HC Deb 20 March 1990 vol 169 cc997-8
5. Mr. Hayes

To ask the Secretary of State for Health when he expects the results of the research into a possible link between fire retardant materials and cot death syndrome to be available; and if he will make a statement.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Roger Freeman)

On 9 March, the Department's chief medical officer, Sir Donald Acheson, announced that he had asked a group of independent experts to investigate a claim that the emission of toxic gases from fungal growth on some cot mattresses is a cause of sudden infant death. He has asked the group to report as soon as possible and will make public its findings.

Mr. Hayes

Will my hon. Friend tell the House what advice he gave to parents during the inquiry? Does he agree that if there was a lesson to be learnt in his Department from listeriosis, it is that the public must be warned at the earliest opportunity of any risk to their health or, of course, that of their children?

Mr. Freeman

I agree with my hon. Friend. There is a sad number of cases—some 1,500—of sudden infant deaths each year. The advice of the chief medical officer, issued on 9 March, was clear: keep young babies warm but not overheated; give children good ventilation in their rooms and keep bedding fresh and clean.

Rev. Martin Smyth

Have not scientists in the Department of Trade and Industry already issued warnings on this issue? Why has the Department of Health been slower in bringing forward such advice?

Mr. Freeman

I am not sure that I can agree with the hon. Gentleman. I understand that the laboratory of the Government chemist could neither prove nor disprove the conclusions of the independent consultant chemist. That is why the chief medical officer has set up an independent and fresh team to review the evidence and advise urgently.