Cancer Screening (Education) Bill

Part of Clause 9 – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 9th May 1975.

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Photo of Mr Simon Mahon Mr Simon Mahon , Bootle 12:00 am, 9th May 1975

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I have been in this House for what could be considered a considerable period. Hoping to be a modestly good and assiduous Member and thinking that with my Celtic background I would have a little bit of Irish luck, I have pursued my weary way year after year into the Lobby and diligently signed my name hoping that I would come top of the form and would be able to introduce some tremendous measure that would find its way to the statute book.

In 20 years this is the first time that I have had modest good fortune. I know the position. I know that No. 14 in the Ballot is not the same as No. 1. I wondered what sort of Bill I would attempt to introduce into the Mother of Parliaments. There are many Bills suggested by Departments and there are others in an embryonic stage. I put forward this Bill for a particular reason. We are all aware of the tragedy of cancer not only in our midst but throughout the world.

I came to this House from an industrial background, from an area in which I had held most positions since I began working on the Liverpool dockside at the age of 14. I had become the managing director of my own firm. But there was one constant worry in my mind. I always recalled the people, particularly the boys, with whom I worked, often in dreadful conditions. Often these boys had the worst of all worlds. In some way I felt a bit more secure because I came from a good, modest, clean and comfortable home.

All of these points are relevant to the introduction of this Bill. In introducing it I speak as a layman who left school at the age of 14 and became a scaler boy on the Liverpool waterfront. I noticed in my passage through life that many of the boys with whom I worked contracted cancer and died earlier than might have been the case if they had been more fortunate in their worldly positions. Perhaps there is help somewhere else for people who have to suffer in this way.

I do not want to be too pessimistic about this subject because I have learned not to be pessimistic. The subject can be approached in an atmosphere of hope. An eminent American medical authority said recently that while cancer is fatal if untreated or if treated late, the fact is that early cancer is among the most curable of major causes of death. My authority for that is Dr. Clifton R. Read of the International Union against Cancer. situated in America. That statement gave me hope.

Having moved all the way through local government and seen miracles happen there, I thought I would introduce this modest Bill in an attempt to ensure that the things that happened in my youth happen less often in today's society. That is all it is—a small attempt by the hon. Member for Bootle to bring more knowledge, hope, faith and achievement not only into my own environment but into the national environment. I hope that we shall be able to add to international knowledge on this subject, which affects everyone at some time or another.

I hope that hon. Members will understand if I quote some statistics. In 1924 my father had the privilege of coming to Whitehall—I recall this with some pride—to give evidence before an important body on the condition of boy labour in this country. At that time Parliament thought that they were being subjected to things to which young boys should not be subjected. Like myself, he knew about coal, oil, boilers, oil tanks and cofferdams, which were not beautiful places to be in, and rose boxes. The rose, box of a ship is the filthiest part but it has that beautiful name. I shall not go into the reasons for it, but it is called that for obvious reasons.

There were boys working in these conditions and there were other people who were working with slag wool and asbestos. They developed all kinds of conditions. I am quite sure that the hon. Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) would be able to analyse these conditions in great detail, because he is an eminent diagnostician. However, I shall keep to layman's language when talking about the things that cause the conditions that other men have to diagnose. It was insulation and asbestos that caused all these dreadful illnesses which my constituents have to suffer, and no doubt many others suffer from them in other parts of this industrial land.

People may say that this is old hat. I am assured by the best medical authority that this is not the case. It is possible that in modern industry there are more dangers than existed in old industry. That point has been made forcibly to me and I may mention an example later.

In my passage through public life I have discovered another inequality for working-class people. There are, of course, many. Is it not strange that the incidence of cancer among working-class people—a phrase that people do not want us to use any more—is far higher than it is among people who are better off, such as the middle class? Of course, I hope that that is always the case for the middle class, in all charity. However, it is obvious that a man in my situation, coming from the part of the land from which I come, can learn that this class distinction is relevant not only in financial, economic and social terms but even from the point of view of our personal health in the face of this disease.

The example for which I was searching is to be found in the rubber industry, which is a modern industry using additives and is principally concerned, in this country, with the production of tyres. It has been established and proved positively that to work in this industry does not cause cancer of the lung but can cause cancer of the bladder. I am delighted to have the full agreement, I see, of that eminent diagnostician, the hon. Member for Reading, South. It bears out the point I am making. It applies not only to people of my generation but to people of future generations in the same way.

