HL Deb 21 March 1939 vol 112 cc356-66

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Duke of Devonshire.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL OF ONSLOW in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Duty of local authorities.

(9) A joint board or joint committee constituted by virtue of any enactment to discharge the functions of two or more councils under this section shall have power to appoint to be additional members of the board or committee, for such period as may be specified in the appointment, such persons as it thinks fit:

Provided that the number of members of a board or committee holding office at any one time under this subsection shall not, except during a vacancy among the other members of the board or committee, exceed one-half the number of those other members.

LORD ELTISLEY moved to leave out subsection (9) and insert: (9) Any order or agreement constituting under any enactment a joint board or joint committee to discharge the functions of two or more councils under this section may provide for the co-option of such number of members of the board or committee as may be specified in the order or agreement: Provided that the number so specified shall not exceed one-third of the total number of the members of the board or committee.

The noble Lord said: I have the privilege of moving this Amendment on behalf of the County Councils' Association, and I am of opinion that it is worthy of support because it carries on the best traditions of local government. Under Clause 1 of the Bill it becomes the duty of every county council and every county borough council in England and Wales to make arrangements to secure facilities for the treatment of persons suffering from cancer; and the Minister may require two or more such councils to combine for the purpose. Joint boards or joint committees so constituted can co-opt outside persons up to an overriding limit of one-third of their personnel. They can do this without first obtaining the assent of the local authorities who set them up and who were originally responsible for them. The joint committees once established can, so to speak, snap their fingers at their parents, the local authorities. Under the terms of my Amendment it is proposed to take away that power of the joint committees to co-opt up to one-third of their personnel independently of the local authorities, and to provide that before co-option is allowed the assent of those responsible for setting up the committees must be obtained.

Local authorities regard this power of co-option as a dangerous innovation introduced into local government and as inconsistent with previous legislation. It cuts across the principles of accepted practice in local government. Local authorities feel that, although co-option on these joint committees may in certain cases be most valuable and most useful, the local authorities responsible for setting up a joint committee should give the committee the power to co-opt. As we know only too well, where power of co-option exists it is very apt to attract cranks and busybodies who are only too glad to be appointed to a committee without the need of election which applies to other members of the committee. They never fail to attend meetings and they tend actually to override the views and wishes of elected members. Therefore we feel that the power of co-option should only be granted to these joint committees if they first of all receive the approval of the local authorities and then the sanction of the Minister of Health.

There is one further argument in support of the Amendment. The appointing councils are the bodies which have to foot the bill; they are the bodies which will incur the expense, and they are bodies of elected persons who are definitely responsible to the people of the district. I venture to suggest that that in itself supplies a reason for the Amendment. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 3, line 5, leave out subsection (9) and insert the said new subsection.—(Lord Eltisley.)


My noble friend has explained clearly and concisely the object of this Amendment, with which the Government agree. I therefore need not detain your Lordships by further explaining it. The Amendment is accepted by the Government, and I hope that your Lordships will support it.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 1, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 2 and 3 agreed to.

Clause 4:

Prohibition of certain advertisements.

(8) In this section the expression "advertisement" includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper or other document, and any announcement made orally or by any means of producing or transmitting sounds.

VISCOUNT BERTIE OF THAME moved to insert at the end of subsection (8): Provided that the said expression shall not apply to reports or accounts of treatments for cancer issued or published, orally or otherwise, by registered or unregistered practitioners, to persons or in publications other than those enumerated in paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (4) of this section. The noble Viscount said: This Amendment was moved in another place, where it received considerable support. My attention was drawn to the Amendment, and I was asked to move it this afternoon in your Lordships' House. Having studied the arguments used in another place on both sides, I came to the conclusion that the Amendment was a reasonable one, and that is the reason why it appears this afternoon in my name on the Paper.

