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Commons Chamber

Volume 450: debated on Tuesday 24 October 2006

House of Commons

Tuesday 24 October 2006

The House met at half-past Two o’clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—


1. What assessment she has made of the effect that recent preliminary National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence guidance on the use of Velcade has had on the treatment of myeloma patients; and if she will make a statement. (95960)

I have made no such assessment. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has not yet issued its final guidance on the use of Velcade. I understand that it plans to do so in November 2006, subject to any appeals against its final appraisal determination.

The recent decision on Velcade, according to press reports, is a huge blow to thousands of myeloma patients, as it is one of the only treatments for that type of bone marrow cancer. As the decision appears to have been made on the basis of cost, will the Minister urgently review the value that NICE places on treatments that extend life, and which are crucial for patients and their families—if the reports turn out to be true?

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for her question. I pay tribute to her work with the International Myeloma Foundation, and I know of her personal interest in the matter. We are asking NICE to take some extremely difficult decisions on our behalf and, although I understand her points, it is important that it is able to do its work, and to consider all the evidence on the clinical effectiveness of treatments, free from political interference. That is the right position. There is an ability to appeal against any NICE decisions, and the final appraisal determination is still subject to such appeal. At this stage, it would be inappropriate to comment further.

My constituent, Brian Jago, was fortunate enough to receive a course of Velcade, as a result of which he does not have to move to Wales—as he was going to do—where he could have got it free. He now faces the prospect of at least another two years of high-quality life. Is not that the worst form of postcode lottery?

In making public statements, it is extremely important that we do not seek to mislead and give patients false expectations of what is available in other parts of the United Kingdom—[Interruption.] If the hon. Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) will hear me out, I will explain to him that interim guidance is issued in Wales, but NICE guidance, when finalised, will also apply in Wales. That is the system, so there will not be any difference between the two countries. The hon. Gentleman will be aware from a press release issued by NICE this week that, according to the manufacturers’ evidence, Velcade has the potential to extend life by one year. It is important to consider such matters in the round and to have a balanced discussion and, if resources can be put elsewhere into cancer care, to take such decisions so that we provide the best possible treatment to patients for the money available.

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that there is not a constituency in the country that does not have myeloma sufferers. Cannot more money be made available for this drug treatment, as it is the only treatment that can work and prolong life? We should have a special fund and take the decision away from NICE by making extra moneys available. Will he consider that if NICE refuses to recommend the drug?

I do not intend to take the decision away from NICE. When the Government came to power, we set up NICE specifically to introduce fairness into the system, so that decisions would be taken that balanced clinical effectiveness with cost-effectiveness. I do not dispute that myeloma is an awful condition, of which some 4,000 new cases are reported every year, and everything possible must be done to help such people. It is inappropriate to second-guess NICE’s decisions and to undermine its difficult work, which it does on behalf of all of us as taxpayers and all of us who want health resources to be used as effectively as possible. In making such extremely difficult decisions, we owe NICE our support.

Will the Minister join me in congratulating a woman who has written to me offering the use of her house in Scotland to a 39-year-old Oxfordshire patient suffering from multiple myeloma? Can he explain to her and to me what the rules are for such people who wish to travel to Scotland to use Velcade to prolong their lives? Is not it disgraceful that the millions of others who are not able to travel to Scotland must go without?

I say again that it is wrong to raise expectations about the effectiveness of a particular treatment. There is a whole series of pressures on the national health service. Of the 26 cancer drugs on which NICE has issued final appraisal determinations, it has recommended the use of 25. Those are difficult decisions. Only a couple of weeks ago, in the Opposition day debate, there was support from the hon. Gentleman’s Front Bench for NICE’s independent role in taking such difficult decisions—

If the hon. Gentleman is telling me that he knows more than NICE, and that he has more expertise and evidence, I do not believe him. For residents of England, the rules in relation to NICE apply, and the primary care trust of the individual concerned would have to make any decisions about whether to fund a particular treatment. That is the position, and it remains the position.

An expert hospital consultant has written to my hon. Friend the Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) saying that she does not know how she will face patients if the Velcade decision stands, because she will have to tell them that there is a treatment which in her view is effective and would help to prolong their lives, but which is not available in this country although it is available in other European countries.

I accept what the Minister says about the independence of NICE, but NICE is answering the question that the Government have asked it. What is different about the process here? Why are other European countries coming up with the answer that Velcade is both clinically effective and cost-effective? Why, when we asked NICE the question, did it decide that that was not the case? Has the Minister considered how this is handled in other countries, and whether we can learn from them?

I believe that it would be irresponsible for someone in my position to build expectations in people that they can safely have access to every drug that comes along. The responsible course is to arrange an independent appraisal process—as we did with NICE—that balances clinical effectiveness with cost-effectiveness.

I see reports week after week about every new wonder drug that comes on to the market; no doubt the hon. Gentleman does as well. It is simply not right to jump on the bandwagon for political purposes whenever a new drug comes along. A broader, more balanced view must be taken of whether treatments are effective or not. We must give a clear line to the public and not raise false expectations. That is what NICE has been seeking to do and Opposition parties have supported it before. I believe that it is when decisions are difficult that we owe NICE the most support, and all parties in the House should provide that support at this time.

My father-in-law died of myeloma some years ago. It is a dreadful disease from which at least 20,000 people in the United Kingdom currently suffer—30 or so in each parliamentary constituency. Should we not back treatments such as Velcade? If no one had backed insulin two generations ago, people would still be dying of diabetes in great numbers rather than leading longer and more fulfilling lives. We really must do more to turn incurable, dreadful diseases such as myeloma into chronic illnesses. I agree that we should not jump on bandwagons, but we should show faith, provide support and produce the necessary resources to give hope to thousands of families in the United Kingdom.

It is important to keep such matters under review, but, as my hon. Friend will know, the Government have made huge progress in the treatment of patients suffering from cancer across the board, in terms of both access to treatment and the treatments available. As I have said, we do fund those treatments. Of the 26 cancer drugs referred to NICE, 25 have been approved. That clearly shows that NICE is helping people in need to obtain treatments.

I heard what my hon. Friend said about his personal experience of a family member with this condition. It is an awful condition—I do not deny that—but I should point out that every new treatment that comes along is not necessarily the best option. We must see the position in the round and ensure that funds go into improving services across the board, rather than simply paying for every new treatment that comes on the market.

On 27 September, Janice, Jacky and Marie—the “Velcade Three”—handed this letter to the Secretary of State. They have not received a reply. Why not?

I can tell the hon. Gentleman that they have received a reply. The Secretary of State wrote to the individuals concerned last week, explaining precisely the process that NICE has been through. That reply has been sent and was dated 23 October. [Interruption.] It is important—without, as I have said, raising the temperature for political purposes—to offer NICE some support at the time of this difficult decision.

The Minister will recall that I raised the issue with the primary care trust in spring this year on behalf of one of my constituents, as other Members have on behalf of their constituents.

May I suggest a way forward? Leaving it to the manufacturer and others simply to appeal to NICE is only one solution; a better one would be to recognise that what NICE said last week was that it had insufficient evidence to demonstrate cost-effectiveness. If the Department is willing to talk to Johnson & Johnson, the manufacturer, it ought to be possible to find a way forward that allows patients to receive the drug for a future period, so that definitive evidence of its cost-effectiveness can be determined. Will the Minister and the Department get together with Johnson & Johnson to do precisely that? NICE does not have the power to question the price given to it by the manufacturer.

I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but we need to be extremely careful about the points that we make on these matters. A couple of weeks ago, he was asked by one of his colleagues about Alzheimer’s drugs and he said:

“Frankly, it is my opinion that in an independent national health service such decisions must be made independently”.—[Official Report, 11 October 2006, Vol. 450, c. 307.]

I would view that as an endorsement of the NICE process, where people who are expert in the conditions take the decisions. The hon. Gentleman does not—[Interruption.]

The hon. Gentleman does not have a medical background and I do not have one. Yet when asked on television on Sunday whether he would allow the drug to be prescribed and paid for if he were Health Secretary, he said that he would—a direct contradiction of what he said in the House just a couple of weeks ago. There is a need for some consistency in this argument. Patients need consistency and they do not want mixed messages or double standards simply because it is politically convenient to get off the front pages of the newspapers, as the hon. Gentleman—

Charging and Prescriptions

The Government published on 17 October their response to the recent review of NHS charges by the Health Committee, which set out our plans for a review of prescription charges and exemptions. We will report the outcome of the review to Parliament before the 2007 summer recess.

Although I welcome the forthcoming review—the present system of prescription charges is quite arbitrary and the list of exemptions for asthma, for example, was compiled in 1968 and despite vast improvements in medical science has not changed since—will the Minister give an undertaking that the review of prescription charges will be transparent and that its findings will be published for all to see?

I can give the hon. Lady that commitment. She makes a reasonable point and I accept that the costs for people who need repeat prescriptions can be extremely high. In response to the Health Committee, chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Rother Valley (Mr. Barron), we said last week that we would introduce a monthly direct debit system for patients who have a pre-payment certificate, costing £7.95 a month. That is £2 a week and is an improvement, but I recognise that we have further to go. The hon. Lady is right to say that it is hard to see the logic on which the list of exemptions is based and any review should look into it further. Any changes should be cost-neutral to the NHS overall, but I acknowledge her point.

It is not just a matter of being cost-neutral; can the Minister assure us that the proposals will be evidence-based?

My right hon. Friend knows that the Department of Health specialises in precisely that sort of rigour and I am sure that it will be followed in this particular instance.

Suffolk PCT

3. What steps she is taking to ensure that more health services are delivered in the community in the Suffolk Primary Care Trust area. (95962)

Last week, we announced a new project to shift ear, nose and throat services in Ipswich closer to people’s homes. A senior audiologist will run a clinic three times a month from a town centre GP practice with good public transport access and parking. That will mean that far more ENT patients will not need to go to hospital for their treatment, which I believe will be welcomed as part of a much broader programme to shift services closer to people’s homes.

