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Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the money resolution to the Bill.

Mr. Brazier: You are right, Madam Deputy Speaker. There will inevitably be many disputes between neighbours, and I was merely observing that it is well worth spending the money on a measure that offers a civil route to solving those problems because it does not require the high standard of proof that would be necessary in criminal proceedings.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Hertsmere (Mr. Clappison) in welcoming the money resolution. However, I am also disappointed that the Government are frustrating the scrutiny process.

10.24 pm

Malcolm Wicks: With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will respond to the debate.

I welcome the support for the measure which has been reiterated in the House this evening. The main emphasis has been on the fact that we are all concerned to tackle antisocial behaviour because it affects so many of our constituents.

There is no discourtesy to the House in the delay in tabling our amendments. I made it clear on Second Reading that we were sympathetic to the Bill's purpose, but translating it into purposeful policy involved complexities, not least those involving the European convention on human rights. We had to take proper advice about those matters, and it would have been foolish to rush into amendments. I am sorry if the delay has inconvenienced the House, but there are reasons for our need to take careful counsel on the issue. Any amendments will be tabled, and we will be discussing these matters in Committee next week, when I hope we can have a full and frank debate.

As for Northern Ireland, these matters will be for Northern Ireland itself to decide, and it will need to debate them. We know that they affect people throughout the United Kingdom.

Again, if Members have been inconvenienced by the fact that amendments have not yet been tabled, I regret that, but this is technical and complex legal territory. We know that rushing into legislation can produce bad social policy, and no one wants that.

Finally, we discussed fully with the Bill's promoter, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field), the delay in the Committee proceedings, and of course he agreed that there was a need for that slight delay.

I hope that after those words, and with the strong feeling among hon. Members that something must be done about this pressing social problem, the House will agree to the money resolution.

Question put and agreed to.

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Stocksbridge Bypass

10.27 pm

Helen Jackson (Sheffield, Hillsborough): I wish to bring to the attention of the House the petition of 2,000 of my constituents and others about the dangers of the Stocksbridge bypass, following the tragic deaths of Tom and Kieran Moore which brought the death toll on that road to 24. Subsequently there have been even more deaths.

The petition states:

To lie upon the Table.

12 Jun 2002 : Column 973

Myalgic Encephalopathy

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Jim Murphy.]

10.28 pm

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): It is my pleasure and privilege to speak tonight on the subject of myalgic encephalopathy. I do so with enthusiasm and commitment, the more so because I know that the debate will be answered by the new Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy). He has had a meteoric but thoroughly deserved rise to office. I wish him well in fulfilling his responsibilities, and in particular I look forward to what he has to say in response to my speech.

In the House since 1997, interest in ME, or chronic fatigue syndrome, has been manifested in no fewer than 116 written and oral parliamentary questions; a number of early-day motions—three, if I remember correctly, of which the most popular was the one tabled by the hon. Member for Brighton, Kemptown (Dr. Turner) in November 1997, which attracted no fewer than 164 signatures; and several Adjournment debates. Of the latter, two in particular stick in my mind. The first was initiated by the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth (Mr. Wright), whom I am pleased to see in his place tonight. The chairman of the all-party ME group, he has devoted himself to the issue with remarkable results, and his conscientiousness has earned him the justified respect of hon. Members on both sides of the House. The other debate was introduced by the right hon. Member for Coatbridge and Chryston (Mr. Clarke), who is not able to be with us tonight; he spoke on 6 February this year, to telling effect.

My motivation is straightforward: the ME Association, which is one of at least six such organisations and does pioneering and appreciated work in the field, recently moved its headquarters from Essex to my Buckingham constituency—a thoroughly judicious choice of location. Its offices are on the Buckingham industrial park. I said that I wanted to support the association in its work, and I meant it. I pay tribute to the efforts of its chairman, Ian Franklin, its new chief executive, Val Hockey, its public relations and communications manager, Tony Britton, and the excellent medical adviser to the association, Dr. Charles Shepherd.

There has been a long-standing argument about the cause of ME or chronic fatigue syndrome, but about its appalling symptoms and consequences there can be no doubt. Due not least to the work of the hon. Member for Great Yarmouth, it is now, I am pleased and relieved to be able to say, a clinically diagnosed condition. It is severe and potentially disabling, resulting in muscle and joint pain, sleep disorder, sore throat and enlarged glands, and loss of balance, concentration and memory; it can cause intolerance of food, alcohol and even light. The House and the wider public must understand that ME sufferers experience sheer exhaustion and excruciating pain. Those are often the daily endurance and harrowing ordeals of sufferers, who can be afflicted by the illness at any time of their lives. A quarter of ME sufferers suffer depression as a result of their affliction.

