HL Deb 25 June 1959 vol 217 cc299-301

6.11 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

[The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government if it can be stated how many deaths taking place in the United Kingdom in each of the last four years to the latest recorded were attributed to lung cancer presumed to be caused by smoking, and whether and, if so, what action it is proposed to take thereanent.]


My Lords, there are no figures on the lines asked for by the noble Lord. The number of deaths in the United Kingdom in the years 1954 to 1957 attributed to cancer of the lung were, 18,406 in 1954; 19,343 in 1955; 20,501 in 1956; and 21,513 in 1957; but it is not possible to say how many were associated with smoking. Her Majesty's Government continue to bring to the notice of the public, mainly through local health authorities, the risks attached to smoking.


My Lords, there is clearly an increase in the number of deaths from lung cancer. Competent authorities have related lung cancer very definitely to smoking; and it seems to me that there is no getting away from the fact that this connection is a correct one to make. Do the Government not consider that more is required to bring home to people the danger that smokers incur, especially in heavy cigarette smoking?


My Lords, before the noble Earl answers that, may I ask him whether it is not the fact that medical opinion is very widely divided on this matter, and that the evidence is unsatisfactory? Is not this essentially one of those cases which perhaps we might be allowed to decide for ourselves?


My Lords, it is true that in 1957 the Medical Research Council issued a statement recording their view that a major part in the very great increase in deaths from lung cancer in recent years must be attributed to smoking, particularly of cigarettes. But, as the noble Earl said, there is no absolutely hard and fast conclusion on the matter.

Local health authorities are responsible for health education under the National Health Service Act. They have been asked to publicise the facts as given in the Medical Research Council's statement. Reports from authorities show that they have adopted all suitable forms of publicity, such as leaflets, posters, talks and films. Their main effort is concentrated on older schoolchildren. Much publicity material is available for local health authorities through the Central Council for Health Education. The Ministry of Health has also made available a film called Facts and Figures, originally shown on B.B.C. television. The Minister of Health keeps under review the efficacy of the publicity measures that are undertaken.


My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for the answers he has given and especially for the way in which he has "debunked" the effort that was made by the noble Earl, Lord Swinton.


My Lords, I must make it clear that it is not the function of my colleagues and myself to "debunk" any noble Lord.


My Lords, I beg your Lordships' pardon for using such a slang word in this House. It is not in keeping with the respect that I owe to your Lordships to use an expression of that kind. I fell into that error, and I am sorry. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, said that much is done to bring the harmful effects of smoking to the knowledge of older schoolchildren. I urge him not to limit that instruction to the older schoolchildren, for unfortunately the practice of smoking has gone down into quite junior ranks.


My Lords, I am sure that every effort will be made to discourage that practice.


My Lords, is it not against the law for children under sixteen to be smoking, and would it not be a good thing to enforce the law?


My Lords, I would not be aware of that. I think that that is more parental or schoolmasters' law than the law of the land; but I would not know.