Does my right hon. Friend agree that care closer to home projects such as the primary care audiology clinic established in a GP centre in my constituency offer patients better health care, make better use of resources and should allay people’s concerns about whether changes in acute hospital set-ups are matched by the introduction of community-based health services?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Partly thanks to advances in medical practice and modern medical technology, it is now possible to give patients care in a local GP surgery, health centre or, indeed, in their own homes, which could until recently be provided only within an acute hospital. What we found in the huge public engagement that led up to the “Our health, our care, our say” White Paper in January was that where it is safe and right, people prefer treatment to be given to them in their GP surgeries or, if possible, in their own homes.

Does the Secretary of State think that there is a greater likelihood of an increase in spending and better health service provision in an area such as Ipswich, represented by a Labour MP, than in an area such as North Wiltshire?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely wrong. There is more money going into the NHS in every part of the country than ever before—funding that was of course made possible by an increase in national insurance contributions, which the hon. Gentleman and his party opposed. In deciding how much money should be allocated to each local primary care trust, we take into account the age of the population, especially the proportion aged 65 or older, and the burden of disease, including the fact that in some communities life expectancy is far lower and the death rate from, for instance, cancer and heart disease is far higher. We believe in fair funding; it is a pity that the hon. Gentleman does not seem to do so.

It is clear that in Suffolk, as elsewhere, community services are being run down. The number of district nurses has fallen by 15 per cent. since 1997 and we need at least a third more podiatrists, instead of the present savage cuts. At the same time, acute services are being cut in Ipswich and, across the country, 81 community hospitals are under threat, including Walnut Tree, Hartismere and Aldeburgh in Suffolk. However, the Royal College of Nursing said that 71 per cent. of newly qualified nurses cannot find jobs—nurses who were recruited and trained at vast expense to the taxpayer on the basis of Labour’s cack-handed work force planning. How does the Secretary of State expect to build up the delivery of health services in the community when she is overseeing cuts in district nurses, specialist nurses such as those caring for people with Parkinson’s disease, community hospitals—

The hon. Gentleman referred to services in Suffolk. I find it extraordinary that he did not refer to the fact that the NHS is investing nearly £1.5 million in Felixstowe to turn an old general hospital into a modern community hospital, with a day-treatment centre, 16 in-patient beds and a range of clinics and services that will provide better care for people in that part of Suffolk. I am surprised that he did not mention the investment of £600,000 in the Mount Farm surgery in Bury St. Edmunds. I am surprised that he did not mention Bluebird Lodge and Ravenswood, which opened in April this year, or the fact that Suffolk PCT, which is reviewing community services, has £3 million of revenue and more than £2 million of capital to invest in other community services and buildings. It would be absurd to say that a pattern of community and cottage hospitals that were built—

Hull PCT

4. What plans her Department has to deliver more health services in the community in the Hull Primary Care Trust area. (95963)

I am glad to say that, following the strategy of moving services into the community, we have recently announced a dermatology service in Hull, which is one of the 30 care closer to home demonstration sites that we announced last week. It will make care more convenient for patients in my hon. Friend’s constituency.

I very much welcome the move of the NHS into the community, but I am concerned about the delay in receiving that good quality community facility in Orchard Park, which is one of the most deprived wards in my constituency. Will my right hon. Friend look into the delays that have been caused by Hull city council dragging its feet on planning permission?

I very much understand my hon. Friend’s concern about the delays in the Orchard Park scheme. My understanding is that there were changes to the design and the site that have caused some delays. I am told that the local NHS is now finalising its discussions with Hull city council and they should close the agreement for the scheme in a matter of weeks. It will then go ahead along with the other LIFT—local improvement finance trust—schemes in Hull that are so significantly improving local health care for my hon. Friend’s constituents.

Health Inequalities

Last year’s status report on health inequalities shows progress in some areas, notably in terms of child poverty and housing quality. The inequalities in deaths from coronary heart disease, stroke and cancer have also been reduced. Although life expectancy is improving for all groups and infant mortality is at an historically low level, the long-term trend in widening health inequalities has continued. That suggests that there is more work to be done.

I am glad to say that that has not been the pattern in Slough. Health inequalities, both in my constituency and between it and the surrounding areas, have narrowed, but the biggest killer remains coronary heart disease—whose primary cause is poverty—followed by diabetes, smoking and obesity. Those are the biggest predictors of early death. Will my hon. Friend assure me that tackling those factors in the poorest areas will be a high priority for the Government?

I very much want to take this opportunity to congratulate all those in Slough’s local authority and health services on their efforts to reduce health inequalities. For example, some fantastic work has been done on testing for diabetes in the south Asian communities. However, I agree that more has to be done, and that is why health inequality targets will be mandatory in the local area agreements from next year.

St. Albans is nowhere near Hull, but the issue is the same. I have written to the Secretary of State about the inequalities in provision that prevent equality in health outcomes in my constituency, where district nurses are in short supply. They seem to have to beg, borrow or even steal supplies to treat patients. [Hon. Members: “Steal?”] I use the word in a general sense. I know that the right hon. Lady has received my letter. Will the Minister ensure that my constituency gets the right amount of funding to enable the right amount of health care to be delivered to those patients who are suffering under the present system?

I hope that everyone heard that plea for more funding for the NHS. I cannot comment on the hon. Lady’s letter as I have not seen it, but more health professionals are working in the community than ever before. The inroads on health inequalities that we are achieving are due to the fact that we are working on prevention as well as just treatment. Moreover, there is more help in the community available for those who have suffered heart attacks or cancer. Those who plan health services must look closely at what works and what does not. There are plenty of good examples around the country, and I urge the hon. Lady to come and see how that planning can be done well.

When this Question Time is over, will the Minister look at the indices of health deprivation and inequality in the borough of Thurrock? I remind her that I advised against abolishing the Thurrock PCT. Contrary to my wishes, it was abolished and merged with something else, even though the Government planned widespread growth in my area. The inequalities in single-practice GPs, and their age profile, need to be addressed by the urban development corporation and the Government. The new PCT is not sufficient for purpose: it is unable to address the inequalities in my constituency today, or the ones that will come about unless my hon. Friend intervenes.

I want to say two things to my hon. Friend. First, I accept that the reorganisation of the PCTs may not have been everyone’s desired outcome, but we have made sure that dealing with health inequalities is an essential part of their role and responsibility when it comes to commissioning services to meet the local population’s needs. Therefore, every PCT, regardless of shape, must look at where the health inequalities are in its area and make sure that it delivers appropriately.

Secondly, we are devoting more attention to dealing with the different determinants that affect people’s life chances and health. Our work with local authorities is very important in that respect, as are the mandatory targets for health inequalities in local area agreements. The forthcoming White Paper will ensure that there is a good working partnership with local communities in the delivery of health. However, I will look at what my hon. Friend has said and get back to him.

Does the Minister accept that the health indices are a broad measure of difficulties, but that rural areas face particular problems? In those areas, the indices do not point out the inequalities and poverty that exist. In her drive to ensure that GPs are able to provide better services for their communities through undertaking more diagnostic services, will she ensure that those in rural areas are given additional funding? That is needed, because it costs more to take such services into rural areas than into towns and cities.

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Based on disease, it is clear that in some parts of the country greater numbers of people suffer from cancer, heart disease and so forth, and we have to address that. We also have to recognise issues around older populations and access to services, which is why I ask the hon. Gentleman to join us in continuing to make the case for services outside hospitals, such as the use of mobile units where people actually live, rather than expecting them to go to a building that, with the best will in the world, does not necessarily serve their interests. That is also why we have improved opportunities for nurses to do many of the tasks that, 20 years ago, could be done only by GPs.

I invite my hon. Friend to consider how better partnership working might improve our severe health inequalities in Liverpool. Does she know that last month, in the very same week that the NHS announced its welcome stroke care pathway, Lib Dem-led Liverpool city council announced the proposed closure of one of the two venues from which the pathway was to be run, dispersing the staff who had just been trained to run it? I invite her to give the NHS the strongest possible encouragement to continue with its excellent work, which seems to be one of the few ways in which we can make a serious effort against health inequalities in Liverpool.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that information. There is no doubt that stroke and conditions such as diabetes and coronary disease are among the biggest diseases facing the NHS. The issue is not just about helping people so that we can prevent them from acquiring those diseases, but about giving them support to allow them to live longer once the disease has become part of their life. Although it is difficult for me to comment in depth, I suggest that the Lib Dem council has taken a rather short-sighted approach in respect of the unit.

If the Minister truly believes that those who suffer from cancer should have an equal chance wherever they live, will she explain to the Parliament of the United Kingdom why those who live in Scotland seem to stand a better chance than those who live in England?

It was a decision that Parliament made when we decided to devolve different powers to Scotland. In fact, we have the shortest waiting times on record and we are working to reach our 18-week target. Fewer people are dying from cancer, coronary heart disease and stroke than ever before—[Interruption.]

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

We want the sort of services that meet people’s needs, which currently may not be met. That means re-evaluation of services run in hospitals, to see where better they might be provided, so that we can make sure that everybody, regardless of where they live, has access to a good service.

Eight people in the UK die every day from mesothelioma—an asbestos-related cancer contracted predominantly by poorer working-class people who were exposed to asbestos in their workplace. One of the best ways to address inequalities in the health service is to treat those people, so when will the Minister put her weight behind prescribing the drug Alimta, which is the only effective treatment for mesothelioma, so that it is freely available on the NHS to those people who need it?

At this point, all I can say to my hon. Friend is that I am sure that NICE will listen to representations from people on the advanced case list, but as the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham), said earlier, we have to have an independent approach to the licensing of drugs and to guidance for the NHS. However, I appreciate my hon. Friend’s points, and if he would like to make representations to NICE on behalf of his constituents, I am sure that they will be listened to.

When Health Ministers, their officials and the Labour party chairman pore over the NHS heat map that they have created to put Conservative and Liberal Democrat areas out into the cold, and when they divert health funding away from the constituencies of their political opponents, what account is taken of the likely impact on deteriorating health inequalities in those parts of our country where there is no immediate prospect of party political advantage for Labour?

