Cancer Strategy

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:05 pm on 8th December 2016.

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Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East 4:05 pm, 8th December 2016

Thank you for calling me in this debate, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Rebecca Harris, and one benefit of this type of debate is that we learn something that we did not know before. I, too, congratulate Nic Dakin, who introduced the debate. I know that he has been a doughty campaigner, particularly on behalf of pancreatic cancer sufferers, for as long as we have both been elected, and the way he introduced the debate was fitting and appropriate. I also pass on my best wishes to my hon. Friend Mr Baron and his family at this difficult time. It is a surprise not to see him in this Chamber for a debate such as this, but we understand the circumstances.

I want to start by paying tribute to Greg Lake, the rock star who, sadly, died yesterday after a long battle with cancer. To me, he was one of the icons. He founded King Crimson, and one of the first albums I bought was “In the Court of the Crimson King”. He then went on to form the supergroup Emerson, Lake and Palmer, and he also produced the iconic hit “I believe in Father Christmas”, which we hear at this time of year. I want to put that on the record because it is appropriate that we remember that people are suffering and dying as a result of cancer literally every day.

I declare my interest as chair of the all-party group on smoking and health, and I note that Jim Fitzpatrick raised a number of the issues set out in the briefing that has been circulated quite widely. I want, however, to build on some of the things that have taken place. One of the key recommendations of the UK cancer strategy, which was founded not a year ago, as the title of this debate suggests, but 18 months ago, was that the replacement tobacco control plan should be published within a year. The last tobacco control plan expired a year ago, and we were promised a replacement in the summer. I know that “the summer” can stretch, but stretching it to Christmas is a bit of a long stretch. We recently had an excellent debate in Westminster Hall, where we briefed the new Minister, the Under-Secretary of State for Health, my hon. Friend Nicola Blackwood, on all the key issues relating to tobacco control. She promised that the new plan would be published soon, and she did so again when I raised it with her at Health questions. It will not surprise today’s Minister to learn that the one thing I have to ask is to be given a date for the new plan—he should not tell me, “Soon”.

I now come to a significant fact. The Prime Minister said in her first major speech, on the steps of Downing Street, that she would be

“fighting against the burning injustice that, if you’re born poor, you will die on average nine years earlier than others.”

Smoking is responsible for half the difference in life expectancy between rich and poor in this country, so if we can cut smoking rates, we will help deliver the Prime Minister’s ambition. I ask the Minister to make sure that we get this tobacco control plan as quickly as possible.

We know that smoking is the greatest preventable cause of cancer worldwide. It accounts for more than one in four cancer deaths in the UK and for a fifth of all cancer cases. Smoking increases the risk of getting 14 other cancers and is responsible for more than 80% of cases of lung cancer—the cancer that is the biggest killer in this country. It also has the worst five-year survival rate. Therefore, from that perspective, if we can cut smoking, we will cut the causes of cancer.

I wish to declare an interest in this matter. As I have said in this place on more than one occasion, both of my parents died, in 1979, of smoking-related diseases. They both died of cancer because they smoked virtually every day of their lives. I heard the hon. Member for Poplar and Limehouse say that he gave up in 1980. I still remember those terrible days when my parents died, and I want us to get to a position where no one has to suffer what my family and I had to suffer.