Chemie GrÜnenthal, the German makers of thalidomide. The German company agreed to give to the thalidomide families in West Germany the whole of its profits for the next 10 years. Here, we must note that the German company is much smaller than Distillers (Biochemicals) Limited.

The West German company's profits over the next 10 years are expected to amount to about £12 million sterling. I remind hon. and right hon. Members that Distillers had net profits over the last 10 years of £261 million. It is not for a company of that size to say that it cannot meet its responsibilities to grievously disabled children in this country.

I join my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mrs. Castle) in saying that the House as a whole must now lend its weight in the uneven struggle between the authors and the victims of this tragedy. The Secretary of State and other hon. Members have referred to the new offer from Distillers that was announced, or leaked, yesterday. Making allowance for inflation, the new offer appears to be worth, in real terms, only about 66 per cent. of the 1968 offer. The earlier offer was itself grossly inadequate to meet the needs of such severely disabled children. The Sunday Times and many other newspapers have played an important part in keeping the problems of the thalidomide families before the people of this country. I would like to refer not only to Harold Evans, the Editor of the Sunday Times, a friend of my schooldays, but also to Harry Longmuir, of the Daily Mail, who has constantly argued the case of those who have suffered from the making and distribution of thalidomide.

There is also a responsibility upon central Government, because thalidomide was distributed under the National Health Service. Further than that, there was a purchase tax concession given to the drug. It was pointed out in the House on 16th November 1972 by my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, South that exemption from purchase tax is highly prized by the drug manufacturers. If Whitehall was prepared to allow thalidomide to be distributed under the National Health Service, if it was also prepared to exempt thalidomide from purchase tax, then it has a direct involvement in this tragedy in the eyes of most people.

It is much to the credit of the United States that thalidomide is not the problem there that it is here. The late President Kennedy decorated Dr. Francis Kelsey, of the United States Food and Drugs Administration, for preventing the distribution of thalidomide in the United States. Yet Dr. Kelsey says that he merely read a letter in the British Medical Journey in August 1960. There can be no question but that central Government is involved.

I entirely agree with the Secretary of State that we must be concerned not just with one group of disabled children but with all severely disabled children. The Under-Secretary speaking in the Adjournment debate of 16th November said: Alas, there are many other disabled children in our country with similar needs—children disabled in road accidents, fires in the home, and batterings from their parents, and children who have suffered deformities of all sorts and kinds."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th November, 1972; Vol. 846, c. 771.] We entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is, however, a scandal that neither the hon. Gentleman nor anyone on this side of the House can say exactly how many severely disabled children there are in contemporary Britain. The Government's survey of the disabled excluded everyone under the age of 16. It is wholly deplorable that none of us can say today just how many severely disabled children there are in our society.

The Government say that they want to do everything possible to help such children. Let me quote from an advertisement in last weekend's Press. It deals with severely disabled people aged between 16 and 64 and is about the extension of the attendance allowance. It says: Starting 4th June, 1973 an allowance of £3.60 a week will be paid for people born in any of the years from 1908 to 1956. In the Government's view, the priorities of severely disabled children are not, therefore, as high as the priority of other groups of severely disabled people. I would have hoped that the Secretary of State would now be willing to agree to advance the operative date for the extension of the attendance allowance for severely disabled children.

As the Law Commissioners have said, the legal method of fixing damages lacks any mathematical, actuarial, statistical or other scientific basis. May I ask, therefore, what is stopping the Government now from immediately bringing in a measure to make evidence of this kind crucial? I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will come to that point in his reply.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) and my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann), in a wholly admirable article in the Sunday Times last weekend, made a compelling case for law reform in this field. I hope the Government will pay due attention to what my hon. Friends said in their article. I was advised, on very good legal authority, that if the argument should be adduced—it has been adduced by the Secretary of State—that the setting up of a Government fund would let Distillers off the hook, then it can be refuted as follows.

Defendants are liable only for the damage that has been suffered, and, in view of this, it is possible that payments out of a Government fund would have to be taken into account. But an alternative arrangement could be made, one that is universally accepted, tested and upheld in the courts. The fund could be set up to make the payment of a loan repayable only in the event of damages being awarded. I would like the Secretary of State and the Prime Minister, who has taken a personal interest in the legal aspects of this problem, to consider that suggestion.

I should like also to know from the Secretary of State how the £3 million fund is to operate. Will there be regular payments to corporate or individual recipients, or a lump sum payment? How much is it estimated will go to the thalidomide children? As to the additional fund, to be made available by the Government after the settlement, what is the amount, the basis of calculation and the method of distribution of the fund? These are somewhat technical points, and I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will attempt to answer them, although he explained to me that he wished to speak only briefly in reply.

It is not we on this side of the House who are seeking to arouse public opinion in favour of the thalidomide families. Large sections of the Press have said that justice must now be done. For justice to be done we require action by Distillers and by the Government.