Those of your Lordships who have read the report of the proceedings in another place will have noticed that the honourable member who moved the Amendment asked two specific questions of the Minister. The first was what evidence he had of extensive advertisements or reports of fraudulent remedies for cancer. The second was whether the law did not already provide for the prosecution of persons who offered fraudulent remedies. Both these questions remained unanswered. I should be much obliged if the noble Duke when he gets up, probably to resist this Amendment, would give specific answers to these two questions. It is true that he did partly deal with the first question in his Second Reading speech when he said there might be a recrudescence of these advertisements. But by the very use of that word "recrudescence" I think he suggested that these advertisements have died a natural death and that therefore it is not necessary to legislate against them. As to the second question, if, as is suggested, the law is adequate, then there is no reason to widen it in the way proposed in this Bill, because if it were so widened it would have the effect of stopping a good many quite honest although unorthodox persons from continuing their investigations which might prove of inestimable value to mankind.

I know it will be said that the clause applies both to registered and to unregistered practitioners; but registered practitioners have this advantage over unregistered: they have the medical Press through which they can vent their opinions. The unregistered practitioner has no such outlet to make known to the public his discoveries, however useful they may be. It may be said that there is already a precedent in support of the clause in the Venereal Disease Act, 1917. But may I point out that the medical profession had, long before that Act was passed, found a cure for venereal disease, and there is ample evidence that fraudulent remedies were extensively advertised before that Act became law. Up to now, unfortunately, the medical profession have been unable to find a remedy for cancer. The two diseases are therefore not comparable in that respect. It was argued in the House of Commons that the Venereal Disease Act goes further than this Bill does; but I think the shoe is on the other foot. I think the Bill goes a great deal further, because in the Venereal Disease Act there is no provision against verbal advertisement. It surely seems unwise in the circumstances to shut the door to unregistered practitioners making investigations into the cure of this scourge. That will be the effect, since it is unlikely that they will continue their endeavours to find a remedy; for if they happen to discover one they will to all intents and purposes be precluded from making the fact known to the public, even verbally, and they will be liable to prosecution if they do so.

Now let me deal with such persons as nature curers, herbalists and members of religious bodies. It is true that the present Solicitor-General, as he has said, would not give his consent to a prosecution in such cases; but he cannot bind his successors in office, and he would not attempt to do so. The time might come when one of his successors in office had started life as a registered practitioner and was consequently prejudiced against all unregistered practitioners; or he might dislike the nature curers' or herbalists' diets, or even the religious bodies to which I have referred, and so be sufficiently biased to allow a prosecution to be brought. For the reasons I have stated, I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 8, at end insert the said proviso.—(Viscount Bertie of Thame.)


My noble friend will scarcely be surprised to learn that the Government cannot accept this Amendment. It would leave so little of the clause that it would certainly not be worth leaving the clause in the Bill. The Amendment provides that registered or unregistered practitioners shall have power to do certain things. I am advised that the term "unregistered practitioners" might be extended to include everybody. The whole population of these islands, if they attempted to deal in any way with cancer, might be described as unregistered practitioners. So, roughly speaking, the effect of this Amendment would be so to amend the clause, which attempts to deal with the advertising of cures for cancer, as to enable either medical persons or any other persons whatsoever to advertise any cure. That is to say, the whole clause falls to the ground and becomes quite worthless.

I believe that your Lordships are in general agreement that it is desirable to take steps to deal with the possible recrudescence of the advertising of cures for cancer. My noble friend said, and said quite rightly, that at the moment such cures are not being advertised. But one of the objects of the Government in promoting this campaign is to draw attention to the curability of cancer. One of their major objects, as I said on the Second Reading, is to dispel the belief that cancer is an incurable disease. They therefore regard it as highly probable that one of the results of our campaign against this belief in the incurability of cancer will be a recrudescence of advertisements of possibly worthless, possibly actually deleterious, substances as a cure. I do not deny that this Bill limits to some very slight extent the complete liberty of the individual in some directions, and no one dislikes that more than I do. We have, however, a perfectly clear and definite choice between allowing a very detestable and a very deleterious traffic to spring up, and adopting the powers that are given in this clause.

