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Mr. Phil Hope (Corby): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Last night, the hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) raised a point of order about my written question on volunteering. Regrettably, the hon. Gentleman did not do me the courtesy of informing me that he intended to raise the issue on the Floor of the House. Not only was that a gross discourtesy to me--I have informed him that I intended to raise this matter today--but had he approached me, he would have avoided misleading you, Mr. Speaker, and the House.
The hon. Gentleman reported last night that House of Commons Library staff had been told by the Home Office that they would not receive a copy of the answer to my question until after a press conference had been held by the Chancellor at 8.45 this morning. What he failed to tell the House was that the Home Office had told the Library that the answer would be given at 8.30 this morning, before the press conference. He also failed to tell the House that he and the Library had been promised an early copy of the answer, which would be faxed directly to them at 8.30 this morning. That procedure was confirmed to me by the Library staff.
It appears that the hon. Member for Aylesbury has misrepresented the facts and unfairly embroiled Library staff in his misjudged intervention. Surely he should come to the Dispatch Box to put the record straight and to apologise.
Mr. Speaker: The hon. Member for Aylesbury (Mr. Lidington) raised a matter with me, and the hon. Member for Corby (Mr. Hope) will know that I said that I would look into it. In doing so, I will take on board what the hon. Member for Corby has said. However, I doubt very much whether the hon. Member for Aylesbury would deliberately mislead the House. Perhaps he was misinformed, but he certainly did not deliberately mislead the House. I will take on board what the hon. Member for Corby has said, and I will of course reply to the hon. Member for Aylesbury. I think that that would help.
Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to the matter that I raised with the Leader of the House at business questions, I should like to seek your guidance. Having established from the Leader of the House before Christmas that a ministerial group has been set up to look into job losses in manufacturing, I was perplexed to receive from the Department of Trade and Industry a reply to a written question to the effect that no such group exists. Would it be in order for me to table the same question again to the Department of Trade and Industry in the hope of an accurate response, or could the Minister be brought here to correct the misleading impression that he gave?
Dr. Michael Clark (Rayleigh): I welcome the opportunity to present the report of my Select Committee on Science and Technology entitled "Cancer Research--A Fresh Look". I thank the Liaison Committee for allowing us to have this estimates day debate and the Leader of the House, who has now departed, for agreeing to include it in this Session's busy programme.
The attendance this afternoon may not be as large as we might wish to see for a debate on cancer, but those attending have a great interest in the issue and will, I know, make a useful contribution when the time comes.
Over my lifetime, there have been subjects that one has never talked about. When I was a boy and a youth, homosexuality was never mentioned. When I was a young man--even a married young man--contraception was taboo and not discussed. Yet both those subjects are now quite rightly widely discussed. However, all my life, until very recently, cancer has been a taboo subject, and only recently has it been discussed openly and frequently among people, at work and at leisure.
Why has cancer been a taboo subject for so long? It is not as though it is rare--40 per cent. of people in the United Kingdom will be diagnosed at some time as having cancer. It is not as though cancer is something to be ashamed of: it is not caught from an illicit sexual contact; it is not a sign of unclean living; and it is not contagious--it cannot be transmitted by contact. So why has cancer been ignored in conversation and swept under the carpet for so long?
I believe that the reason is that cancer kills--it kills 25 per cent. of the population. Not only does it kill, however: until very recently, there has been no cure and little hope. If people spoke about cancer they did so in hushed tones, in awe of an unbeatable killer. They knew that for the friend, the relative, the loved one who had cancer, the death knell had sounded. For that reason, cancer was not discussed.
In recent years, there has been an amazing virtuous circle. Medical science has advanced quietly, very often from behind the scenes, without much trumpeting of its success. People have talked about patients surviving cancer. Cancer has slowly become a topic for discussion. The more discussion there has been, the more optimism has entered into the whole issue of cancer treatment and cancer medicine, and the more money has been given by the public to charities for cancer research. As a result, advances have been made in drugs and in treatment; there has been more success, followed by more hope, more money and more results. There is complete openness about cancer because we have got rid of the terrible situation that I described--in which cancer was a killer and there was little hope.
Our report was conceived at the beginning of last year; we started our inquiry in March 2000. We chose its title because we thought that there was a new opportunity on cancer. We were not the first to think so. In 1995,
In July 1999, about eight months before we began our inquiry, the Labour Government issued a report, "Saving Lives: Our Healthier Nation", which identified cancer as a disease--among others, such as coronary heart disease--on which action was needed to improve the quality of life for people in this country. In October 1999, a national cancer director was appointed. Thus we do not claim that our report is the beginning of a movement for the improvement of cancer treatment; it is part of a continuum--we like to think that it is a helpful and significant part.
Immediately we announced our inquiry, the BBC contacted us and asked if it could make a programme in the "Scrutiny" series on the work that we planned to undertake. We agreed, but with the proviso that the programme should be a serious study of a serious subject--not a frivolous film that aimed to catch Members of Parliament out as they went about their business.
I am delighted to say that the BBC filmed the majority of our eight evidence sessions, in which we heard from 30 eminent witnesses. The corporation also filmed all but one of our five visits to cancer treatment centres in the United Kingdom; and accompanied us on our visits to the United States, Canada and Finland, where we compared and contrasted cancer treatments with those in the UK. A 40-minute film was produced; it was screened on BBC 2 on 29 July. The majority--if not all--members of the Select Committee thought it a worthwhile film; it was well and professionally made, and we thank the BBC for its interest and for its contribution to the fight against cancer.
While we were abroad, we found much to admire; we were grateful that every institution that we visited received us warmly. We were gratified that each of them appreciated and praised the work being done in this country. Our visits abroad were not just about finding out whether other countries were doing better than us, as they were in some respects. Each centre and each country congratulated us on the high quality of individual work in this country, on our centres of excellence and on our research. That does not mean that we cannot do better, because we can, but it does mean that we have international standing.