I say yet again that I hope that it will be recognised that we never had any intention of injecting party animus into this debate. We hope that right hon. and hon. Members opposite will recognise that there is very little in our motion which they can legitimately criticise. I trust that they will accept the motion and agree to the withdrawal of the amendment.

7.2 p.m.

Sir K. Joseph

With the permission of the House, I should like to reply to the debate.

I must pay tribute to the self-control of hon. Members. We have had nearly 20 speeches in a half-day debate, and I seldom remember a range of speeches, from both sides of the House, so deeply informed with passion. However, I hope that others will forgive me if I pick out the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Reading (Dr. Vaughan) as being outstandingly perceptive and constructive. Other Members, such as the hon. Members for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), Eccles (Mr. Carter-Jones), Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman), Glasgow, Kelvingrove (Dr. Miller), Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles (Mr. David Steel) and my hon. Friends the Members for Newbury (Mr. Astor) and Yarmouth (Mr. Fell), all made very constructive speeches.

I should like to refer, possibly slightly invidiously, to a comment made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, South (Dr. Stuttaford) as being something which we should all bear in mind. He said—and it is perfectly true—that the poignant tragedy of thalidomide is the contrast between the damage done by that drug and the great blessing which new drugs, on the whole, have been to the people of this country and, indeed, to the population of the world. We must set this disaster against the massive benefits which innovation in drug firms and in the laboratories of universities and research institutes has achieved. As the House knows, locking the stable door after the horse had well and truly bolted, we now have a scrutinising system which, as I am advised—I am no expert—is as good as that which any country can possibly hope to have.

My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) asked whether the scrutinising system protected the people of this country against imported drugs. It seeks to do so. Imported drugs are within the remit of the Committee on Safety of Medicines. My hon. Friend also asked whether sufficient research into the various problems connected with thalidomide is being carried out. That is a question for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Education and Science, who has been on the Front Bench throughout the debate. She has told me that she will be discussing that question with the Medical Research Council and will write to my hon. Friend.

The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) rightly drew attention to the arguments which had been put publicly recently for reconsideration of the law of damages. My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has already told the House that the Government are studying the Robens Committee's recommendations. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman can be assured that this question is under consideration.

The hon. Member for Manchester, Wythenshawe (Mr. Alfred Morris) asked whether the Government would bring forward the date for the payment of the extended attendance allowance to children from December next year. He compared the year-long wait for children to qualify for the lower rate attendance allowance with the start of the lower-rate attendance allowance in June for those in the working age group. Which group to bring first into payment of the extended allowance was an invidious decision to make. The Government took the advice of the Attendance Allowance Board, which they thought was extremely sensible, and decided that the order for bringing the extended lower rate attendance allowance into payment should be, first, the working age group, then the children and then, in two stages, the elderly.

One can defend or attack any priority decision in this field, but I think that the House will be comforted by the knowledge that within two years all the groups to be covered by the extended attendance allowance will be in payment. When in full payment, the attendance allowance will cost £70 million a year. The allowance did not exist when the present Government came into office.

I repeat that on the major issue before the House the Government still believe, despite all the arguments adduced in this vivid debate, that the responsibility for compensation is on the manufacturers. However, the Government fully recognise the three worries which have dominated the speeches today. First, hon. Members on both sides of the House recognise that if the Government lift a finger or say a word to accept any commitment on compensation, then, as many of us believe, from that moment the pressure to reach a satisfactory settlement will be relaxed. Some right hon. and hon. Members may disagree, but that is a view which I believe commands widespread support.

My hon. Friend the Member for Rutland and Stamford (Mr. Kenneth Lewis) put the second worry most clearly. He said—a number of hon. Members echoed it—that we should do all we can for the thalidomide cases but we should not for- get the other equally disabled children. The hon. Member for Wythenshawe referred to the pathetic case of a child suffering from thalidomide damage who has had 42 operations. I expect that if I were to consult my medical advisers I would find spina bifida cases in which just as many operations were carried out.

Can it be right for the House to concentrate on only one source of severe disability? I am not accusing the Opposition of so doing, but in the Motion the focus is entirely and understandably but not, I believe, completely wisely—

Mr. Alfred Morris

The distinction which we draw is that, as far as we know, spina bifida is not man-made.

Sir K. Joseph

But, as one of my hon. Friends pointed out, children suffering from it have no recourse against a manufacturer, as the thalidomide children have. Therefore, how can we forget them? The Government acknowledge that the services for the disabled, which we have improved and propose to go on improving, are not yet nearly good enough. We are not smug about that.

We all accept the third worry which has come out loud and clear from the debate. In our anxiety not to prejudice a satisfactory settlement, let us bear in mind the strain on the parents. That is a formidable consideration which we must remember.

The right hon. Lady questioned my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister or, rather, conducted a running discussion with him. I am not a practising lawyer. I should like to go into what was said and see with my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister whether we can set out the facts as we see them any more clearly after consultations again with my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor. One of us will write to be right hon. Lady.