I do not want to use too many business names. However, may we be sure that great international organisations, not only in this country but abroad, such as the great international Dunlop Company, recognise this and make adequate compensation? Will they, with their great wealth, be able to inform workers in their factories that they are in danger of contracting cancer of the bladder? Will they be able to use a screening process which will be beneficial to the workers to whom they have a responsibility?

I want people in this country to realise that we are anxious about these things. We are not all medically knowledgeable. I certainly am not, and I am sure there are many poor innocent people who do not know much about this subject at all. However, we must keep insisting that cancer can be cured and that the pessimism that affected other times must be driven away somehow. I believe that the whole thing depends, firmly, on education and the earliest possible diagnosis.

All hon. Members have a great affection and esteem for one of the greatest physicians in the world. I have been a friend of the noble Lord, Lord Cohen of Birkenhead for many years. Whether this story is apocryphal or whether it is true in every syllable I do not know, but in Liverpool University the great Professor Cohen, as he was in those days, began every lecture of any importance with this statement to the assembled medical students and graduates: "There are three important things in medicine. The first is diagnosis, the second is diagnosis and the third is diagnosis."

I believe that to be the case not only in medicine and cancer but in this country as a whole, economically and in every other way, where we have as yet been unable to diagnose our problems. Therefore, the diagnostic ability of people and the co-operation of people in the early diagnosis of cancer is essential.

Perhaps I may inject a note of hope. I have always been fortunate to have friends in the right places. As a layman I feel it essential to get expert knowledge to try to assimilate matters in any humble fashion possible. I have discussed this matter with an eminent cancer specialist. It was in Mr. Speaker's constituency—and I did not ask for his permission to go there. I went to this wonderful establishment and was given the information that in the Clatterbridge Hospital in the Wirral they have the highest cure rate for bladder cancer in the world. Is not that—were I not to say another word today—a wonderful thing to be able to say to people who think that every case of cancer is hopeless? That hospital has the highest cure rate for bladder cancer in the world. I asked how I could translate that fact as a politician. They told me that there has to be something to take the place of fear. The only thing that we can put in place of fear is hope. That hope has to be based upon achievements and on the knowledge of the people who work so hard.

It may be said to me today, "You are in the wrong Department." The Minister present is from the Department of Education and Science. I could have said with complete arrogance or lack of humility, "Where are the other two Departments? Where is the Minister from the Department of Employment and where is the Minister from the Department of Health and Social Security?" I do not know whether this fits in appropriately with my hon. Friend the Minister's true position.

Education in cancer has to start wherever cancer is found. If a little schoolboy does not start smoking until he is eight, he has to be told when he is eight, not when he is 16, that he will not be able to play in the football team or to run as fast as other boys. Education must start in childhood and continue in adolescence. The development of knowledge should occur naturally in industry, schools and universities according to the need for that knowledge, right through to maturity. I am sure the experts will be with me on that. When people reach maturity they tend to feel that the worst struggle of life is over, but they are the dangerous years.

We all remember what it was like to be 10 years of age. I can remember what it was like to be 21, but when I became 40, the age of 60 seemed a long time ahead, an eternity, but to me the years have gone by on velvet feet and I did not hear them going. I was hushed by the years as they elapsed and went my own way. In talking to the young, we must remember that they are young and do the best we can.

Every year, 32,000 people in the United Kingdom die from lung cancer—one every 16 minutes. Those are not my figures, but they are the most up-to-date figures that can be obtained. Here a note of sadness comes into my mind. I have always asked myself why my constituents have so much trouble. Why do they always get everything—bad housing, plus had health, plus bad environment, plus cancer. That is what I refer to as the plus factor. The theory that I have always held has been proved to be right. Which part of Great Britain has the highest incidence of cancer? Liverpool and Bootle. That is how I justify my Bill on behalf of my people. The plus factors include environment, atmosphere, diesel fumes and smoking. I am told that one can smoke with a freer mind in New Zealand because the air there is so pure that the same risks are not incurred.