Order. It is becoming a habit on the Opposition Front Bench to shout down the Minister when she replies. I will not tolerate that. The Minister is entitled and expected to reply.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

I have been in a number of debates with members of the Opposition Front Bench and on many occasions I have heard them say that they understand and appreciate that there are different health inequalities—at least that is what they purport to think in those debates. The fact is that there are inequalities in life expectancy, and higher rates of cancer and heart disease in some parts of the country than in others, and within areas. That is why my hon. Friend the Member for Slough (Fiona Mactaggart) is right to raise her point about her needs in terms of the wider health prospects for people living in Berkshire. The Conservatives’ approach to funding is—

Cancer Care (Hendon)

6. What progress has been made in improving care for cancer patients in Hendon; and if she will make a statement. (95965)

As in England as a whole, cancer patients in Hendon are treated faster than ever before. At the Royal Free Hampstead NHS Trust, where most cancer patients in Hendon are treated, 100 per cent. of patients are seen by a cancer specialist within two weeks of GP referral and receive treatment within two months.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend would agree that that record would not have been achieved without the setting of targets. Will she commend the new out-patients’ oncology department at the Royal Free, which has state-of-the-art facilities? Will she also look at ensuring that patients who go to Barnet hospital who are in need of tertiary care are referred to the Royal Free, rather than Mount Vernon hospital as at present? That would enable them to take advantage of the excellent record at the Royal Free and would mean that they could have treatment closer to home, using transport links rather more effectively.

My hon. Friend is quite right to point to the advances that have been made in terms of the extra investment that has gone into cancer treatment, and the increased number of cancer consultants and clinical nurse specialists. That has made a real difference to the outcomes for cancer patients. Of course, the cancer networks look at the referral patterns and I shall certainly make sure that the cancer network that oversees his area is aware of the points that he has made.

Is it still intended to move the Mount Vernon cancer centre, which also serves the people of Hendon, to central Hertfordshire, as promised at the last election, or is it the case, as the local health trust now says, that it is precluded from including a cancer centre in the proposed new hospital in central Hertfordshire for financial reasons, if indeed such a hospital is ever to go ahead? Will the Minister clarify that?

The East of England strategic health authority is reviewing acute hospital services in the east of England and the needs of cancer patients will, of course, be taken into account in that review. Any reconfiguration of cancer services will be in line with the NICE guidelines for improving outcomes, which are designed to improve the overall quality of care for cancer patients.

Sexual Health Unit

7. What steps her Department's sexual health unit is taking to promote sexual health awareness and education in schools. (95966)

We are fully committed to ensuring that all young people receive high quality personal, social and health education. We have made sex and relationships education a mandatory requirement of the new healthy schools standard, which 80 per cent. of schools are working towards. That is a voluntary programme. We have continued to fund a PSHE certificate for teachers and nurses to improve the quality of delivery, and we have announced the creation of a new PSHE subject association in line with other curriculum subjects in order to raise the status of sex and relationships education.

Will the Minister consider adopting the proposals outlined in the recent Institute for Public Policy Research report by Julia Margo, which recommends the teaching of sexual health and education at primary school, before children reach secondary school level, as a way of dealing with the rise in the number of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections?

I have not seen the IPPR report yet, so I cannot commit myself to it, but it is important that we are able to have a mature debate about sex and relationships education. That education has to be age-appropriate, but it is part and parcel of how we support young people as they grow up so that they can make informed decisions at appropriate points in their lives and be confident adults. [Interruption.] I do not understand the shouting and sniggering that is coming from the Opposition Benches.

There has clearly been a wish from parents to have more support. My colleagues in the Department for Education and Skills are looking at how they can support parents in having the right conversations with their children at the right time, because that is where some of the support needs to be directed.

The Minister will be aware of the report on her Department’s website that shows a clear correlation between educational qualifications and the method of contraception used. For example, a woman with no qualifications is four times as likely to be sterilised as a woman with a degree, and a woman with a degree is three times more likely to use condoms than a woman with no qualifications. Does that not signal to the Minister that we are getting PSHE badly wrong? We need more information earlier, and it would be better to have specialist subject teachers to deliver that part of the curriculum, rather than geography or maths teachers.

As I said earlier, we think that part of the way in which quality will be raised will be through the PSHE certificate for teachers and nurses, which will increase their confidence in delivering the subject. However, there are good examples of schools that are working in partnership with others—both inside and outside the school—to deliver the sort of sexual health services that young people require. We need to make sure that appropriate information is given, although that can be delivered by a number of different individuals and organisations. Young people certainly complain about the patchy nature of PSHE. As they grow into young adults, clearly the process must be continued with good advice about the range of contraceptives available that NICE supports the use of, and the promotion of by our GPs.

Local Involvement Networks

8. How patient and public involvement will be improved by replacing PPI forums with local involvement networks. (95967)

Local involvement networks will provide flexible ways for a much larger number of people to engage with their local health, as well as social care, organisations to help to shape services and priorities in ways that best suit communities and the people in them.

Would the Minister be interested to hear about the good work that is taking place between Croydon’s PPI and the Mayday trust? For example, there was an unannounced visit last week to eight wards and recommendations were made on both the quality of fare and patient care. Such lay-visiting puts as its first question, “Would I like my relative or myself to be in these conditions in the hospital?”, but surely that will not be available under the new and more formalised local involvement networks.

I am certainly aware of the good PPI work that goes on in the hon. Gentleman’s area. However, when we consulted on the future of patient forums and PPI, many of the forums told us that some of their inspection work was duplicated by the Healthcare Commission. We will want LINks to examine the services provided in a specific area by following the patient pathway, in a sense, rather than by being attached to individual buildings and simply inspecting those. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will expect the Healthcare Commission to involve LINks when it carries out inspections, but we do not want the duplication of inspection activities that exists at the moment.

Given the many changes facing the national health service, does my right hon. Friend agree that we need a stronger and more effective system of patient and public involvement than that which we have had thus far? She will have the opportunity to meet forum members from all over the country at a meeting next Monday in the House, which I am sure will be most productive. Does she acknowledge that the transition from the existing system to LINks must be sensitively handled so that we can maintain the involvement of volunteers and continuity, and deal with all the changes and the comments about them that will be required? Does she accept as well—

I certainly agree, and I congratulate my hon. Friend on all the work that he does on the all-party group to promote patient and public involvement. Patient forums have done an excellent job and we do not want to lose the expertise that has been built up. I will examine the ways in which we can work with local authorities, which will handle the contracts for the local involvement networks, to ensure that they are able to bring existing members into the new system. However, one advantage of the new system is that LINks will examine not only health services, but social services, so they will be able to consider some of the joint commissioning between the two and work closely with some of the overview and scrutiny committees. Such a system will provide a better overview of access to local services. It will ensure that local services are of a high quality and give people the right to challenge them if they are not.

Will the Minister explain how the Department of Health can issue a paper entitled “Patient and Public Involvement in Commissioning”, suggesting that patient petitions be used in primary care trusts, in which there is not a single mention of the local involvement networks that the Government established to provide precisely that sort of communication?

We have made connections between local involvement networks and the possibility of petitions. We have said that local involvement networks can, through the overview and scrutiny committees, approach PCTs and ask for a response within 20 days if there are complaints about a service. LINks will be able to work with PCTs, and can ask them why they have made particular priorities in an area, whether they are adequately assessing local health need, and whether they are prioritising spending to effect any changes needed. They will be able to challenge service delivery and involve a much wider group of people than are currently involved in patient forums. As I have said, we are building on the good work that has already been done by patient forums, but are involving more people and giving them greater powers.

My right hon. Friend will recall her visit to Leicester, during which she paid tribute to the work of a Leicester PPI forum. She will know that it was through the work of that PPI forum, in partnership with the local health authority, that the incidence of MRSA was discovered. How can we be reassured that the issue raised by the hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) will be addressed? I take the Minister’s point about duplication, but we need to be reassured that the same rights that were available to the previous forums will be available to her new commission.

I certainly pay tribute to the members of the patient forums in the constituency of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Keith Vaz); their enthusiasm was boundless and their dedication and commitment to ensuring good services was plain for all to see. However, I stress again that it is important that there should be no duplication of the work of the Healthcare Commission and the Commission for Social Care Inspection. We want to give LINks the opportunity to consult local people if there have been a lot of complaints to the patient advice and liaison services, or the independent complaints and advocacy service, about local services. If it is believed that there is a particular problem, LINks can refer it to the PCT and, if necessary, onward through the overview and scrutiny committees to the appropriate regulators. We would expect the regulators to involve LINks in their inspection processes but, as I say, we do not want duplication of a process, which is what happens at the moment.

I put it to the Minister that she totally misunderstands the central point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) and others. We all agree that, at a time of massive change in the NHS, a strong patient voice is required. However, given that LINks will not have the powers that patient forums had to monitor and inspect the NHS and access information, and given that PCTs will be obliged to listen to the recommendations of LINks, but will not necessarily be obliged act on them, is the Minister not at least a little concerned that LINks will turn out to be nothing more than toothless talking shops?

LINks certainly will not be toothless talking shops. When we carried out our consultation, it was clear that some people felt that there was duplication, and that their inspections were not taken that seriously. We want to empower LINks to gather people’s views about local services and to hold to account primary care trusts and local authorities for the way in which they assess local need and commission services. I know that the Opposition would reinstate a top-down approach—

Diagnostic Testing

9. What the average waiting time was for patients requiring diagnostic tests in England in the latest period for which figures are available. (95968)

The average waiting time for the 15 key diagnostic tests on which we collect monthly data was five and a half weeks for patients waiting at the end of August—down from seven weeks in January, when the NHS first started collecting diagnostic data.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. Everyone connected with Staffordshire general hospital has performed magnificently in the past couple of years to reduce long waits for diagnostic tests such as MRI scans. However, managers have told me that there is still an enormous challenge if they are to meet the Government’s ambitious target for 2008 of a maximum wait of 18 weeks from GP surgery to operating theatre. Will my hon. Friend tell me—and, through me, those managers—about the support available over the next 12 months to make sure that waits for diagnostic tests are not the weak point in that very ambitious target?

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I, too, pay tribute to the staff of Staffordshire hospital, who have worked to make the health service the high-quality service that the people of Stafford have the right to expect. As for the specific question of imaging scans, from April 2006, people who do not receive an appointment within 20 weeks are offered the choice of a scan from another provider within that period. We are driving the system to ensure that there is a guaranteed minimum standard. The great prize for the national health service is the historic 18-week target from the door of the GP surgery to the door of the operating theatre. The achievement of that target would be the greatest manifestation of a modern health service, and it would effectively mean the ending of waiting lists in the NHS. We will ensure that our staff receive all the necessary support to enable us to deliver that historic goal.