The House has generally welcomed the Government's decision to make available virtually at once, as soon as we can make the necessary arrangements, a fund of £3 million. I emphasise again that this is not compensation. Its purpose is to ease the burden of living on those households containing very severely congenitally disabled children.

These children and these households look, above all, to the local authorities and the statutory services for the help they need. We intend the help from this fund to complement the statutory services available.

We have it in mind—this answers a question asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Mr. William Shelton)—to try to find a set of trustees of an existing trust with responsibilities sufficiently wide to cover beyond thalidomide the other very severely congenitally disabled cases. We hope that we shall be able to put this into action very soon. We believe that the trustees should have power to spend income and, where they judge fit, capital.

I do not wish to overstate this case, but I suggest that those households which are under particular strain and about which we are, above all, worried during the period of waiting for a satisfactory settlement will be able to be helped to some extent by the trustees of this new sum.

Hon. Members asked me about the second £3 million to which I referred. I emphasise again that this also is not for compensation. It is intended to benefit, via the same channel, if our experience of handling the first £3 million is satisfactory, the same limited but rather wider than thalidomide group, by the same means; namely, the use of income plus capital as the trustees judge fit.

My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham pressed me hard to give a time

by which this second tranche of money would be paid. I only wish that I could satisfy my hon. Friend, but I must stand on the words of the amendment. This second tranche will be paid when the cases are no longer sub judice.

I have sought to cover quickly the main issues in the debate. I still greatly hope, as I believe that a number of hon. Members on both sides hope, that there will not be a vote tonight, because the origin of the motion is to some extent the all-party motion.

Mr. Ashley

Does the Secretary of State agree that, if the amendment is carried, the Government tie their hands behind their backs and deliver themselves into the custody of the firm, because the firm can continue negotiations ad infinitum and, therefore, the fund may never he established?

Sir K. Joseph

No. The hon. Gentleman forgets that the House will be watching very carefully what goes on. I believe that if we act with emotion tonight we shall do damage to the very cause we all wish to serve. I hope that the Opposition will not press their motion to vote. If they do, I hope that my right hon. and hon. Friends will vote against the motion and for the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The House divided: Ayes 291, Noes 260.

