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Mr. Speaker: Order. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to make any comment about a Member, he must write to me

12 Mar 2001 : Column 630

about the matter. At the time of the Profumo affair, I was 17 years of age and I had more things on my mind than that affair.

Mr. Phil Hope (Corby): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to a matter raised earlier, will you clarify what options are open to the House when four Members deliberately flouted the rules of the House by refusing to remove themselves from Standing Committee F last Thursday? It is particularly shocking that the leader of the rule-breaking rabble was the shadow Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Miss Widdecombe). She deliberately broke the rules to prevent the democratic passage of a Bill through Committee; I know that you personally disapprove of that action. What sanctions do we have to punish the right hon. Lady and to prevent a recurrence of her appalling behaviour?

Mr. Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman should read Friday's record of events. That is the best advice that I can give him.

Mr. Blunt: On a separate point of order, Mr. Speaker, of which again I have given you notice. I have been passed a letter from the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) on House of Commons headed notepaper. I gave notice to the hon. Gentleman that I would be raising the point of order. The letter is marked "in confidence" and it is addressed to two of his constituents. It reads:

It would appear that that polling has not gone terribly well.

The letter continues:

I have two points of order. First, the hon. Gentleman has acknowledged to me that it was a mistake and that the letter should not have gone out on House of Commons headed paper. He is making arrangements to repay £1.20 to the House to cover the cost of the stationery. However, it is serious that a Member should importune people for party political funds on House of Commons paper. Is that sufficient recompense to the House, in your judgment?

Secondly, I presume that if the hon. Gentleman is writing to solicit funds for his re-election, his campaign to be elected as candidate for the Liberal party for Sutton and Cheam has begun, and that a record of his election expenses, including the cost of the letters, should also have begun.

Mr. Speaker: That is not a matter for me. Concerning the use of stationery and postage, the regulations have been broken. The Serjeant at Arms has looked into the matter and I understand that the hon. Member for Sutton and Cheam (Mr. Burstow) will repay all the costs of the stationery. That will be the end of the matter.

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Air Travellers (Provision of Health Information)

3.45 pm

Mr. John Smith (Vale of Glamorgan): I beg to move,

I introduce the motion with sadness and regret--sadness because it relates to the tragic death of one of my constituents last summer, and regret because I fear that we will not get all the airline companies to co-operate on such a matter unless they are forced to take action by legislation or the prospect of legislation.

My constituent, John Anthony Thomas, of Flemingston in the Vale of Glamorgan, was just 30 years old. He was in the prime of life; he was perfectly fit. He was a policeman and had just undergone a five-year police health check and had a clean bill of health. He returned from a dream honeymoon in Honolulu with his new wife and, a couple of days after returning, dropped dead with a pulmonary embolism.

That would be a tragedy for any family. When the Thomases asked me to get involved with the case, I thought at first that it was just one of those human tragedies that can affect anyone, and that there is not much that we can do about it--except that the family told me that had the consultant pathologist not mentioned that he thought that the death was due to a long-haul flight, the Thomases would never have made the connection between their young son's death and his recent honeymoon holiday.

For me, that rang alarm bells. If the Thomases found out only by accident, how many hundreds or possibly thousands of people have died from the same condition, without any such connection being made? Checks are not made in the NHS or in other hospitals to establish whether sufferers of deep vein thrombosis have recently taken long-haul flights.

I found out from my first meeting with the Thomases that it was the personal belief of the same pathologists that as many as 20 per cent. of deaths through DVT handled by the NHS could be due to air travel. If that is true, many thousands of people could be dying, unaware of the risks that they had taken. I, for one, knew nothing about the problem until it came up as a constituency matter, and I suspect that many citizens still know nothing about the possible connection between DVT and long-haul flights.

I know that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) has done quite a bit in the House on the matter, precisely because his wife had suffered from the condition following a flight. We do not know with certainty whether it is a major public health problem or whether it affects only a small minority of people. Some experts say that scores die from DVT; others say that thousands, or even many thousands, are dying from it.

We must establish scientifically and objectively the scale of the problem. I am delighted that the Select Committee in the House of Lords has introduced an extremely responsible paper calling for more research into this worrying and possibly major public health problem. My Bill attempts to prevent a repetition of mistakes made when we were in exactly the same position regarding the

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assessment of the implications of other public health problems. In the case of BSE, there was a long time lag before the effects first became apparent and we discovered that many people were dying and, indeed, may still die. In the case of the asbestos industry and the asbestosis connected directly to it, it took decades to make the connection. Some would say that the public health hazards caused by smoking and its connection with lung cancer took even longer.

My Bill proposes that we do not make the same mistakes again. We should undertake research now, but also take sensible, measured steps to ensure that people do not die or place themselves at risk unnecessarily during long-haul air travel. My Bill calls on the airline companies to provide up-to-date and accurate information on current health risks. Some airline companies that recently decided to do that because the public profile of the problem has been raised have, I fear, been slightly disingenuous. As I understand it, the information that they provide is misleading, inadequate and possibly dangerous.

It is said, for instance, that passengers on long-haul flights should stand in front of their seats periodically and exercise their legs and feet. If hon. Members do not already know it, that is virtually impossible in economy class seats where, one hour into the flight, most of the passengers are asleep, the seat in front is reclined, and one is more or less pinned to one's seat for however long the journey takes. The exercises are thus impossible. Worryingly, there are also other examples of inaccurate and misleading advice. I wonder what the airlines have got to hide and why they are providing inadequate information.

The second part of the Bill calls on the airlines to update information when, following research, we discover the scale of the problem. Plenty of information is available: the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy has produced a very good leaflet on steps that passengers can take and exercises that they can do to avoid the effect of so-called traveller's thrombosis. It is looking for sponsorship so that it can distribute those leaflets freely to all airline companies to ensure that all passengers can read the information and take precautionary exercise.

It is not just about exercise. One can take steps to minimise the risk, such as taking aspirin before the journey to thin the blood slightly, or wearing compression stockings during the flight to prevent blood pooling in the bottom of the legs and feet, which causes thrombosis and embolism. That is simple, basic advice and, as we learn more about the condition, airline companies have an obligation to distribute information to their passengers to reduce their risk of suffering from it.

Finally, the Bill aims to get airline carriers and companies to co-operate with any research into the scale of the problem. Again, there are worrying signs that our airline companies are not co-operating, and I must ask myself why. Worryingly, they are not providing ready access to passenger lists and medical records and are involved in limiting research. The Bill therefore includes three measured proposals which could make the difference between life and death.

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I shall finish by quoting from a letter that I received from the mother of John Anthony Thomas last year. It was the first communication that I had received from her, and in it she said:

That letter came from a distraught mother. My asking the House to accept this motion is a direct result of that plea, and of my promise to her and to her family that I would do all that I could to prevent any future deaths.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. John Smith, Dr. Ian Gibson, Dr. Ashok Kumar, Dr. Doug Naysmith, Dr. Howard Stoate, Dr. Brian Iddon, Dr. Desmond Turner, Dr. David Clark.

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