Is the Minister concerned that the independent orthopaedic treatment centre in my constituency is not conducting diagnostic tests or, indeed, any tests on people who live on their own or do not have a telephone? That is clear discrimination against the single elderly and the poor, and it is a double whammy because, instead of being treated in Banbury, as in the past, the single elderly and people without telephones, who tend to be poorer members of the community, have to go to Oxford. That is disgraceful cherry-picking by those independent treatment centres, and the Minister and the Government should be ashamed.

If the health service was entirely independent I would not be able to intervene. However, that is not the case, so I shall certainly look into the concerns that the hon. Gentleman has raised, speak to the relevant health managers and strategic health authority, and write to him with a response.

Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale PCT

10. What estimate she has made of the effect of the present funding formula on services provided by Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale primary care trust. (95969)

In 2003, following a review by the independent advisory committee, we introduced a fairer funding formula to ensure that primary care trusts can commission similar levels of health services for populations in similar need. As a result, Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale PCT has benefited from an increase in funding of £60 million or about 20 per cent. over 2006-07 and 2007-08.

I welcome that answer, precisely because that extra money will be used to help to improve mortality rates in my Burnley constituency, which, regrettably, are worse than the national average across the board. Can my right hon. Friend guarantee that the allocation of funding will always be based on health need?

I can certainly give my hon. Friend an assurance that we will continue to use a fair funding formula that takes into account the fact that different populations in different parts of the country have different health needs, whether that results from a higher proportion of elderly people or from a concentration of communities with a much higher risk of cancer, heart disease, circulatory and other diseases as, indeed, is the case in her constituency, where the average life expectancy is about two and a half years less than the English average, and about five years less than, to take a random example, the average for South Cambridgeshire.

What estimate has the Minister made of the increased costs of the reconfiguration that resulted in the downgrading of Burnley general hospital and Rochdale infirmary, and what is the impact on funding formulae? One of my constituents suffered an accident in Whitworth on Saturday night and was collected by an ambulance that came from Preston. How many extra ambulances are needed to serve those communities?

These matters must be taken into account by the primary care trust and by the hospitals. As the hon. Gentleman indicates, there has been a review of emergency and acute services in east Lancashire, which I believe is under debate by the overview and scrutiny committee. He will understand that I believe that such decisions, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Kitty Ussher) has been to see me with some of her constituents, should ideally be made locally. But the overview and scrutiny committee has an important role to play in that, and it would be inappropriate for me to comment further at this stage.

May I tell my right hon. Friend that a recent consultation in my constituency in Rossendale showed a clear demand for the retention of community health provision in the Rossendale valley, and that before the end of the year the East Lancashire Hospitals NHS Trust, the PCT and Rossendale borough council will be submitting a bid for funding to establish a health campus in the Rossendale valley? I hope that, when that arrives on her desk, she will give it serious consideration.

My hon. Friend refers to an extremely exciting proposal for a health campus. As she knows, the funding that has been made available by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor is now almost entirely devolved to primary care trusts, following the much fairer funding formula. It will therefore be for the local primary care trust and the strategic health authority in the north-west to decide whether, as she hopes, that project should be a priority for further funding.


11. What consultations the Government undertake with users of the health service before reforms are implemented. (95970)

The Government are committed to ensuring that there is a strong voice for the people who use the NHS, as well as for those who work in it. That is why patients and the public, as well as all other stakeholders, are involved in and consulted on changes to the health service.

I am grateful for that response, and I am grateful to Lord Warner for meeting two Longridge GPs and Councillor David Smith from Longridge last night, who was speaking up on behalf of the people of Longridge. During the changeovers with the primary care trusts, Longridge was moved from Preston into East Lancashire. Anybody who knows the area knows that Longridge people look towards Preston for all their services. That is where all the bus routes go. Already patients are being told that for diabetes care they need to travel many miles out of their way into east Lancashire. Lord Warner said that he would investigate and I look forward to that, but may we re-examine the processes in the consultation so that local people are listened to effectively?

I am aware of the meeting that took place. I gather that it was quite constructive, and that in the course of it there was even an exchange of Lancashire cheese. The issues that the hon. Gentleman mentions can be difficult. One reason for changing the boundaries to that of the local authority was to make them coterminous with the health service to ensure that some of the shared services between local government and health services could be delivered more effectively. For public health purposes, there can also be good reasons for coterminosity. However, I understand that there are some issues in relation to referrals and that Lord Warner has agreed to consider those and discuss them with the strategic health authority.

If consultations in Bedfordshire reveal anger and a rejection of the likely downgrading of Bedford hospital, annoyance at the unequal funding of rural and semi-rural areas, and an immediate demand to have fitted in the hospital an MRI scanner, which has been bought and paid for but which is gathering dust in a warehouse, will anyone on the Front Bench be listening?

May I reassure the hon. Gentleman that not only has there been extra funding in his area, but there have been increases in staff numbers and equipment? When there are changes to services, a clear pattern must be followed. There is local consultation and the matter can be referred to the overview and scrutiny committee, so that if there are issues about inadequate consultation or detriment to services, those can be referred to the Secretary of State. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will encourage his constituents to participate in consultation processes.

Child Obesity

Food retailers have a vital role to play in tackling obesity, and I think that they are beginning to make a difference through reducing the amount of fat and sugar in processed food, providing clear front-of-pack labelling and supporting their customers to make healthy choices. We are seeing more evidence that where retailers take a proactive approach to healthy eating, it can actually improve their profit margins. I suggest that that is a win-win situation.

I recently presented IT equipment to schools in my constituency as part of the Tesco computers for schools initiative, and it occurred to me that much of the money that families spend to obtain the vouchers goes on crisps, sweets and chocolate, which make children obese. I suggested to Tesco that it should amend its scheme by excluding such products from the eligible spend for the vouchers or by giving double points for fruit and vegetables. Will my hon. Friend support that idea? Does she agree that it is a great opportunity for Tesco, Britain’s leading food retailer, to send a powerful message and to lead the way in the fight against childhood obesity?

It is a good idea for retailers, both Tesco and others, to reward healthy purchasing. There are many ways in which retailers can work to support their customers. I am happy to raise the matter with the retailers, whom I meet regularly. I congratulate my hon. Friend on his initiative.

Management Consultants

13. How much was spent by the NHS on management consultants in the last year for which figures are available. (95972)

The Department does not collect information from NHS organisations that would allow an analysis of the cost of management consultants.

Perhaps I can help. Advice was given at the Mesothelioma UK patients and carers conference in Manchester on 5 October that £179 million was spent on management consultants. How can I explain that to my constituents who are waiting for Alimta, which will cost £5 million a year?

I am sure that my hon. Friend agrees that there is a role for management consultants, when they add value to the decisions and issues that managers in the national health service must address. We hope and expect managers to exercise proper judgment in deciding when to use management consultants. If management consultants add value and lead to an improvement in patient care, Government and Opposition Members would say that they have an important role to play. However, we also accept that good judgment must be exercised when consultants are used.

Points of Order

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Although you have previously explained to the House that you are not necessarily allowed to listen to Radio 4 in the mornings in Speaker’s House, may I draw your attention to the fact that this morning there was clear Government spin that there would be a statement in the House on the serious issue of immigration from Romania and Bulgaria into this country, in light of their accession to the European Union on 1 January 2007? You will be aware that there has been only a written statement. Have you received a request from the Home Secretary to make a full statement from the Dispatch Box, which is what I believe is necessary?

I get the chance to watch Sky News, from which I understood that there would be a statement, and, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, it is a written statement. The right hon. Gentleman is an experienced Member of Parliament. I am not inviting him to do so, but if any hon. Member feels that a written statement is inadequate, there is nothing to stop a request being made to the Speaker as to whether an oral statement should be made or whether an urgent question should be tabled. That is not to say that such a request would be granted, but that facility is available to hon. Members.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I am extremely interested in what you have just said. An oral statement is necessary to allow the Minister in question to be cross-examined on the extent to which any of the matters that you have mentioned would infringe the existing rules of the European Union.

I will not be drawn into that. A facility is open to hon. Members, both Front Benchers and Back Benchers. The hon. Gentleman knows that, because he has often applied for an urgent question—sometimes he has been refused.

Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. After your very generous clarification of the position, would it be in order to make an oral request for such a process to take place?

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. This morning, I had the honour of welcoming 13 of my constituents on a tour of the House of Commons. As they are profoundly deaf or hard of hearing, they found it very difficult to do a fulfilling tour of the House of Commons because there are no facilities within the Palace for the hard of hearing or the visually impaired. Will any money be spent on improving that deficiency during the investments that we are making in the visitor centre, in trying to improve our constituents’ time in this House?

The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, especially for me, because as Chairman of the Commission I am involved in these works. We want to encourage as many visitors as possible. I will take up the matter with the Serjeant at Arms and other officials of the House, and I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising it.

My point of order was eloquently made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bracknell (Mr. Mackay).

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance on reports in The Times that my former employer, ITN, is to have its reporting from war zones restricted by the Ministry of Defence. Given the extreme difficulties in reporting from Iraq and Afghanistan without MOD co-operation, and the importance of the public being allowed access to ITN’s first-hand reporting, is it not appropriate that a Minister should come to the House of Commons to explain what lies behind this enormous decision, which looks very much like an attempt to punish a major news organisation for speaking the truth?

The hon. Gentleman is a new Member. The Speaker should not be drawn into such matters. However, the hon. Gentleman is entitled to table parliamentary questions about these important matters to MOD Ministers in order to seek both a written reply and, when the time comes, a reply in oral questions.

Drinking Vessels (Toughened Plastic)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to require that toughened plastic be used for drinking vessels in late night bars, public houses and clubs; and for connected purposes.

My Bill is an attempt to reduce the number of people who are seriously injured during alcohol-related violence. In a nutshell, it would enable local authorities to designate, if required, “drinking districts” in town and city centres where it would be mandatory for alcohol served after 11 pm to be served in plastic or toughened glass. I wish to make it clear from the start that my Bill would have a relatively narrow impact on selected licensed premises—namely, late-night venues in busy town and city centres. It is certainly not intended that it should have an impact on the many traditional stand-alone pubs and private members’ clubs in towns and rural communities that keep more traditional hours.