Division No. 27.] AYES [7.14 p.m.
Adley, Robert Bray, Ronald Costain, A. P.
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Brewis, John Critchley, Julian
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Brinton, Sir Tatton Crouch, David
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Crowder, F. P.
Astor, John Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Dalkeith, Earl of
Atkins, Humphrey Bruce-Gardyne, J. Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford)
Awdry, Daniel Bryan, Sir Paul d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus,N & M) Dean, Paul
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Buck, Antony Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F.
Balniel, Rt Hn. Lord Bullus, Sir Eric Digby, Simon Wingfield
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Burden, F. A. Dixon, Piers
Batsford, Brian Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Dodds-Parker, Douglas
Bell, Ronald Campbell, Rt.Hn.G.(Moray & Nairn) Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Carlisle, Mark Drayson. G B.
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward
Benyon, W. Gary, Sir Robert Dykes, Hugh
Berry, Hn. Anthony Channon, Paul Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John
Biffen, John Chapman, Sydney Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Biggs-Davison John Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.)
Blaker, Peter Churchill, W. S. Emery, Peter
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Clark William (Surrey, E.) Eyre, Reginald
Body, Richard Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Farr, John
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Cockeram, Eric Fell, Anthony
Bossom, Sir Clive Cooke, Robert Fenner, Mrs. Peggy
Bowden, Andrew Coombs, Derek Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton)
Braine, Sir Bernard Cormack, Patrick Fletcher-Cooke, Charles
Fookes, Miss Janet Knox, David Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Fortescue, Tim Lamont, Norman Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Foster, Sir John Lane, David Redmond, Robert
Fowler, Norman Langford-Holt, Sir John Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
Fox, Marcus Le Merchant, Spencer Rees, Peter (Dover)
Fraser, Rt. Hn. Hugh (St'fford & Stone) Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rees-Davies, W. R.
Fry, Peter Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'n C'field) Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D. Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Gardner, Edward Longden, Sir Gilbert Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Gibson-Watt, David Loveridge, John Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) Luce, R. N. Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Gllmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) McAdden, Sir Stephen Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Glyn, Dr. Alan MacArthur, Ian Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. McCrindle, R. A. Rost, Peter
Goodhart, Philip McLaren, Martin Royle, Anthony
Goodhew, Victor Maclean, Sir Fitzroy Russell, Sir Ronald
Gorst, John McMaster, Stanley St. John Stevas, Norman
Gower, Raymond Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Maurice (Farnham) Scott-Hopkins, James
Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) McNair-Wilson, Michael Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby)
Gray, Hamish McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest) Shelton, William (Clapham)
Green, Alan Maddan, Martin Simeons, Charles
Grieve, Percy Madel, David Sinclair, Sir George
Grylls, Michael Maginnis, John E. Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington)
Gummer, J. Selwyn Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest Soref, Harold
Gurden, Harold Marten, Neil Speed, Keith
Mather, Carol Spence, John
Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Maude, Angus Sproat, Iain
Hall, John (Wycombe) Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald Stainton, Keith
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Mawby, Ray Stanbrook, Ivor
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J. Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper)
Hannam, John (Exeter) Meyer, Sir Anthony Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M.
Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Mills, Peter (Torrington) Stokes, John
Haselhurst, Alan Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.) Stuttaford, Dr. Tom
Hastings, Stephen Miscampbell, Norman Sutcliffe, John
Havers, Sir Michael Mitchell, Lt. -Col. C. (Aberdeenshire,W) Tapsell, Peter
Hawkins, Paul Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne)
Hayhoe, Barney Moate, Roger Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow,Cathcart)
Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Molyneaux, James Taylor, Frank (Moss Side)
Heseltine, Michael Money, Ernie Tebbit, Norman
Hicks, Robert Monks, Mrs. Connie Temple, John M.
Higgins, Terence L. Monro, Hector Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret
Hiley, Joseph Montgomery, Fergus Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth)
Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) More, Jasper Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.)
Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh) Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon,S.)
Holland, Philip Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm. Trafford, Dr. Anthony
Holt, Miss Mary Morrison, Charles Trew, Peter
Hordern, Peter Mudd, David Tugendhat, Christopher
Hornby, Richard Murton, Oscar Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin
Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Nabarro, Sir Gerald Vaughan, Dr. Gerard
Neave, Airey Vickers, Dame Joan
Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Nicholls, Sir Harmar Waddington, David
Hunt, John Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Hutchison, Michael Clark Normanton, Tom Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester)
Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Nott, John Wall, Patrick
James, David Onslow, Cranley Walters, Dennis
Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally Ward, Dame Irene
Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Orr, Capt. L. P. S. Warren, Kenneth
Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.) Wells, John (Maidstone)
Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby) White, Roger (Gravesend)
Jopling, Michael Page, John (Harrow, W.) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Parkinson, Cecil Wiggin, Jerry
Kaberry, Sir Donald Peel, John Wilkinson, John
Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Peyton, Rt. Hn. John Winterton, Nicholas
Kelley, Richard Pike, Miss Mervyn Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Kershaw, Anthony Pink, R. Bonner Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Kilfedder, James Pounder, Rafton Woodnutt, Mark
