HC Deb 14 June 1988 vol 135 cc160-1
10. Mr. David Shaw

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Services what are the main known factors in prematurity and low birth-weight in babies.

Mr. Moore

The cause of prematurity or low birth-weight in babies is in most cases not known. Apart from clinical factors of various kinds relating to the pregnancy, it is becoming increasingly clear that smoking by pregnant women and significant consumption of alcohol may be important in some cases.

Mr. Shaw

Despite those disadvantages in mothers' health, is it not true that under this Government infant mortality has reduced considerably and that we have a much improved situation, which must be partially due to the fact that there has been a considerable increase in the first rate technological equipment now available in hospitals as a result of the Government's initiatives? My local hospital in Dover has some first-rate examples of such equipment, which I saw recently.

Mr. Moore

My hon. Friend is right. The figures show that the infant mortality rate has fallen from 12.9 per thousand births in 1978 to 9.1 in 1987, which is a reduction of 29 per cent. while the Government have been in office.

Mrs. Wise

Does the Minister acknowledge that cot deaths are increasing? Will he give due consideration to the submission from the National Childbirth Trust, which asks him to consider some possible causes of that, including excessive obstetric interference and bad housing and poverty?

Mr. Moore

I shall certainly consider the points to which the hon. Lady referred. More work is clearly needed in this area, but she may not be aware that recent work confirms part of the point that she is making about the increase in the sudden infant death syndrome. She may not be aware that, contrary to what she implied, the studies in relation to 1986 show that the increase in cot deaths is, if concentrated in any social class, concentrated in social class V among boys. The hon. Lady's point is certainly important and we must look further into this matter, but, on the evidence so far, the increase does not relate to social class variations.