In Milton Keynes, we are only too aware of the dangers of glass bottles and glasses. In the early hours of Christmas morning 2004, a constituent of mine, Blake Golding, was the victim of a brutal attack while working as a doorman. At the age of 22, he was shockingly scarred for life while he went to the aid of a female colleague. The sad fact is that that horrendous incident could have been prevented had Blake’s attacker not had access to a glass bottle.

The terrifying truth is that bars and clubs have extremely dangerous weapons at arm’s reach. A glass or bottle is potentially lethal in anybody’s hands. On 14 June 2005, a campaign was set up by the Golding family. As a result, more than 18,000 people, including hundreds of police officers and bar managers, have signed a petition calling for a ban on glass drinking vessels in late-night clubs and bars. The success of the campaign is a testament to the determination of the Golding family and the support shown by the local press and institutions.

Unfortunately, the problem of annealed bottles and glasses being used as violent weapons has largely remained unaddressed. I am not the first to raise the issue on the Floor of the House, and I fear that if we do not make changes soon, I will not be the last. These are readily available weapons with the potential to kill or cause great harm, as Blake’s case demonstrates. Hon. Members may be surprised to learn that glass bottles and glasses are the most common weapons used in violent assaults in the United Kingdom. That is not unexpected when we consider how many drinks are served in glass containers each year. In the UK alone, more than 5.6 billion pints are served in bars, pubs and clubs, along with almost 6.8 million bottles of beer, 4.2 million bottles of alcopops and 313,000 bottles of wine. Research shows that there is a strong correlation between alcohol consumption and violent behaviour. A study by the Prime Minister’s strategy unit found that 1.2 million incidents of alcohol-induced violence are reported every year. The 2005 British crime survey points out that in 44 per cent. of all violent incidents reported, the victim described the assailant as being under the influence of alcohol at the time of the assault. Everyone is aware of the associated risks of glass drinking vessels. Unfortunately, it takes a tragic event such as that involving Blake to shock people into supporting a proposed change to the law.

I must take this opportunity to congratulate Bar Mee in Milton Keynes. It became the first bar in the city to serve drinks solely in safe plastic glasses and bottles, in an attempt to reduce the number of bottle attacks. I also praise the policy of Yates’s wine bars, which has already made the switch to using shatterproof plastic glass in all its establishments nationwide. It is our job to support such initiatives, and to make multilayered plastic bottles and glasses the norm in bars and clubs throughout the country which operate late at night and in the early hours of the morning.

Many other towns and cities across the United Kingdom are experiencing a rapid expansion of their night-time entertainment districts. Although many communities enjoy the economic benefits that that brings, unfortunately such expansion is often accompanied by an increase in crime and disorder owing to the concentration of pubs and clubs and the large amounts of alcohol that are consumed. In 2003 in Glasgow city centre, there were 313 serious assaults, 81 of which involved glass bottles, and similar statistics apply in any part of the country where a central drinking quarter has sprung up. In Glasgow, steps were taken to replace glass with plastic and that, combined with other measures taken by the police, has helped to result in a reduction in the number of serious injuries in the city centre.

Clearly, we have to accept that if someone really wants to act in a violent manner, a weapon will invariably be found. Although I do not believe for one second that this Bill will eradicate all violent behaviour, I do believe that, by reducing the number of weapons available to violent people, the Bill will make a major contribution to increasing public safety. If the glass used to attack Blake Golding in Milton Keynes had been multilayered plastic or polycarbonated glass, he would not have suffered the degree of injury that he did.

More than half of the reported incidents of alcohol-related violence result in some form of injury. In a fifth of those incidents, the perpetrator of the attack had a weapon that they had threatened to use—usually a glass or bottle. Steps have been taken across the country to reduce that, and I would like to praise the work of Cardiff council and Cardiff police for the dramatic 70 per cent. reduction in altercations involving glass bottles and glasses that they have produced through their proactive work in stopping people carrying glass drinking vessels on the streets of Cardiff.

I shall now turn to the need for the Bill. The Licensing Act 2003 does not allow licensing authorities to add a condition to a premises licence unless an application for review of the licence is made or, during the application process for a new or varied licence, a representation is made by a responsible authority such as the police or another interested party. With all premises licenses issued and valid indefinitely, the opportunity to consider whether a glass condition could be added to a licence now only arises if a review is sought or the licence is varied.

To use Milton Keynes as an example, Thames Valley police have been making representations where variations have been sought, and approximately a dozen premises now have the condition. But for existing unchanging premises, conditions can only be imposed if a review has been requested—for example, by the police as a responsible authority. There appears to be some difficulty in obtaining evidence against individual premises in city centre locations, particularly when incidents occur in the street. The local publicity that Blake Golding’s campaign received did lead to voluntary compliance by pubs and clubs being achieved, but management and ownership do change, and without a condition on the premises, licence enforcement is simply not possible.

The pepper-potting of premises with conditions alongside those without conditions in the city centre area also gives rise to problems, particularly in respect of external drinking areas, and such problems will, no doubt, increase with the implementation of the smoking ban next summer. Even where a premises is subject to a condition, it is easy to see how a situation can develop where people take glasses and bottles to use as weapons from tables outside adjacent premises where there is no restriction.

A typical drinking establishment found in many city and town centres usually operates as a

“high volume vertical drinking premises”

—a high turnover establishment where the vast majority of people are standing to drink, not sitting down. Although often not the fault of management, it is in these establishments that violence can erupt as young adults are encouraged to drink in a crowded environment. For that reason, local councils should have the power to establish, where necessary, “drinking districts” in which it would be mandatory for any licence holder serving alcohol after 11 pm to use multilayered plastic drinking vessels. Village and stand-alone town and city pubs not in a designated drinking district would not be forced to serve their local customers with plastic drinking vessels. However, the current laws would allow councils to place mandatory regulations on these premises, should the police deem their safety record poor.

Although the Bill’s scope is relatively narrow, it is clear that plastic bottles and glasses would allow for a safer drinking and social environment, lessen insurance premiums for pubs and clubs and provide a safer working environment for bar staff to operate in. However, these are just small benefits compared with the opportunity to save lives and to prevent serious injuries.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Mark Lancaster, Mr. Frank Field, Peter Bottomley, Andrew George, Dr. Brian Iddon, Mr. Peter Bone, Mr. Mike Hancock, Dr. Phyllis Starkey, Mr. Adam Holloway, Julie Morgan, Mr. Ben Wallace and Mr. David S. Borrow.

Drinking Vessels (Toughened Plastic)

Mr. Mark Lancaster accordingly presented a Bill to require that toughened plastic be used for drinking vessels in late night bars, public houses and clubs; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 November, and to be printed [Bill 231].


Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 83A(6) (Programme motions),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Police and Justice Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Order of 6th March 2006 (Police and Justice Bill (Programme)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall be taken at this day’s sitting in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

2. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.


Lords Amendments

Time for conclusion of proceedings

Nos. 36 and 81 to 85

6.30 p.m.

Nos. 1 and 71

8.30 p.m.

Nos. 5, 10 to 27, 42, 43, 46, 53, 78 to 80, 86, 93, 101, 110, 112, 2 to 4, 6 to 9, 28 to 35, 37 to 41, 44, 45, 47 to 52, 54 to 70, 72 to 77, 87 to 92, 94 to 100, 102 to 109, 111 and 113.

10.00 p.m.

Subsequent stages

3. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

4. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—[Huw Irranca-Davies.]

Question agreed to.

Orders of the Day

Police and Justice Bill

Lords amendments considered.

After Clause 46

Lords amendment: No. 36.

With this it will be convenient to take Lords amendments Nos. 81 to 85 and the Government motions to disagree thereto.

The adoption of these amendments by the other place was a bad day for international co-operation in the fight against crime. Today, we have the opportunity to put that right, and it is the last chance to do so. The amendments were proposed by misguided right hon. and hon. Opposition Members. Why? Because they believed that the amendments would somehow protect people accused of serious offences from facing justice abroad, rather than at home.

Leaving aside the whole question of whether Her Majesty’s Opposition should have allowed themselves to be so heavily influenced by blatantly inaccurate media reporting without checking their facts, my question is this: what is wrong with a provision on extradition that, when in government, they voted into law fully 17 years ago, when they implemented the European convention on extradition?

The question is not about extradition per se but about making a prima facie case to the courts. The United States requires a prima facie case to be made if it is to extradite someone here, but we do not require it to extradite someone there. That is the matter in question.

I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, which has been made several times in the Chamber and in another place. Hon. Friends and I have answered it in Committee and at the Dispatch Box. I repeat—I shall do so again later in my speech—that the hon. Gentleman is, frankly, wrong. The United States demands probable cause of us. We demand of it information sufficient for a magistrate to issue a warrant for arrest. That constitutes reasonable suspicion. Probable cause and reasonable suspicion have what we call rough parity. They are as close as it is possible to get, given that no two legal systems exactly match. We therefore have parity and reciprocity in the evidence required between the United States and us.

I am grateful to the Under-Secretary for giving way so early in her remarks, but her point needs immediate clarification before she misleads herself or the House. Does she accept that the 1973 treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom required mutual parity, albeit through different wording? We required a prima facie case and it required reasonable cause. Does she accept that the 2003 treaty does not contain parity and reciprocity, and that probable cause is not matched by information? Information is a different legal concept from probable cause, which is based on evidence.

I regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman does not appear to have listened to what I said. However, let me answer his two points clearly. I do not accept that the 1973 treaty delivered parity. There is no parity between a prima facie case and probable cause. I believe that there is rough parity—I repeat that no two legal systems are the same—between probable cause and reasonable suspicion. Before the Extradition Act 2003 was introduced, an imbalance existed but it was the opposite of what Conservative Members suggest.

The Under-Secretary may know that I sit part-time as a district judge, so I know as well as many our duty to do justice. If a UK citizen is before a court because the Americans are trying to extradite him or her, is not it our fundamental duty to say to the Americans, “You have to establish a prima facie case through evidence before we extradite”? Is not anything else a gross dereliction of duty to our UK citizens?