Kimball, Marcus Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch Worsley, Marcus
King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Price, David (Eastleigh) Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
King, Tom (Bridgwater) Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L. Younger, Hn. George
Kinsey, J. R. Proudfoot, Wilfred
Kirk, Peter Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Kitson, Timothy Quennell, Miss J. M. Mr. Walter Clegg and
Knight, Mrs. Jill Raison, Timothy Mr. Bernard Weatherill.
Abse, Leo Barnes, Michael Blenkinsop, Arthur
Albu, Austen Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Booth, Albert
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur
Allen, Scholefield Baxter, William Bradley, Tom
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Beaney, Alan Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne,W.)
Ashley, Jack Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan)
Ashton, Joe Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury)
Atkinson, Norman Bidwell, Sydney Buchan, Norman
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Bishop, E. S. Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn)
Butler, Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Padley, Walter
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Hughes, Mark (Durham) Paget, R. T.
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Paisley, Rev. Ian
Cant, R. B. Hughes, Roy (Newport) Palmer, Arthur
Carmichael, Neil Hunter, Adam Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Parker, John (Dagenham)
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Janner, Greville Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange)
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Pavitt, Laurie
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Jeger, Mrs. Lena Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Pendry, Tom
Cohen, Stanley Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Perry, Ernest G.
Coleman, Donald John, Brynmor Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg.
Concannon, J. D. Johnson, Carol (Lewisham, S.) Price, William (Rugby)
Corbet, Mrs. Freda Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) Probert, Arthur
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Reed, D. (Sedgefield)
Crawshaw, Richard Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.)
Cronin, John Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Richard, Ivor
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Jones, Dan (Burnley) Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.) Roberts,Rt. Hn. Goronwy (Caernarvon)
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven) Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.) Roderick, Caerwyn E. (Brc'n&R'dnor)
Davidson, Arthur Judd, Frank Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Kaufman, Gerald Roper, John
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Kelley, Richard Rose, Paul B.
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Kerr, Russell Sandelson, Neville
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Kinnock, Nell Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne)
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Lambie, David Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney)
Deakins, Eric Lamond, James Short, Rt. Hn. Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne)
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Latham, Arthur Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.)
Delargy, Hugh Lawson, George Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford)
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich)
Dempsey, James Leonard, Dick Sillars, James
Doig, Peter Lestor, Miss Joan Silverman, Julius
Dormand, J. D. Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.) Small, William
Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Lewis, Ron (Carlisle) Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.)
Douglas Mann, Bruce Lipton, Marcus Spearing, Nigel
Duffy, A. E. P. Lomas, Kenneth Spriggs, Leslie
Dunnett, Jack Loughlin, Charles Stallard, A. W
Eadie, Alex Lyon, Alexander W. (York) Steel, David
Edelman, Maurice Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.) Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson Stoddart, David (Swindon)
Edwards, William (Merioneth) McBride, Neil Stonehouse, Rt. Hn. John
Ellis, Tom McCartney, Hugh Strang, Gavin
English, Michael McElhone, Frank Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R.
Evans, Fred McGuire, Michael Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley
Ewing, Harry Mackenzie, Gregor Swain, Thomas
Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Mackle, John Thomas, Rt. Hn. George (Cardiff, W.)
Fisher, Mrs. Doris (B'ham, Ladywood) Maclennan, Robert Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery)
Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.) Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) McNamara, J. Kevin Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy
Foley, Maurice Mahon, Simon (Bootle) Tinn, James
Ford, Ben Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.) Tomney, Frank
Forrester, John Marks, Kenneth Torney, Tom
Fraser, John (Norwood) Marquand, David Tuck, Raphael
Freeson, Reginald Marsden, F. Urwin, T. W.
Galpern, Sir Myer Marshall, Dr. Edmund Varley, Eric G.
Garrett, W. E. Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy Wainwright, Edwin
Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) Meacher, Michael Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Gourlay, Harry Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Grant, George (Morpeth) Mendelson, John Wallace, George
Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) Mikardo, Ian Watkins, David
Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Millan, Bruce Weitzman, David
Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Miller, Dr. M. S. Wellbeloved, James
Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Milne, Edward Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire) Whitehead, Phillip
Hamling, William Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) Whitlock, William
Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Hardy, Peter Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon) Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Harper, Joseph Moyle, Roland Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Murray, Ronald King Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Hattersley, Roy Oakes, Gordon Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Ogden, Eric Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Heffer, Eric S. O'Halloran, Michael Woof, Robert
Hilton, W. S. O'Malley, Brian
Horam, John Orbach, Maurice TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Orme, Stanley Mr. James A. Dunn and
Huckfield, Leslie Oswald, Thomas Mr. James Hamilton.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put:—