My noble friend said that the clause would stop investigation by unregistered practitioners. With all respect to my noble friend, I believe that is greatly overstating the position. The clause does not prohibit any unregistered person from treating cases or from investigation of any kind; nor does it prohibit him from circulating the results of his investigations to persons in any of the categories in paragraph (a) of subsection (4). The class of persons to whom he may circulate them is a very wide one: all members of either House of Parliament, all members of local authorities, doctors, and so forth. Nor does it prohibit him from securing the publication of any results that he may achieve in technical periodicals. All it does is to prohibit him from holding out a cure and advertising himself or his process, or his method, or his substance.

The Government are not in the least anxious to interfere with any such body as, for instance, the Christian Scientists. Fears have been expressed that if this clause, unamended, becomes law it might be illegal for Christian Scientists at their meetings to prescribe treatments which have proved successful; that it might be termed advertising, and be contrary to law. Between now and the Third Reading I will look further into that point, but that is not the intention of the Government. They do not wish to prohibit or interfere in any way with the meetings of Christian Scientists, or any other religious body. Their object is simply what I have said—namely, to prohibit what might become a very grave evil, and that is, advertisements of useless or worse substances as a cure for cancer.

As a protection the clause contains the provision to which my noble friend referred—namely, that no prosecution may be initiated without the consent of one of the Law Officers of the Crown. My noble friend behind me referred to the possibility that a Law Officer might be a violently prejudiced person. That seems to me to be a very far-fetched risk. It is unlikely a man would be so violently prejudiced as to allow a prosecution on an unreasonable or unfair ground, and I cannot believe that the risk really exists. I am willing, however, between now and the Third Reading, to investigate further the possibility whether this clause can interfere with meetings of bodies of repute, such as the Christian Scientists, and to give your Lordships a further assurance on the point on the Third Reading. I hope that after that assurance my noble friend will withdraw his Amendment.


The insertion of words with regard to the initiation of prosecutions by the Law Officers of the Crown is, I suggest, a very small safeguard indeed. These questions will not be decided by the Law Officers of the Crown, because they will never reach them, but will be decided by the editors of various papers, who will say that this description of a cure for cancer may conceivably give rise to a prosecution under the Bill now before us, and for that reason they will refuse to print the account. Therefore the discretion of the Law Officers of the Crown is exceedingly unlikely ever to be exercised.


May I ask one further question of the noble Duke? I fully agree with him that it is very important to prevent the advertisement of quack remedies, which are advertised purely to make money out of sufferers. On the other hand I venture to suggest that it is of the greatest importance not to close any possible avenue by which a cure for cancer may be found, although unorthodox in the medical sense of the word. Up to the present orthodox methods have not found a cure, and it is certainly true that in the past from all sorts of unexpected quarters very important discoveries have come. Suppose such a thing should happen in connection with cancer, by what means can that be advertised and made available to the public? Under this Bill, as far as I can see, the only way in which it can be done is not in a form of publication which can reach the public, because there are only some seven or eight categories of persons to which it can be published. It does seem to be an infringement of liberty in a very important matter to put an impediment in the way of the publication of results which may be of the greatest importance, and for which I can see no provision in this Bill. There is no way by which a discovery by unorthodox methods can be made available except to the seven or eight categories of people, none of whom may advertise it.


If I may be allowed, with the consent of my noble friend, to answer this question, I should like first, if I may, because the matter is a serious one, and not too easy to answer, to remind your Lordships what it is that is prohibited by this Bill. It is any form of advertisement—and in order to be quite candid I should point out to your Lordships that that is a very wide phrase, because it is defined to include things that can be done orally. Therefore it is much wider than the ordinary advertisement which we are accustomed to meet. The words of the clause are: No person shall take any part in the publication of any advertisement"— as I have said, with that wide meaning— containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof. Secondly, he cannot refer to any article in terms which are calculated to lead to the use of that article … in the treatment of cancer. I agee that that is a very wide description, and I quite see the force of what the noble Marquess has said.