People tend to think that the situation is hopeless, but I will inject a note of hope by saying that there has been an improvement over the years. When I first came into active public life in Bootle after the war, one responsibility which I was given was for housing. An eminent public health doctor sent for me and asked whether I had any idea of the dimensions of the assignment that I had been given. I said "I know it is fairly bad". He said "Do you know that you have the highest maternal mortality rate in the United Kingdom, the highest child mortality rate in the United Kingdom and the highest incidence of tuberculosis in the United Kingdom?"

That was immediately after the war. Hitler had done a vicious bombing job and had taken thousands of houses from us. We thought that the town would have to be written off. But by diligent work by all concerned, within a few short years those terrible statistics were reduced below national average. People had thought that their position was hopeless, but by hard work, devoted care and application by all concerned, those dreadful figures were reduced. If the same endeavour can be put into attacking cancer, people will have less reason to be pessimistic. We are just beginning to see the light, and if we follow this road great results may be achieved in a shorter time than we imagine.

Young people should be given information on how to protect themselves. When I went to work I did not know how to protect myself—and I was not unintelligent. After leaving a good grammar school I went down to the docks because I had no choice. I had no idea how to protect myself. But for the grace of God I should have had cancer, as did some of my comrades. People should be told how to protect themselves. If we do not tell them, who will'? Is it not fair for me to ask Parliament for protection for young people in industry and elsewhere? Is it not fair for me to ask local education authories to assist? They are responsible for the teaching of many other subjects. Why should they not he responsible for teaching children how to look after themselves? I hope that the Bill will get its just deserts, because it is a good Bill.

The Bill requires local authorities to provide information. Until recently a local authority was a health authority. I hope that I shall not be accused of leaving out health authorities. There has been a separation of the two, but that separation occurred with the reorganisation of local government and does not occur in my mind. I hope that the term "local authority" will not be taken to mean just a local education authority. It means every kind of local authority, including regional hospital boards and others. The Bill would be a nonsense if it were read in any other way.

I shall probably be told I should not interfere with the curricula of schools and that it is a mistake to force certain things to be done. What are we to do? I am not talking about people who live in Richmond or in Dorset or in Kent but of people who live in my constituency. There are people there who have never known the privacy of their own bedroom. Is that not a significant factor when everybody says that hygiene is important? Specialists tell me that hygiene is all-important and is becoming more and more so every day in the fight against cancer. There are people in my constituency who have never seen an inside toilet. In the 20 years I have been in the House, no Government have ever succeded in solving the housing crisis. I have always been disappointed on that score. The results can be seen in our streets.

If children and particularly young adolescent girls do not have the privacy which we all take for granted, how much harder is the situation that faces them. Perhaps, additionally, the girl concerned may have no parents, or indifferent parents, or may be a vicitim of a marriage which has broken up, and she is left on her own. Who is to tell her these important things, if Parliament is not to tell her through the medium of this Bill? Who is to tell her if teachers, nurses and doctors are not to do so?

Housing and hygiene are all part of the fight against cancer. My constituents are not getting a fair break—and they have never had a fair break. It is my duty as their Member of Parliament to say these things, even though it may bore the House. My constituents need more protection, and they need it from Parliament. That is the reason behind the Bill.

I shall no doubt be told that these matters cannot be included in curricula. However, most schools today have liberal studies, and I shall prove a little later that my proposals are being followed in other parts of the world. We are prepared to teach children of eight the exact situation of the equator, but we are not prepared to teach them about the equation between good health and bad. I do not want to be told about curricula because I have been the chairman of an education committee. I know that children could be taught about hygiene and the standards necessary to avoid cancer.

There is something more I should say. I wondered whether I should say this to the House, and I have decided to say it. The House will know of the stand I have taken on certain subjects in this House over the years. I have never liked the permissive society. I am a little sorry for the young today. I am certainly not envious of them. I believe that we have burdened modern youth with the permissive society. Who will tell the youth of this country that gross promiscuity brings cancer in its train—not in middle age or in old age but in youth'? Who will tell them of that tragedy? If we do not say these things in the Mother of Parliaments, where can they be said? I have heard these things said only in the colleges and medical schools.

When legislation has been enacted which has resulted in the permissive society those responsible have not told people of the dangers of the permissive society. The danger to which I have drawn attention is one of them. I believe that young women need to be protected by a Bill such as that which is now before the House. If they carry on in ignorance they will find themselves in an unfortunate state in a very short period of time. That needed to he said and I have now said it.