The House divided: Ayes 292, Noes 257.

Division No. 28.] AYES [7.27 p.m.
Adley, Robert Fookes, Miss Janet Loveridge, John
Allason, James (Hemel Hempstead) Fortescue, Tim Luce, R. N.
Amery, Rt. Hn. Julian Foster, Sir John McAdden, Sir Stephen
Archer, Jeffrey (Louth) Fowler, Norman MacArthur, Ian
Astor, John Fox, Marcus McCrindle, R. A.
Atkins, Humphrey Fraser,Rt.Hn.Hugh (St'fford & Stone) McLaren, Martin
Baker, Kenneth (St. Marylebone) Fry, Peter Maclean, Sir Fitzroy
Baker, W. H. K. (Banff) Galbraith, Hn. T. G. D. McMaster, Stanley
Balniel, Rt. Hn. Lord Gardner, Edward Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Maurice (Farnham)
Barber, Rt. Hn. Anthony Gibson-Watt, David McNair-Wilson, Michael
Batsford, Brian Gilmour, Ian (Norfolk, C.) McNair-Wilson, Patrick (New Forest)
Bell, Ronald Gilmour, Sir John (Fife, E.) Maddan, Martin
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torquay) Glyn, Dr. Alan Madel, David
Bennett, Dr. Reginald (Gosport) Godber, Rt. Hn. J. B. Maginnis, John E.
Benyon, W. Goodhart, Philip Marples, Rt. Hn. Ernest
Berry, Hn. Anthony Goodhew, Victor Marten, Neil
Biffen, John Gorst, John Mather, Carol
Biggs-Davison, John Gower, Raymond Maude, Angus
Blaker, Peter Grant, Anthony (Harrow, C.) Maudling, Rt. Hn. Reginald
Boardman, Tom (Leicester, S.W.) Gray, Hamish Mawby, Ray
Body, Richard Green, Alan Maxwell-Hyslop, R. J.
Boscawen, Hn. Robert Grieve, Percy Meyer, Sir Anthony
Bossom, Sir Clive Grylls, Michael Mills, Peter (Torrington)
Bowden, Andrew Gummer, J. Selwyn Mills, Stratton (Belfast, N.)
Gurden, Harold Miscampbell, Norman
Braine, Sir Bernard Hall, Miss Joan (Keighley) Mitchell, Lt.-Col. C. (Aberdeenshire, W)
Bray, Ronald Hall, John (Wycombe) Mitchell, David (Basingstoke)
Brewis, John Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Moate, Roger
Brinton, Sir Tatton Molyneaux, James
Brocklebank-Fowler, Christopher Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Money, Ernle
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Hannam, John (Exeter) Monks, Mrs. Connie
Bruce-Gardyne, J. Harrison, Brian (Maldon) Monro, Hector
Bryan, Sir Paul Haselhurst, Alan Montgomery, Fergus
Buchanan-Smith, Alick (Angus, N&M) Hastings, Stephen More, Jasper
Buck, Antony Havers, Sir Michael Morgan, Geraint (Denbigh)
Bullus, Sir Eric Hawkins, Paul Morgan-Giles, Rear-Adm.
Burden, F. A. Hayhoe, Parney Morrison, Charles
Butler, Adam (Bosworth) Heath, Rt. Hn. Edward Mudd, David
Campbell, Rt. Hn. G. (Moray & Nairn) Heseltine, Michael Murton, Oscar
Carlisle, Mark Hicks, Robert Nabarro, Sir Gerald
Carr, Rt. Hn. Robert Higgins, Terence L. Neave, Airey
Cary. Sir Robert Hiley, Joseph Nicholls, Sir Harmar
Channon, Paul Hill, James (Southampton, Test) Noble, Rt. Hn. Michael
Chapman, Sydney Hill, John E. B. (Norfolk, S.) Normanton, Tom
Chataway, Rt. Hn. Christopher Holland, Philip Nott, John
Churchill, W. S. Holt, Miss Mary Onslow, Cranley
Clark, William (Surrey, E.) Hordern, Peter Oppenheim, Mrs. Sally
Clarke, Kenneth (Rushcliffe) Hornby, Richard Orr, Capt. L. P. S.
Cockeram, Eric Hornsby-Smith, Rt. Hn. Dame Patricia Owen, Idris (Stockport, N.)
Cooke, Robert Howe, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey Page, Rt. Hn. Graham (Crosby)
Coombs, Derek Hunt, John Page, John (Harrow, W.)
Cooper, A. E. Hutchison, Michael Clark Parkinson, Cecil
Cordle, John Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Peel, John
Cormack, Patrick James, David Peyton, Rt. Hn. John
Costain, A. P. Jenkin, Patrick (Woodford) Pike, Miss Mervyn
Critchley, Julian Jennings, J. C. (Burton) Pink, R. Bonner
Crouch, David Johnson Smith, G. (E. Grinstead) Pounder, Rafton
Crowder, F. P. Jones, Arthur (Northants, S.) Powell, Rt. Hn. J. Enoch
Dalkeith, Earl of Jopling, Michael Price, David (Eastleigh)
Davies, Rt. Hn. John (Knutsford) Joseph, Rt. Hn. Sir Keith Prior, Rt. Hn. J. M. L.
d'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry Kaberry, Sir Donald Proudfoot, Wilfred
Dean, Paul Kellett-Bowman, Mrs. Elaine Pym, Rt. Hn. Francis
Deedes, Rt. Hn. W. F. Kershaw, Anthony Quennell, Miss J. M.
Digby, Simon Wingfield Kilfedder, James Raison, Timothy
Dixon, Piers Kimball, Marcus Ramsden, Rt. Hn. James
Dodds-Parker, Douglas King, Evelyn (Dorset, S.) Rawlinson, Rt. Hn. Sir Peter
Douglas-Home, Rt. Hn. Sir Alec King, Tom (Bridgwater) Redmond, Robert
Drayson, G. B Kinsey, J. R. Reed, Laurance (Bolton, E.)