I disagree. It is our duty to do justice, and our extradition arrangements are about justice for victims and bringing the perpetrators of crime to justice. The purpose of the 2003 Act and the treaty is to ensure that justice is done in some serious cases—I am sure that I do not need to tell the hon. Gentleman that. We are dealing with a trusted partner and a legal system in a long-standing democracy, with which we have had a relationship for more than 100 years. We have operated under the 2003 Act for two years without experiencing any difficulty. We demand of the United States information sufficient for a magistrate to issue a warrant for arrest. An individual before the courts facing extradition has to go through due process, and has numerous opportunities to put their case to the courts. They are also covered by the European convention on human rights. It is important that we take that into account.

I do not ask the hon. Lady to accept anything that we say; I simply ask her to accept what her ministerial colleague, Baroness Scotland, said in another place on this point on 16 December 2003. She said that the test that we have to meet when we seek extradition to this country is

“a higher threshold than we ask of the United States, and I make no secret of that.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 16 December 2003; Vol. 655, c. 1063.]

Those were the precise words of the hon. Lady’s ministerial colleague in another place. Why does she continue to fly in the face of those words?

I have said to the House that there is no exact parity. There is rough parity. I reiterate that case, and no amount of insisting that there is a higher threshold or a lower threshold will change the fact that this is rough parity. It is as close as we can get, and we are satisfied—because we see it in operation—that it delivers justice.

I want to make a little more progress, then I will give way to other hon. Gentlemen and hon. Ladies.

The European convention on extradition enabled the UK to extradite without prima facie evidence. Since 1991, when it came into force, scores of people who were wanted for very serious offences have been extradited from this country without prima facie evidence. I have no doubt that the world, including this island, is a safer place because of that convention. In the same way, the UK has been able to bring people back here to face justice in our own courts. I salute those on the Opposition Benches who were members of the Government at that time for their foresight and common sense. Sadly, however, some of those same Members and others on those Benches thought that the decision to extend those provisions to our arrangements with the United States—a decision that the official Opposition did not oppose in 2003—should be reversed. Why? People have been extradited from here to the United States, and vice versa, for more than 100 years. We trust the United States’ system just as it trusts ours—it is as trustworthy as that of our neighbours in Europe—and its Bill of Rights safeguards defendants’ rights in its courts just as our convention on human rights does in ours. So, what could be the problem?

Is not the real difference between evidence on the one side and information on the other? Does not that mean that in the United States it is possible for someone to challenge the evidence on the substance of the case against them, in terms of whether it is believable and whether it could be negated—or, to use the American term, obliterated—by other evidence? In this country, however, that is not possible. That is an important difference, and the Minister should recognise that that is the difference that she is talking about.

I should like to go back to the question that I just asked. What could be the problem? Why do Opposition Members want the US not to be in this relationship with us? Could it be something to do with the new extradition treaty that our countries signed in 2003? That treaty was under discussion, by the way, before the terrible events of September 2001. The treaty was necessary to bring our extradition arrangements with the United States up to date, to enable us to co-operate with each other effectively, and to fight the ever-changing threats of 21st century crime.

The problem is that although many Conservative Members were tolerant and sympathetic to the Government when the provision was presented as something to do with terrorism, in the case of alleged white collar crime—[Hon. Members: “Ah!”] This concerns Labour Members’ constituents as well as ours, and they should listen carefully. Where the person has committed no crime in Britain, the prosecuting authorities are bringing their case, and the employer—a multinational—is quite happy, is it right that that person should be plucked away from their family for a very long time on a charge that we do not think will go anywhere?

I say to the right hon. Gentleman that fraud is not entitled to some kind of exemption. There is no such thing as a victimless crime. The victims of fraud have no choice about being victims, whereas the person who perpetrates fraud makes a choice. The victims of fraud often lose their savings and their pensions. The fact that people can subsequently be convicted does not restore to victims what they have lost. These are therefore very serious matters. The right hon. Gentleman will know that when the effects of a crime are judged to be primarily in another state, where the evidence and witnesses are based, our independent prosecutor system decides whether the prosecution should take place here or there. That decision is not made by politicians.

When the Minister says that there is reciprocity because information is evidence, does she agree that the key point is that information laid by the Americans cannot be contested by defendants on this side, whereas in America, as the hon. Member for Cambridge (David Howarth) correctly says, it is possible for our claims to be contested by defendants?

I have explained to the House that there is rough parity, and that in this context information is evidence.

For an individual for whom the courts are considering an extradition order, there is lengthy due process. Not only does the prosecutor consider the case but a certificate must be issued in the Home Office. The case goes to a district court, and it can be appealed to a higher court, the House of Lords and the European Court. Due process protects the rights of our citizens. If those citizens stand accused of serious crime, however, we should facilitate justice. That is what this Act and treaty are all about.

It is a little distressing to see the Minister trying to argue an unarguable case, which is probably not necessary. The plain fact is that we do not have reciprocity, and everybody knows that. I and many others like me are entirely in favour of fast-track extradition, which we have with many civilised countries in the world. I would be in favour of having that arrangement with the United States, but the problem lies with the fact that America will not and cannot sign up to that, as, constitutionally, it cannot do so. That is what has been argued, and I think that the Minister knows that very well. We therefore have an unequal system. The plain fact, however, is that that probably does not matter much. With great respect, that is where the Minister—

Order. It sounds to me as though the hon. and learned Gentleman is capable of making a speech on the subject. He seems to know a lot about it, but he is making an intervention.

I thank my hon. and learned Friend for his support on fast-track extradition. We will have to agree to disagree on the question of reciprocity. I think that it is reciprocity, and many others agree with that. However, my hon. and learned Friend gets to the crux of the matter. As I said, this is about justice. Under either system, and whatever level of evidence has been required, the United States has extradited more quickly to us than we have done to it.

One of the things that trouble me, and perhaps other Members, is the possibility of United Kingdom nationals who ought to be tried in the United Kingdom being extradited to America when there is a case that should be heard here. What discussions have the Minister and the Attorney-General had with the Americans to try to build on the co-operation that she mentioned earlier, and particularly to ensure that proper decisions are made about the correct forum? I am thinking mostly about the position of defendants from minority communities, as I am more concerned about them than I am about rich bankers.

I hope that I can satisfy my hon. Friend. The Attorney-General has opened discussions with his counterpart in the United States. He met the US Attorney General in Washington in September, and raised those issues then. Discussions are now under way between their respective officers on enhanced procedures for consultation between the UK and US prosecutors on such transnational cases. The proposed procedures envisage early consultation in any case in which it appears to a prosecutor in one country that there is a real possibility that a prosecutor in the other country may have an interest in prosecuting it. I can also tell my hon. Friend that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will be speaking to the US Attorney-General in the next few days on exactly these matters. We think that my hon. Friend’s point is important, and we are addressing it.

I think that I should make a little progress. I will certainly take more interventions after that.

If the Opposition amendments are not reversed, the new treaty—including all its new provisions to help British victims of crime—cannot be ratified. On 29 September the United States Senate gave its advice and consent to the treaty’s ratification, thus reaffirming what we have believed all along—that both sides signed the treaty in good faith, and for the mutual benefit and safety of our citizens. Now we must act too.

The Minister said that the treaty had been agreed in America. Does that mean that the American Senate has agreed to accept British courts’ rights to try people whom we are attempting to take back for the purposes of IRA terrorism cases?

My hon. Friend is right. There was an issue involving the Senate in that context. As my hon. Friend will know, we have given an undertaking not to pursue people covered by the Good Friday agreement who committed those crimes.

If my hon. Friend will bear with me for one moment, I will ensure that I give her an accurate answer.

The Senate’s advice and consent to the treaty was subject to a resolution relating to the situation in Northern Ireland, which is, I think, what my hon. Friend is asking me about. The United Kingdom Government have already stated, in September 2000, that they will no longer pursue the extradition of individuals who, if they were to return to Northern Ireland, would now be eligible for early release under the terms of the Good Friday agreement scheme, and who would, on making a successful application to the Sentence Review Commissioners, have little if any of their original sentences to serve.

The resolution to which the Senate’s consent to the treaty was subject is non-binding. It was intended to reassure senators than the treaty would be implemented in accordance with the US law and constitution. I hope that that deals with the point that my hon. Friend was making. As I said, on 29 September the US Senate gave its advice and consent to the ratification of the treaty, and now we must act too.

Let me pause to spell out what will change when the treaty comes into force. I ask for Members’ patience, because extradition is complex: the distorted simplifications in the media bear witness to that.

Will the Minister confirm that the US Senate has been told that there will be an amnesty for on-the-run terrorists?

I have already fully answered the question put by my hon. Friend the Member for Vauxhall (Kate Hoey) and what the hon. Gentleman has just said was not part of my answer.

The new treaty will define extraditable offences not with a fixed list of crimes, but by sentence threshold. Offences punishable in both countries by a year’s imprisonment or more will be extraditable, which is the dual criminality rule.

It is essential that we have the ability to go after suspects who have fled the UK. If they are wanted for a new offence, perhaps one not dreamed of in 1972 when the current treaty was signed—we need to reflect on how much crime, especially organised and serious crime, has changed since then—we must ensure that we have the tools to fight it.

The treaty will also allow the extradition of someone who is already serving a prison sentence—a measure called temporary surrender, which is incredibly important, because with increased ease of travel, criminals, just like the law-abiding majority, can travel much more than in the past. It was a new measure in the Extradition Act 2003, and the UK recently effected its first temporary surrender in Europe on someone serving a long sentence here for rape, who was also wanted abroad for the same terrible crime. Owing to the temporary surrender measure, his victim abroad is able to get speedy justice for that crime. I need hardly say that justice delayed for a crime like that is justice denied. That procedure needs to be made possible between the UK and the US, for the same reason.

As I understand the amendment and the motion to disagree, we are dealing particularly with the USA. However, I understand—the Minister will correct me if I am wrong—that since 1991, the UK has had arrangements with a number of countries for extradition based on information rather than on a prima facie case. I do not know how long it would detain the House, but could the Minister provide some indication of some or all the other countries with which we already have an information rather than a prima facie arrangement?

I am answering my hon. Friend’s intervention.

