HC Deb 25 October 1972 vol 843 cc1193-5

3.42 p.m.

Mr. Lewis Carter-Jones (Eccles)

I beg to move, That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further and better provision for the education and employment of thalidomide children. There has been a long period of neglect in respect of thalidomide children. Some of them are now 10 years of age. Many people have made valiant efforts on their behalf, but a lot more needs to be done now about their education and employment prospects. It is true that the "Alf Morris" Act, the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, allows local authorities to give massive support in the home, but the performance in this respect is rather uneven. The Lady Hoare Trust has given invaluable support to the parents and to the children, but it is, after all, a charity with limited resources, and these people need a lot more help than they are getting. The Society for the Aid of Thalidomide Children is concerned with the parents of these children and with pooling resources and sharing knowledge. But that does not tackle the basic problem.

A considerable body of knowledge exists about means whereby we can educate these children. We can plan ahead for them. We can think in terms of training them. We can probably make them useful citizens. There are three ways in which they can earn their living. The first is in open employment. I am pleased to say that there are distinct possibilities that, despite their grotesque injuries, some of them will earn a living in open employment. Some of them will have to earn their living in sheltered employment. I fear that some will have to live at home and will need environmental control. A large number of hon. Members on both sides of the House have asked whether they can support the Bill. What I am trying to do is to test the atmosphere and temperature of the House.

There is evidence from the Fleming Fulton School in Belfast and from the Hephaistos School in Reading that by using advanced technology, in which we lead the world, we can enable these children to communicate and to be educated and eventually to take their place in society. They may look grotesque, but there is the distinct possibility of their making a useful contribution. But we must make the effort now. We must not delay any longer.

I notice that hon. Members who are in the legal profession are present. It would be nice if we could modify the law in such a way that interim settlements could be made in cases like this so that sums of money could be made available for the parents to enable them to to start tackling the problem. The final solution could come later. I do not wish to interfere in a legal matter, but many hon. Members on both sides of the House feel that the Distillers Company has a moral responsibility. If the company were to say that it accepted this moral responsibility, there would be no need for me to obtain permission to introduce the Bill. Another method by which the problem could be resolved would be for the Ministry to say "We will accept full and total responsibility for these children and the difficulties faced by their parents."

It was Hazlitt who said that man is the only animal who laughs and cries because he is the only animal who can see the difference between things as they are and things as they should be. If we were to apply all our known technology to solving this problem—and it would be expensive—there could be a remarkable improvement in the situation of these children.

I should like to pay tribute to a few of the hospitals which have worked very hard on this problem. The Chailey Heritage, Mary Marlborough Lodge, the Princess Margaret Rose Hospital in Edinburgh, the Ormond Street Hospital for Children, Alder Hey in the North-West and the Queen Mary Hospital have all made remarkable efforts on behalf of these children, but a lot more needs to be done. Hon. Members may well say "When will you get the Bill?" I should hope that I would get it tomorrow. As far as I can make out, there has not been a better example of making use of the Ten-minute Rule Bill procedure than this and we have the opportunity now to find out what the House feels about this matter.

A film which I saw on television—and it was done for the best of motives—of a mother having to wind her child up the staircase was near obscene, not in the eyes of the producer, but because he was able to make such a film when if use was made of existing known technology that child could have been taken up the stairs simply by pressing a button. The burden placed on the parents of these children is incredibly hard. Large numbers of State schools are doing their best, but I find it incredible that the Lady Hoare Trust should be almost out of funds and the Distillers Company has still not made a contribution. That is disgraceful.

If the problem were tackled with a sense of dynamic purpose, if the Ministry or some other organisation were to spend money so that these children might have access to and from their homes and to and from places where they can be educated, if a massive effort was made to make sure that these children had mobility, that would be something. Above all, they need money, but we can immediately provide them with environmental control. We can give them Possum equipment. We can provide them with advanced forms of typewriters. If we realise the urgency of the situation and what can be done here and now, we can make these children's lives much more promising. We can help them to earn a living. We can give them independence, We can do something for their parents who have suffered for far too long without sufficient support.

Question put and agreed to. Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Carter-Jones, Mr. John Hannam, Mr. Pavitt, Mr. Astor, Mr. Ashley, Mr. Alfred Morris, Dr. Stuttaford, Mr. Winterton, Mr. David Steel, Mr. Pendry and Mr. Marten.