du Cann, Rt. Hn. Edward Kirk, Peter Rees, Peter (Dover)
Dykes, Hugh Kitson, Timothy Rees-Davies, W. R.
Eden, Rt. Hn. Sir John Knight, Mrs. Jill Renton, Rt. Hn. Sir David
Edwards, Nicholas (Pembroke) Knox, David Ridley, Hn. Nicholas
Elliott, R. W. (N'c'tle-upon-Tyne,N.) Lament, Norman Rippon, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey
Emery, Peter Lane, David Roberts, Michael (Cardiff, N.)
Eyre, Reginald Langford-Holt, Sir John Roberts, Wyn (Conway)
Farr, John La Merchant, Spencer Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Fell, Anthony Lewis, Kenneth (Rutland) Rossi, Hugh (Hornsey)
Fenner, Mrs. Peggy Lloyd, Rt. Hn. Geoffrey (Sut'nC'field) Rost, Peter
Fisher, Nigel (Surbiton) Lloyd, Ian (P'tsm'th, Langstone) Royle, Anthony
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Longden, Sir Gilbert Russell, Sir Ronald
St. John Stevas, Norman Taylor, Sir Charles (Eastbourne) Wall, Patrick
Scott-Hopkins, James Taylor, Edward M.(G'gow, cathcart) Walters, Dennis
Shaw, Michael (Sc'b'gh & Whitby) Taylor, Frank (Moss Side) Ward, Dame Irene
Shelton, William (Clapham) Tebbit, Norman Warren, Kenneth
Simeons, Charles Temple, John M Wells, John (Maidstone)
Sinclair, Sir George Thatcher, Rt. Hn. Mrs. Margaret White, Roger (Gravesend)
Smith, Dudley (W'wick & L'mington) Thomas, John Stradling (Monmouth) Whitelaw, Rt. Hn. William
Soref, Harold Thomas, Rt. Hn. Peter (Hendon, S.) Wiggin, Jerry
Speed, Keith Thompson, Sir Richard (Croydon.S.) Wilkinson, John
Spence, John Trafford, Dr. Anthony Winterton, Nicholas
Sproat, Iain Trew, Peter Wolrige-Gordon, Patrick
Stainton, Keith Tugendhat, Christopher Wood, Rt. Hn. Richard
Stanbrook, Ivor Turton, Rt. Hn. Sir Robin Woodnutt, Mark
Stewart-Smith, Geoffrey (Belper) Vaughan, Dr. Gerard Worsley, Marcus
Stoddart-Scott, Col. Sir M. Vickers, Dame Joan Wylie, Rt. Hn. N. R.
Stokes, John Waddington, David Younger, Hn. George
Stuttaford, Dr. Tom Walder, David (Clitheroe) TELLERS FOR THE AYES:
Sutcliffe, John Walker, Rt. Hn. Peter (Worcester) Mr. Walter Clegg and
Tapsell, Peter Walker-Smith, Rt. Hn. Sir Derek Mr. Bernard Weatherill
Abse, Leo Douglas, Dick (Stirlingshire, E.) Jones, Rt. Hn. Sir Elwyn (W. Ham, S.)
Albu, Austen Douglas-Mann, Bruce Jones, Gwynoro (Carmarthen)
Allaun, Frank (Salford, E.) Dully, A. E. P. Jones, T. Alec (Rhondda, W.)
Allen, Scholefield Dunnett, Jack Judd, Frank
Archer, Peter (Rowley Regis) Eadie, Alex Kaufman, Gerald
Ashley, Jack Edelman, Maurice Kelley, Richard
Ashton, Joe Edwards, Robert (Bilston) Kerr, Russell
Atkinson, Norman Edwards, William (Merioneth) Kinnock, Neil
Bagier, Gordon A. T. Ellis, Tom Lambie, David
Barnes, Michael English, Michael Lamond, James
Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Evans, Fred Latham, Arthur
Barnett, Joel (Heywood and Royton) Ewing, Harry Lawson, George
Baxter, William Fernyhough, Rt. Hn. E. Lee, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Beaney, Alan Flsher,Mrs.Doris (B'ham,Ladywood) Leonard, Dick
Benn, Rt. Hn. Anthony Wedgwood Fletcher, Raymond (Ilkeston) Lestor, Miss Joan
Bennett, James (Glasgow, Bridgeton) Fletcher, Tea (Darlington) Lewis, Arthur (W. Ham, N.)
Foley, Maurice Lewis, Ron (Carlisle)
Bidwell, Sydney Ford, Ben Lipton, Marcus
Bishop, E S. Forrester, John Lomas, Kenneth
Blenkinsop, Arthur Fraser, John (Norwood) Loughlin, Charles
Booth, Albert Freeson, Reginald Lyon, Alexander W. (York)
Bottomley, Rt. Hn. Arthur Galpern, Sir Myer Lyons, Edward (Bradford, E.)
Bradley, Tom Garrett, W. E. Mabon, Dr. J. Dickson
Brown, Robert C. (N'c'tle-u-Tyne,W.) Ginsburg, David (Dewsbury) McBride, Neil
Brown, Hugh D. (G'gow, Provan) Gourlay, Harry McCartney, Hugh
Brown, Ronald (Shoreditch & F'bury) Grant, George (Morpeth) McElhone, Frank
Buchan, Norman Grant, John D. (Islington, E.) McGuire, Michael
Buchanan, Richard (G'gow, Sp'burn) Griffiths, Eddie (Brightside) Mackenzie, Gregor
Butler. Mrs. Joyce (Wood Green) Griffiths, Will (Exchange) Mackie, John
Callaghan, Rt. Hn. James Grimond, Rt. Hn. J. Maclennan, Robert
Campbell, I. (Dunbartonshire, W.) Hamilton, James (Bothwell) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow, C.)
Cant, R. B. Hamilton, William (Fife, W.) McNamara, J. Kevin
Carmichael, Neil Hamling, William Mahon, Simon (Bootle)
Carter, Ray (Birmingh'm, Northfield) Hannan, William (G'gow, Maryhill) Mallalieu, J. P. W. (Huddersfield, E.)