In that category are some 50 countries with which we have that particular relationship, so by no means is the US out there in some amazing category on its own. Other countries where prima facie evidence is not required include Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Georgia, Iceland—and I could go on. Canada, Australia and a huge range of countries that have these extradition arrangements could be specified, but I am sure that my hon. Friend gets the point. It is not at all unusual; what is unusual is that, for some reason, there is a huge focus on the arrangement with the USA.

I shall give way to the hon. and learned Gentleman for a second time, but I know that he will have the opportunity to make his own contribution later.

I am deeply grateful to the Minister. However, the planted intervention from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris) was interesting only in so far as it pointed out that all the countries that she began to list have exactly reciprocal arrangements with us. The US does not, so the point is a false one.

We also have reciprocity with the US, as I have outlined a number of times. At the end of the day, that question can be put time and again, but the hon. and learned Gentleman is not prepared to accept my explanation. My explanation is, however, the correct interpretation, because we have reciprocity. It is rough parity—the highest level of reciprocity that is possible between two legal systems.

I am not giving way on that point, as I want to make some progress.

The treaty will also permit the waiver of speciality protection. I want to talk about the treaty because it has been such a big issue for hon. Members, especially Opposition Members, every time the issue has been discussed in the Chamber. Opposition Members have insisted that we would not be able to achieve ratification in the US Senate, but Baroness Scotland went to the United States and persuaded the Senate that ratification was right. The measures in this treaty, which bring great benefits to British citizens in terms of delivering justice, are worthy of a little attention. It saddens me that Opposition Members do not want to talk about what is actually in the treaty, but are entirely focused on the points in the Extradition Act 2003, which we have discussed ad infinitum. I ask them to address some of the issues in the treaty.

The speciality protection could be very important. “Speciality” means that when someone is extradited they can be tried only for the conduct on the extradition warrant. That is an obvious protection of their rights, but what if our police found—after the person had been returned here—that he was also the prime suspect in a completely separate crime? And what if it was a very serious crime, such as a sexual attack on a child or a terrorist offence? It has happened in real cases that such offences have come to light after extradition. Would it not be in the interests of justice and the victims of the crime to be able to prosecute those offences as well? Waiver of speciality enables that to happen where appropriate. It is essential that we have that measure in our arrangements with the United States.

Can my hon. Friend give specific reassurance to a group of my constituents from the Muslim Welfare House who are especially concerned that if one of their number were to be extradited they could end up in Guantanamo Bay?

I know that that has been an issue of concern for several hon. Members, so I am grateful for the opportunity to address that point. When a judge in this country is making a decision about an extradition warrant, they have to apply the European convention on human rights. If we extradite someone to the United States and they are then removed to a detention centre such as Guantanamo Bay, that would in our view be a breach of their human rights. If our courts, when hearing an extradition request, thought for one moment that a breach of human rights would occur, they would not extradite. If they did extradite and there were a breach, it would never happen again, because our courts would refuse to extradite on that basis. We would immediately be in a situation in which the US was no longer designated in that category.

I wish to add what is perhaps the most important point. We seek assurances on such matters, where appropriate, from the US. For instance, when we extradite someone who has committed an offence that would carry the death penalty in the US, we seek assurances that that penalty will not be applied to the citizen we are extraditing. Similarly, in cases such as those that my hon. Friend mentions, we seek assurances, and we have been given assurances. I can tell my hon. Friend that the US has never breached the assurances that it has given. I hope that that covers the point that she has raised with me.

The situation in Guantanamo Bay is very worrying for many of us, but when the magistrate who deals with such applications for extraditions to the US gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, he was asked if he would ever agree to the extradition of anyone who could end up in that place—which should not even exist. He said that if he thought that there was any such danger, his response would be to reject the application. I hope that that continues to be the position.

Both of my hon. Friends who have intervened about Guantanamo Bay are right to say that it is a matter of deep concern to members of the Muslim community. Will my hon. Friend the Minister confirm that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has written a letter to me about Mr. Babar Ahmed, whose case is before the High Court? If Mr. Speaker will allow me, I should like to read from it. My right hon. Friend says that

“in relevant cases, the court has been given an assurance that the person sought will not be sent to Guantanamo Bay.”

I can indeed confirm that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary has written to my right hon. Friend in exactly those terms. I thank him for that helpful intervention on this very serious matter. It further illuminates and confirms what I am telling the House.

I want to make progress, as I am sure that other hon. Members want to contribute to the debate.

There is another measure that will bring justice to those who have been denied it in this treaty. When an offence in the US is barred by lapse of time from prosecution there, dual criminality means that the suspect cannot be extradited to be prosecuted for it here. The treaty’s removal of the bar due to lapse of time could be important in returning sex offenders to the UK, where their victims might not have spoken of their ordeal until many years after the event, or in prosecuting a so-called “cold case”.

That explains why we need the treaty.

I want to deal with the Lords amendments, but first I shall give way to the hon. Member for Westbury (Dr. Murrison) and then to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome (Mr. Heath).

I am grateful to the Minister. My constituent Mr. Giles Darby is one of the so-called NatWest Three. He is experiencing not rough parity but rough justice. Is it right that a person can be extradited to face such draconian bail terms? Fortunately, my constituent is not in Guantanamo Bay, but he faces months and months away from his family, home and livelihood. Where is the parity in that?

We are discussing the Lords amendments, and it would not be appropriate for me to discuss individual cases in the Chamber. However, Conservative Members insisted that bail would never be given in the US, and that the Senate would never ratify the treaty, yet bail was given and the Senate did ratify the treaty. Their assertions are falling one by one, so perhaps they should reassess their position.

I give way to the hon. Member for Somerton and Frome.

I am grateful to the Minister, as I want to speak from the consistent Benches. I draw her attention to article 2, clause 4 of the treaty. As she knows, America claims extraterritorial jurisdiction over a wide range of American offences, whereas we tend not to do the same. The passage to which I refer is interesting, as it states that

“if the laws in the Requested State do not provide for the punishment of such conduct committed outside its territory in similar circumstances…the executive authority of the Requested State, in its discretion, may grant extradition provided that all other requirements of this Treaty are met.”

In other words, there is discretion if America is claiming extra-territorial jurisdiction in circumstances in which we do not, but that is not transposed into our law either through the Extradition Act or through the regulations that flow from it. Why is the one element of discretion available to us to prevent inappropriate extraditions not being dealt with in British law?

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman is aware that British courts will deal with each application on its merits, as they do already.

As I said, I want to move on and deal with each of the three Lords amendments in turn.

The first of the amendments restores the prima facie evidence requirement in US requests, to which I referred earlier. Much has been said about claimed differences in the standards of evidence required by the US system and ours. The fourth amendment to the US constitution refers to “probable cause”, stating that

“no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In the UK, the law that applies is section 71(4) of the Extradition Act, which states that

“the judge may issue a warrant…if the judge has reasonable grounds for believing that…there is information that would justify the issue of a warrant for the arrest of a person”.

Clearly, those standards are not exact replicas—of course not; our system is not exactly replicated in any other country—but they are very similar, and much closer than before. I remind Members that other robust safeguards in our extradition law can, and do, prevent unjust extradition, and they have been upheld in several cases taken to the High Court.

On the point about rough reciprocity, in previous debates in this and the other place Ministers stated that probable cause is a lower cause than prima facie, but a higher threshold than we ask of the US. Ministers have, therefore, acknowledged that lack of reciprocity, although I agree with my hon. Friend that it is not reciprocity that is important, but justice.

I think I have covered that point more than once this afternoon, and we shall no doubt come back to it more than once as the debate continues. Rough parity is all that is possible unless we harmonise our legislation, which we do not propose to do. Rough parity means that we are as close as we can get to having the same standard of evidence required in the US or the UK for an extradition request to be confirmed.

The second amendment from the other place requires the judge who is considering the request to refuse it if any of the conduct was carried out in the UK, unless it would be in the interests of justice to extradite the person. I understand that some Members attended a briefing this afternoon by the supporters of the amendment, so I shall explain why amendments Nos. 81 to 84 will not solve the problem as they see it. We cannot remedy one problem—real or perceived—by substituting another.

There are several reasons why these amendments are wrong. The first is the difficulty that they would impose on the judge in coming to a reasonable decision on a case without having access to all the evidence, which may itself not be in the interests of justice and could lead to the person being tried twice. Alternatively, it could result in someone accused of serious cross-border offences escaping justice altogether. Where prosecutors have decided that a case should be tried in country A, rather than country B or C, it is not proper for a judge to second-guess that. If a person is requested for extradition, the Extradition Act in any case—right now—provides for the extradition to be halted if the prosecutors here decide to take proceedings. So the amendment is both unnecessary in the interests of justice, and wrong.

Is it always the case that prosecutors in this country will seriously look at the case in that way? If extradition proceedings were initiated from another country—we are not talking just about the United States; the measures apply to a whole range of countries—will the Crown Prosecution Service seriously consider whether there should be a prosecution in this country? Is it not just as likely that the extradition proceedings will go ahead without that consideration being given?

I can assure my hon. Friend that our prosecutors look seriously at such matters. I refer him to the answer that I gave my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon (Mr. Dismore): of course these issues have been raised and the Attorney-General and the Home Secretary are having conversations with the Attorney-General of the United States about the system. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Mr. Gerrard) said, this is not just about the United States—although I am afraid that in this instance it is, because those are the amendments before us. Perhaps he, like me, is thinking that there are 50 countries in this category. I can reassure him that one of the strengths of our prosecution system is that it is independent of the judiciary. We do not wish to discard that, and the amendment would mean that we had to discard it.

Our prosecutors do consider the cases. As I have said—I hope that this reassures my hon. Friend, because we have seen cases in which this has happened—if the prosecutors, such as the Crown Prosecution Service, the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Financial Services Authority, decide that there is a case to answer here, that takes precedence. That is why the amendment is both unnecessary and wrong. However, the Government recognise that much concern has been expressed about the fairness of our provisions—rightly or wrongly—and that there is a widespread perception that there is a lack of clarity. In view of that, as I have said, the Attorney-General has already raised the issue with his counterparts in the United States.