Mr. Laurence Robertson (Tewkesbury): My wife suffers from ME. In addition to the crippling illness and

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symptoms that my hon. Friend has graphically described, one of the problems that my wife faces is that it is not understood that ME is a disease that often affects highly capable and very active people. I am sure she would want me to emphasise that to the House tonight.

Mr. Bercow: My hon. Friend is absolutely right—ME can strike someone at any time of their life and its effects can be variable and unpredictable. People can be well one day, and the next day be incapable of performing the most personal and simple task. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point.

It is estimated that there are about 4,000 cases of ME per million of the population. The Effective Health Care bulletin recently speculated, with some authority, that ME sufferers comprise between 0.4 and 2.6 per cent. of the UK population. Millions of days are lost to ME in the workplace each year. The monetary impact is estimated to be about £4 billion. A 1997 study relating to schoolchildren found that ME was the single most common cause of absence from school.

However, there have been good developments. The establishment of the working group on chronic fatigue syndrome or ME was one such positive development. Set up by the Department of Health in late 1998 and chaired by Professor Allen Hutchinson, director of public health at the school of health and related research at Sheffield university, the working group was given important duties and has discharged them to admirable effect. The working group's terms of reference obliged it

The group produced its findings on 11 January this year in relation to the diagnosis of the disease, its management and its treatment. There were several conclusions, with which the Minister will be broadly familiar. It was concluded that health care professionals should recognise the chronic character of the disease and co-operate with affected parties. Early diagnosis, instead of a third of people having to wait 18 months or more to be diagnosed, is viewed as a priority. There is a crucial imperative for clinical evaluation and follow-up, preferably by multidisciplinary teams. The quality of support from GPs in co-ordinating strategies and then, where necessary, making appropriate referrals to specialists must be part of the mix.

The focus on domiciliary services should not be ignored either. There is a role for therapeutic strategies. Some of them—cognitive behaviour therapy and graded exercise—have come to be extremely controversial. That is why many experts think that there should be a new emphasis on pacing, which will require a commitment from Government and other agencies. There is a role for patients in the management and treatment of their condition. There is an overriding need, on which everybody, from whatever side of the argument, agrees, for more research, not least into the physical causes of the affliction. In relation to children, it is thought that care is best co-ordinated by an appropriate specialist—usually a paediatrician.

I think it is a positive development that that work has been done and that we now have the endorsement of the chief medical officer, Sir Liam Donaldson, for the

12 Jun 2002 : Column 975

proposition that this is a recognised disease. The days in which it was pejoratively and offensively dismissed as yuppie flu, and as something whose resolution required people simply to get their act together, are rapidly being consigned to the dustbin of history.

I hope, however, that the Minister will understand that I want to put a number of particular questions to him. I do so making it absolutely clear that this matter is not a party political football as far as I am concerned. The Government have done considerable good work on this subject, so I am not cavilling at them, but performing the proper role of a constituency Member of Parliament as well as an Opposition Member in seeking to encourage still greater efforts from the Administration.

Who is now on the scientific advisory panel established by the Medical Research Council? The chief medical officer and the Government want the MRC to have such an independent panel and to produce a strategy. I think it was originally expected that that strategy would be produced by the end of February. Later, in debates both in the other place and here, it was suggested that we would hear further from the MRC in spring this year. We are now, even by the most elastic definition, into the summer, and a good deal that we had expected has not yet been forthcoming.

What patient involvement will there be in the work of the MRC? When will its biomedical and health services research strategy be finalised, announced and started? Does the Minister agree with me—and, I suspect, other hon. Members in all parts of the House—that the matter is pressing because too little is known about the aetiology and pathogenesis of ME? What use are the Government making of the ME Association's booklet "ME/CFS/PVFS: An Exploration of the Key Clinical Issues", which is authoritative and is designed to be useful to them in communicating to all the agencies, including general practitioners, good and effective practice?

What assessment has the Minister made of the levels of primary, secondary and tertiary care, and what plans does he have, on the strength of his few days in his important post, for their improvement? In the light of the fact that another Under-Secretary of State for Health, the hon. Member for Salford (Ms Blears), declared at column 1008W on 12 March this year that there was merit in the development of clinical learning networks at local level, can he advise the House whether there has been any progress on that subject? Is it his judgment that such work should be undertaken before, after or concurrently with the formulation of the MRC strategy?

Has the incapacity benefit handbook for medical service doctors been changed? The Minister will know—if he does not, that is excusable and he will soon be informed about the matter—that there is great anxiety that, in the past, not recognising the disease meant unfairness for sufferers who tried to get the benefits to which most of us now believe they are entitled. Has the handbook been revised? Has the changed decision, the new attitude and the reformed culture been communicated to the people who determine whether sufferers get that to which they are entitled? Is the Minister satisfied that people are getting what they are due?

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