Carter-Jones, Lewis (Eccles) Hardy, Peter Marks, Kenneth
Castle, Rt. Hn. Barbara Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Marquand, David
Clark, David (Colne Valley) Hart, Rt. Hn. Judith Marsden, F.
Cocks, Michael (Bristol, S.) Hattersley, Roy Marshall, Dr. Edmund
Cohen, Stanley Mason, Rt. Hn. Roy
Coleman, Donald Healey, Rt. Hn. Denis Meacher, Michael
Concannon, J. D. Heffer, Eric S. Mellish, Rt. Hn. Robert
Corbet. Mrs. Freda Hilton, W. S. Mendelson, John
Cox, Thomas (Wandsworth, C.) Horam, John Mikardo, Ian
Crawshaw, Richard Houghton, Rt. Hn. Douglas Millan, Bruce
Cronin, John Huckfield, Leslie Miller, Dr. M. S.
Crosland, Rt. Hn. Anthony Hughes, Rt. Hn. Cledwyn (Anglesey) Milne, Edward
Cunningham, G. (Islington, S.W.) Hughes, Mark (Durham) Mitchell, R. C. (S'hampton, Itchen)
Cunningham, Dr. J. A. (Whitehaven) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen, N.) Morgan, Elystan (Cardiganshire)
Darling, Rt. Hn. George Hughes, Roy (Newport) Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe)
Davidson, Arthur Hunter, Adam Morris, Charle3 R. (Openshaw)
Davies, Denzil (Llanelly) Irvine, Rt. Hn. Sir Arthur (Edge Hill) Morris, Rt. Hn. John (Aberavon)
Davies, G. Elfed (Rhondda, E.) Janner, Greville Moyle, Roland
Davies, Ifor (Gower) Jay, Rt. Hn. Douglas Mulley, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Davis, Clinton (Hackney, C.) Jeger, Mrs. Lena Murray, Ronald King
Davis, Terry (Bromsgrove) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Oakes, Gordon
Deakins, Eric Jenkins, Rt. Hn. Roy (Stechford) Ogden, Eric
de Freitas, Rt. Hn. Sir Geoffrey John, Brynmor O'Halloran, Michael
Delargy, Hugh Johnson, James (K'ston-on-Hull, W.) O'Malley, Brian
Dell, Rt. Hn. Edmund Johnson, Walter (Derby, S.) Orbach, Maurice
Dempsey, James Johnston, Russell (Inverness) Orme, Stanley
Doig, Peter Jones, Barry (Flint, E.) Oswald, Thomas
Dormand, J. D. Jones, Dan (Burnley) Padley, Walter
Paget, R. T. Short, Mrs. Renée (W'hampton, N.E.) Urwin, T. W.
Palmer, Arthur Silkin, Rt. Hn. John (Deptford) Varley, Eric G.
Pannell, Rt. Hn. Charles Silkin, Hn. S. C. (Dulwich) Wainwright, Edwin
Parker, John (Dagenham) Sillars, James Walden, Brian (B'm'ham, All Saints)
Parry, Robert (Liverpool, Exchange) Silverman, Julius Walker, Harold (Doncaster)
Pavitt, Laurie Small, William Wallace, George
Peart, Rt. Hn. Fred Smith, John (Lanarkshire, N.) Watkins, David
Pendry, Tom Spearing, Nigel Weitzman, David
Perry, Ernest G. Spriggs, Leslie
Prentice, Rt. Hn. Reg. Stallard, A. W Wellbeloved, James
Price, William (Rugby) Steel, David Wells, William (Walsall, N.)
Probert, Arthur Stewart, Donald (Western Isles) White, James (Glasgow, Pollok)
Reed, D. (Sedgefield) Stoddart, David (Swindon) Whitehead, Phillip
Rees, Merlyn (Leeds, S.) Storehouse, Rt. Hn. John Whitlock, William
Richard, Ivor Strang, Gavin Willey, Rt. Hn. Frederick
Roberts, Albert (Normanton) Strauss, Rt. Hn. G. R. Williams, Alan (Swansea, W.)
Roberts, Rt.Hn.Goronwy (Caernarvon) Summerskill, Hn. Dr. Shirley Williams, Mrs. Shirley (Hitchin)
Robertson, John (Paisley) Swain, Thomas Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Roderick, Caerwyn E.(Brc'n & R'dnor) Thomas, Rt.Hn.George (Cardiff,w.) Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Rodgers, William (Stockton-on-Tees) Thomas, Jeffrey (Abertillery) Wilson, Rt. Hn. Harold (Huyton)
Roper, John Thomson, Rt. Hn. G. (Dundee, E.) Wilson, William (Coventry, S.)
Rose, Paul B. Thorpe, Rt. Hn. Jeremy Wool, Robert
Sandelson, Neville Tinn, James
Sheldon, Robert (Ashton-under-Lyne) Tomney, Frank TELLERS FOR THE NOES
Shore, Rt. Hn. Peter (Stepney) Torney, Tom Mr. Joseph Harper and
Short, Rt.Hn.Edward (N'c'tle-u-Tyne) Tuck, Raphael Mr. James A. Dunn.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Resolved, That this House, disturbed about the plight of thalidomide children, and the delay in reaching a settlement between Distillers (Biochemicals) Limited and most of the children and their families, recognises the initiatives taken by Her Majesty's Government to improve services for the handicapped and disabled; and welcomes the undertakings of Her Majesty's Government to investigate any case where the needs of a thalidomide child are thought not to be met by the services available, and to consider, as soon as the cases are no longer sub judice, whether a trust fund needs to be established for thalidomide children.