§ Mr. Ashley
I beg to ask leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that should have urgent consideration; namely,to ask for an independent inquiry into the whooping cough vaccine and to call for a commitment from the Government to pay compensation to vaccine-damaged children.1240 This is a specific matter, firstly, because the Secretary of State has just rejected a request for an independent inquiry into the efficacy and the safety of the whooping cough vaccine despite grave public anxiety. It is a genuine problem because eminent medical authorities are writing in medical journals and appearing on television and what they are saying is that they are opposed to the whooping cough vaccine—not that they are doubtful about it, but that they are opposed to it. They say that the risks of this vaccine outweigh its advantages.
Other countries, notably Western Germany, have dropped the whooping cough vaccine as a routine measure. This conflict between medical men cannot be resolved by ministerial statements and only an independent inquiry can establish the truth. I therefore submit, Mr. Speaker, that the question of an inquiry into the efficacy and the safety of the whooping cough vaccine is a specific matter of public importance that the House should debate urgently.
On the question of compensation, I submit that this is also a specific matter, because hundreds of children are already gravely damaged by vaccines—healthy children transformed overnight into human wrecks who shriek and scream by the hour, or who lie with the minds and the bodies of vegetables.
This submission is important, because the immunisation programme under which these children were damaged was designed for the social good as well as for individual benefit. It has been advocated and supported, as my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Social Services emphasised to the Opposition, by successsive Governments for the last 20 years, yet before the mass immunisation programme began 20 years ago there were clear medical warnings in America and Britain of the risks in relation to various groups of children. In fact in the Medical Research Council trials of the whooping cough vaccine, those children at risk were specifically excluded by the Medical Research Council, yet for many years successive Governments failed to circulate these clear warnings when they advocated mass immunisation. They therefore imposed upon themselves a clear moral responsibility to pay compensation.
1241 I am speaking as briefly as I can, and I shall end my remarks shortly. However, I want to say that the matter is urgent because the Government are now, by the admission of the Secretary of State, hoping for the Pearson Commission to report, yet the Minister has a clear duty to make up his own mind in the light of clear evidence that I have given to him.
If today the House of Commons allows the Minister to commit himself to waiting for Pearson, as he has asked, and if the Pearson report decides against compensation for vaccine-damaged children, these children will be denied compensation, notwithstanding the talk by the Secretary of State about the freedom of the Government. The weight will be heavily against compensation if we fail to debate that issue now.
Therefore, I submit that the House cannot accept the statement by the Secretary of State and let it pass without a debate, because if the House did that, it would imply consent to a possible rejection of compensation or, at the very least, consent to a delaying tactic at the expense of children—which is, of course, within the rules of the House but beyond the spirit that animates Members of the House.
I draw your attention, Mr. Speaker, to the dangers of allowing this particular Royal Commission to be used to delay Government action. The danger was spelt out by my right hon. Friend the Member for Huyton (Sir H. Wilson) on the day that this Royal Commission was announced in the House, on 19th December 1972, when he emphasised to the then Prime Minister, the right hon. Member for Sidcup (Mr. Heath)—I hope that this will be noted not only by you, Mr. Speaker, but by the Secretary of State—that the right of the Government to initiate legislation, and the right of Parliament to legislate on any of these issues"—that was referring to thalidomide—will not be prejudiced by the setting up of a Royal Commission."—[Official Report, 19th December 1972; Vol. 848, c. 1120–21.]Yet it is precisely that right which the Minister is suggesting we should now defer until the Royal Commission has reported.
1242 The final reason why we should have urgent consideration and debate is that the whole immunisation programme of Great Britain can be damaged by this dispute over compensation. I do not blame my right hon. Friend for that; he must do what he thinks is right. I must do what I think is right. I submit that the House must decide which is right in a democratic debate. It is only the House which can end this damaging uncertainty.
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman asks leave to move the Adjournment of the House, under Standing Order No. 9, for the purpose of discussing a specific and important matter that he thinks should have urgent consideration, namely,to ask for an independent inquiry into the whooping cough vaccine and to call for a commitment from the Government to pay compensation to vaccine-damaged children".I followed the exchanges this afternoon with great care. As the House knows, it is not for me to decide the importance of an issue but whether it is to take precedence over the business either today or tomorrow. I do not have to give the reason for my decision. I have given careful consideration to what the hon. Gentleman has said, but I have to rule that his submission does not fall within the provisions of the Standing Order and therefore I cannot submit his application to the House.