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 Ernest Armstrong Mr Ernest Armstrong , North West Durham 12:00 am, 9th May 1975

It is not nonsense. It is a fact. This is a criticism which transcends in scale of importance any question of merit or otherwise of the proposals themselves. I cannot emphasise that last point too strongly.

This system of decentralised control, of local authority autonomy, has its critics but it is one that is ideally suited to this country. In practice the responsibility is one which is almost invariably devolved to head teachers and to teaching staffs. That is why I have reservations about and, indeed, objections to the Bill.

However, I want to be positive in what I have to say because I was very moved by my hon. Friend's intentions and by the speech that he made.

The Government believe that information about cancer should feature in health education programmes. I think that the House has done rather less than justice—not purposely, because my hon. Friend had to move the Second Reading of his Bill in less time than he would have wished—to what is being done in the country about this matter. I want to outline some of the things which are being done—and which are being done in a more effective way than would be the case if we were to implement the provisions of the Bill.

We are concerned not only to keep the problem in the proper perspective but also to see that our inevitably limited resources are deployed in the most effective way possible. In our view, the greatest emphasis in cancer education is best laid on aspects of primary prevention—by advising on improved personal hygiene, on the dangers of smoking and on the need to observe specified precautions in certain industrial processes. My hon. Friend mentioned all these features. We also consider that cancer education ought to be pursued not in isolation but as an element—an important element—in a wider and co-ordinated approach to health education.

Here, perhaps, it would be appropriate for me to say something about the work of the Health Education Council, which is specifically mentioned in the Bill and which was formed as a result of the Cohen Committee Report in 1968. The council was set up some seven years ago as a national body responsible for the promotion of health education in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Not only does this council advise Government Departments on health education matters but it also provides advice and assistance to the National Health Service, to local authorities, to voluntary organisations and to other bodies concerned with health education.

This assistance can take a number of forms, but featuring prominently in its work are the making of financial grants, the training of health educators through courses, seminars and conferences, and the provision of health education leaflets and posters. I am sure that those of us who have been in any kind of educational institution have seen the various leaflets and posters.

The council also carries out its own national health campaigns. This involves the achievement of publicity in the Press, on television and on radio and through its posters and leaflets. It has built up a wide range of health education expertise and material and it regularly circularises area health authorities and others about the availability of this and other facilities. It has also undertaken or sponsored a varied programme of research and, in the Government's view, it can be fairly claimed that during its relatively short span of life the council has established itself as a focal point for everyone involved in the planning and development of health education on a rational or scientific basis. The hon. Member for Reading, South said that certain sectors of the population would not be covered if educational institutions were compelled by local authorities to take this action. I put it to him that the work that is already being done is all-embracing.

The Health Education Council is doing a tremendous job. One of the council's main priorities in recent years has been the anti-smoking campaign which hon. Members will recognise as a preventive area of the first importance to lung cancer. In the campaign, the public are also being informed about the risks of contracting chronic bronchitis and heart disease and of injury to an unborn child where women smoke during pregnancy.

The council is also arranging with the British Cancer Council a series of joint study days in different parts of the country and, during these, the discussions will cover not only the promotion of cancer education in general terms but the particular needs and views of the region in which they are held.