As I also said in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Hendon, the proposed procedures envisage early consultation on any case which it appears to a prosecutor in one country that there is a real possibility of a prosecutor in the other country having an interest in prosecuting. That does not need to be repeated further. Reassurance has been provided on that point. These proposals would not contain the serious flaws of the Opposition’s forum amendments, and would, I am sure, provide business people and others with reassurance that the Government have listened to their concerns and taken action. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary will meet the Attorney-General in the next few days to discuss these matters, and to take that forward.

I am not going to give way any more on that point.

Finally, the third change suggested by the Opposition, amendment No. 85, requires a future designation of the United States, and the treaty in force, to be consistent. The amendment is badly drafted and obscure, but basically it is unnecessary, because any such designation order must be approved by a vote in both Houses of Parliament, so parliamentary control over future designation orders is already securely in place.

As I said at the beginning of the debate, this is our last opportunity to undo the damage done in the other place and enable the United Kingdom to realise the benefits of the new treaty. Hon. Members should be in no doubt about the consequences of the Lords amendments: they would wreck the chance to ratify the new treaty, wreck our ability to bring more fugitives from justice to book, and make extradition slower and less effective. In the interests of justice, in the interests of victims of crime and in the interests of making this world a safer place, those amendments must go.

The American jurisdiction has a concept of cruel and unusual punishment. Having listened to the Minister for the past 45 minutes, I sympathise.

First, I want to tackle head on a mistake that the Minister allowed to emerge from her speech when she cited section 71 of the Extradition Act 2003 and tried to gain support from that provision for the assertion that the concepts of information and evidence were precisely the same. Either she does not understand section 71, or she has misread it. A careful or, indeed, cursory reading of the provision makes it clear that evidence and information are wholly different concepts and that they are applicable in different jurisdictions. Evidence is what we have to show to the United States, while information is what the United States has to provide to our courts. The two concepts are not the same and the 2003 Act does not say that they are, so it was wrong of the Minister to mislead the House, albeit unwittingly, by saying that they were similar concepts.

Could we not have highlighted another mistake if the Minister had allowed us to intervene? She seemed to think that none of the forum rules was determined by judges, but the forum rules under the 1957 European convention on terrorism are determined by judges. The idea that the forum should be determined by prosecutors is rather novel. The Minister seemed to think—and was pretending to the House—that that was the norm, but clearly it is not.

My hon. Friend and I know, as others will know from practising at the Bar, that judges day in and day out have to decide the issue of forum, whether it is in the civil or criminal jurisdiction. My hon. Friend is entirely right—it might be for a prosecutor to make a case, but it is for a judge to make a decision.

I urge the House to support the Lords amendments because the Government’s opposition to them is unjust, unfair, undemocratic and damaging to the interests of this country and our citizens. In November 2003, the Extradition Bill, as it was then, to alter the extradition arrangements between the United States and this country became law. Such a measure became law in this country, but not in the United States. It is not certain whether the measure’s American counterpart is in force in the United States because although the new extradition treaty has been ratified by the United States Senate, it is not yet clear whether the President of the United States has signed the relevant legislation into law. In a sense, that might not matter to the argument that I will make against the Government’s conduct of the treaty and their acceptance of its contents.

My complaint is that in March 2003 our Government, through the then Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), reached an agreement with the then United States Attorney-General, Mr. John Ashcroft, that replaced the 1972 British-American extradition treaty and, in doing so, did not protect our national interest. The new treaty is neither fair nor based in justice. The 1972 treaty set out each country’s obligations to the other. It was fair, just, balanced and transparent. The treaty allowed for the extradition of people from here to the United States if a prima facie case of criminal conduct could be shown in America that matched, or was similar to, a crime in this jurisdiction. We could extradite from the United States to Britain if we could show probable cause. I accept that there was a difference in wording, but, in all practical terms, the treaty demanded an equal legal test. In short, we had a treaty that honoured the doctrine of reciprocity. Each country had to show that there was evidence in the hands of the prosecution that, if uncontradicted by evidence from the accused, would be sufficient to justify conviction or demonstrate reasonable grounds for a suspicion of guilt.

The 2003 treaty was signed by the two Governments without prior notice to the House. It was negotiated and signed behind our backs. We can speculate on the reason why the Government chose not to let us in on the secret, but until the former Home Secretary writes that part of his diaries, it can only be speculation. Was it part of some side deal on Iraq, or something to do with advancing the peace process in Northern Ireland? Was it because he did not know what he was doing, or because he was under such domestic pressure that he could not think straight? Who knows?

We know, however, that the secret treaty of 2003 upset the balance of the 1972 treaty. The Americans need no longer demonstrate a prima facie case, but we must still show probable cause. They need only provide information, but we must have evidence, and the two are by no means identical concepts in law. That is what is fundamentally wrong with the current treaty. Even though the United States ratified it during our summer recess—all of us would accept that it took far too long to do so—it is a treaty to which the Government should not have agreed. Indeed, they would not have been allowed to agree to it if they had asked Parliament’s permission before signing it.

The Government have never given any good reason for the provisions in the treaty that set a lower test for the United States than for the United Kingdom and which were made law in this country by the Extradition Act 2003. Nor has any good reason been given for the Home Secretary excluding the United States from the list of countries required to show a prima facie case under the designation order of November 2003. Why has the United States been removed, by Government order, from the list of countries in category 2 that have to show a prima facie case?

I am concerned, too, that the Government have been careless with our citizens’ rights and the jurisdiction of our courts, which should try citizens for crimes committed in this country. When the Government introduced the European convention on human rights into domestic law, they proclaimed, quite falsely, that they were bringing human rights home, yet that same Government ignored the 1957 European convention on extradition and the European Council framework decision of June 2004, to which the UK is party while the United States is not.

Further to my hon. and learned Friend’s point, is not the lack of reciprocity and the inadequacy of the treaty made worse by the fact that, of all the countries that have bilateral extradition treaties with the United States of America, only the United Kingdom lacks the provision for a carve-out, which enables US citizens to be tried in this country for offences committed on UK soil? Is that not a serious and grave omission in the treaty?

It is, and what my hon. Friend says is true. I have before me a little list, which is no doubt exactly the same as the Minister’s list. It starts with Albania and runs all the way down to Zimbabwe. The only country on the list that does not have a reciprocal arrangement with the United States, from A to Z, is—hon. Members will have guessed it—the United Kingdom.

The European convention and the European Council framework decision seem to us to be good enough to support, but the Government do not think so. Article 7.1 of the convention states that if the conduct in question was partly committed in the UK, the judge dealing with the request for extradition will not order extradition unless, in all the circumstances, it is in the interests of justice to do so—a point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Banbury (Tony Baldry). It is the judges who make the orders, not the prosecutors. The 1991 European convention on extradition says precisely the same, and in deciding where the interests of justice lie the judge will consider whether the prosecuting authorities in this country have refrained from prosecuting the person whose extradition is requested.

I may have misunderstood the point, but my understanding is that both France and Ireland have treaties with evidential provisions identical to those that the UK has with the United States, so it is not the case that the UK arrangements are unique. Is that correct?

No. The right hon. Gentleman is almost right, but not entirely. He would be misleading himself if he based his argument on the French and the Irish treaties.

Is it not the case that although France and Ireland have unreciprocated treaties with the United States, that is mitigated by the fact that the French authorities will not under any circumstances extradite a French citizen, and by the fact that, in the Irish case, there is a forum provision similar to the one before us today?

That is exactly right. The further exceptions that Ireland has come under article 3 and article 5 of its treaty, with which I am sure the right hon. Member for Southampton, Itchen (Mr. Denham) is wholly familiar.

4.45 pm

Under the convention law applicable here, an arrest warrant prior to transfer of the accused to another convention country will not be issued unless the judge is persuaded that it would not be right to try the case here and the case has a better connection with the other country. He will consider the connection between this jurisdiction compared with the other as regards the facts and the persons involved in the case, where the witnesses are more available, the nature of the evidence, and the availability and admissibility of the evidence. In the jargon, these are the issues of territoriality and forum—where is it right to try a particular case?

If there is no adequate connection between the facts, the witnesses, the evidence and the accused on the one hand, and the requesting jurisdiction on the other, the judge will deny the warrant and prevent the transfer. Admittedly, that does not involve the argument over probable cause or prima facie case, but it does not need to because of the protection provided by the arguments over connectivity and the terms of the conventions, and because—this is the point that the Minister failed to grasp—there is reciprocity of terms as between the countries involved. That does not exist in the treaty between the United States and the United Kingdom.

If that was good enough for the convention on extradition, it ought to be good enough for applications to remove British bankers from England to Texas, for example. And if it is good enough for the extradition treaty between Ireland and America, it should be good enough for the extradition treaty between America and us. If it was good enough for the European Council framework decision of June 2004, it should be good enough for the United States and us. That is what the Lords amendments at heart are all about, and the Government have failed to produce even half an argument against them.

The Home Secretary has been muttering under his breath, in so far as he is capable of muttering, that the reciprocity argument is precisely the line that his agreement, or the agreement of his predecessor but one, with the United States is all about, but it is not based on fact. It is not based on a reasonable interpretation of the language that we speak in the House—English. I suggest to the Home Secretary that rather than mumble, and rather than allow the Minister to go through the ordeal of presenting the Government’s case to the House on this day, he should have done his own homework, he should have read back, and he should have looked at the treaty, at what it says, what it means and what it does to the relationship between us and the United States.

If the Government have, as they claim, brought human rights home, why does the Court of Appeal say that the extradition treaty signed in 2003 overrides the Human Rights Act 1998? Justice should be blind, but it should not be stupid, nor should it be told by the Government to ignore common sense, our traditions of fair play and the comity of nations that underpins all international treaties. “Mutual respect” are the two words that make treaties stick, but they were absent from the Government’s mind when the treaty was signed. The Lords amendments restore that mutual respect to our judicial relations with America.

Whether or not the hon. and learned Gentleman believes it, I am listening carefully to his speech and I am trying to work out what his principal objection is. Perhaps he could elucidate it for the House. Does he object principally because he perceives a lack of reciprocity, which is why he referred to the list from Albania to Zimbabwe, or because the evidential burden—the information in contradistinction to probable cause—is too big a gap evidentially? Is it one or both objections that trouble him?