What is a man to do who thinks he has discovered either a remedy of the nature of a general treatment or an article which is a specific for cancer? My noble friend was quite right. He may not advertise it by doing any of the things mentioned in subsection 4 (1) (a) and (b), and one of the reasons for that is that cancer is so special a disease that the great probability is that no man will know that he has such a remedy. He will have no means of knowing, he will have but the merest conjecture. You cannot tell in the ordinary case whether cancer has been cured in under a year of observation, although it is true—because I am not going to exaggerate the case one way or another—a man might observe that there is some apparent alleviation in the symptoms of the sufferer. But what seems to me to be the thing that has to be considered by your Lordships is this. You must weigh on the one hand the chance that there may be some person who has discovered something of real value—which, I repeat, would not be for some years after his investigations have begun—and on the other hand the damage that will be done by all sorts of people who, for gain, make reckless statements as to the cure which they are in a position to offer the public. And anybody who ever travels by an Underground railway cannot but be shocked by the advertisements which he sees up on every side, published by people who really ought to be punished, recommending nostrums and methods and drugs which are perfectly useless as cures for a number of diseases.

I will express my opinion, with which I hope some of your Lordships will agree, that the number of cases in which harm will be done by permitting, as my noble friend has said, practically the whole clause to go out of the Bill is so enormously greater than the chance of any remedy being discovered by a layman, who has really no opportunities for testing for any length of time the advantage or disadvantage of his nostrum, whatever it is, that the clause is really necessary in the interests of the public. That is all by way of preliminary, and now I am going to try to answer the noble Marquess. I agree that if you can imagine some extraordinarily clever person hitting upon a remedy, he cannot himself advertise it, but what he can do is this. He can make his statements, and he can get people who have had experience of training in medical and surgical matters—he will surely get some people to be willing to form a small committee and to investigate what he says he has discovered. I cannot myself doubt that if he produced before three or four competent people the evidence which he has of the cures, he would get those three or four people to investigate the case; and, as soon as they investigate it, they, being competent people, will have no difficulty in advertising the whole matter in one of the recognised medical papers of a technical character referred to in Clause 4 (4) (b). So that in the extraordinarily unlikely case, as I cannot help thinking it, of a layman being able to discover and test the validity of some cure or alleged cure of cancer, he would really have no difficulty in bringing the matter before the world. On the other hand, I cannot help thinking that the danger of in effect striking the whole clause out of the Bill is so great that this Amendment should be rejected.


I am not suggesting that the clause should be struck out of the Bill, or supporting this Amendment. What I do want to see assured is that there should be some effective means by which, if some unorthodox person does find a cure, that cure can secure publicity. Are any of these persons or bodies mentioned entitled to advertise? I think they are precluded from advertising except in the technical journals, and, if I may be allowed to say so, there is such a thing as trade unionism in every profession, and there have been certain cases where in the past considerable obstruction has been put in the way of medical discoveries by persons of unorthodox views. What I want to make quite certain is that there is some way in which, if an unorthodox person does find a remedy, that remedy can be investigated and the results published without being debarred under this clause.


The noble Marquess will observe that under Clause 4 (4) there may be advertisements in the wide sense, but they must be to people who are not likely to be misled, like the unhappy people who read the advertisements in the Underground to which I referred. The noble Marquess would get an advertisement, of course, under paragraph (a) of subsection (4). Members of either House of Parliament and the local authorities all over the country can have the advertisement sent to them. There are also the governing bodies of voluntary hospitals, registered medical practitioners, registered nurses, pharmacists and authorised sellers of poisons, all the persons who are engaged in training for the purpose of becoming doctors or pharmacists, and persons carrying on the business of sale or supply of surgical appliances; and, beyond that, the numerous publications which are intended for circulation mainly among those people. I cannot believe that in those circumstances there is any risk of any miracle of this kind going unknown for more than a very short time after it has been properly investigated.


As I have received no support for my Amendment, I beg leave to withdraw it. At the same time, I think it is a little hard that a man who may have expended vast sums in finding a cure for cancer should not be able to recoup himself by advertising his method.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 4 agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.