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Ms Blears: I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman that Parliament works and that it is a testament to the former Health Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), that following the Adjournment debate with the hon. Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), she asked the Committee on the Safety of Medicines to investigate the whole area and to review all the advice that had been given to Ministers since 1997, to try to ensure that what had been passed on to Parliament was correct. That is why I am here today—to ensure that the whole parliamentary record, which is so important, is put right.

On reassessing evidence, I can tell the hon. Gentleman that the Department does that all the time as regards such complex scientific issues. If questions were raised, in the House or elsewhere, that threw doubt on statements that had been made, of course it would be right and proper to reassess the situation. I am not aware of any current such issues. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware from his experience on the Select Committee of the constantly moving nature of the science in these areas. As we discover more, matters need constantly to be assessed and reassessed.

On the hon. Gentleman's second, more detailed, question about lamb, such matters should be considered by the Food Standards Agency, not by me.

Mr. Patrick McLoughlin (West Derbyshire): The Minister says that she came to the House as soon as it was practical and possible for her to do so, and we are grateful to her for that. It is vital that there be consent and agreement about the importance of vaccination and the role that it plays in the prevention of very serious diseases. Is she worried about the fact that it took the MCA two months to notify Ministers at the Department of Health?

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Has she any idea of how many vaccines were issued during the two-month period in which alarms were first raised at the MCA?

Since knowing that she was going to make the statement, has the Minister had time to reflect on the calls made this week by the British Medical Association to take the percentage of vaccines administered out of doctors' contracts? People might have more confidence in the information that doctors give them on the urgency of taking vaccines if that was not part of doctors' contracts.

Ms Blears: Yes, the Department is worried about the two-month gap. Indeed, in his review, the chief medical officer expressed his concern about the fact that it took the MCA two months to tell Ministers about the situation. I have outlined in my answers to other hon. Members the serious steps that we have taken as a result not only of that, but of the incorrect information that the MCA gave to Ministers over a period of time about the scope, extent and effect of the guidelines.

I do not know precisely how many vaccines have been issued. If that information is available, I undertake to provide it to the hon. Gentleman.

On the target payments for immunisation that are paid to general practitioners, there are two levels of payments—a higher level of 90 per cent. and a lower one of 70 per cent. That provides enough flexibility for GPs to be able to reach a certain level of immunisation. Any imputation that GPs would do things that they did not support to reach their target payments would be highly inappropriate. There are therefore no plans to change the situation.

Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): The Minister announced that the Government were wrong in five major areas. I must say that that does not surprise me. My year in this place has taught me that the Government's capacity to get things wrong is more or less limitless. However, it is good that Ministers have come to the Dispatch Box to explain where they went wrong.

The Minister referred to the question of confidence. My hon. Friend the Member for Bosworth (Mr. Tredinnick) asked about MMR as well as vitamin supplements, but when she replied her lips did not utter the word "MMR" at all. I remember that when the former Minister, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), answered a question on MMR some time ago, she castigated one of my hon. Friends for even suggesting that there could be something wrong, on the ground that that was "irresponsible". Does the Minister understand why there is public fear about MMR? One accepts that Ministers can make statements to the House only on the basis of the scientific advice that they are given, but the controls on that advice are not always adequate. Does the Minister accept that there is a case for carrying out further research on MMR, and can she tell the House what is being done in the way of Government-sponsored research to establish whether a small sub-group may be susceptible to the MMR vaccine in a way that most are not?

Ms Blears: I must make it clear to the hon. Gentleman that where incorrect or misleading answers were given, they were entirely based on advice from the MCA; Ministers are right to seek advice from people in the field. I have come here today to correct those factual

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inaccuracies. The answers did not change the scientific position; they were simply wrong in terms of dates and scopes of guidelines. Ministers rely on the advice that they receive from their scientific experts, and that is why I am here to correct the record.

The MMR vaccines are in exactly the same position as many of the other vaccines that are waiting to become compliant. Essentially, they are working seeds and working cells that contain UK bovine-sourced material. When the guidelines are revised in the next few weeks, working seeds and working cells will be deemed to be compliant if they have had a risk assessment. They have all had a risk assessment by the CSM and the MCA, and there are no demonstrable TSE safety risks in relation to them. They are in exactly the same position as many of the other vaccines that are waiting to become compliant with European guidelines. The position as regards their manufacture is thus exactly the same—that is, no TSE safety risks are involved.

On the other statements that Ministers have made on MMR, the hon. Gentleman must be aware, although he has been in the House for a relatively short time, that Ministers have always made statements on the basis of a range of scientific expert advice. In that, they are supported by the World Health Organisation, the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. All those expert bodies have supplied information to Ministers, whose statements have always been made on the basis of the best scientific information that is available to them. That is entirely the appropriate way for Ministers to approach such matters.

Mr. Bacon: Will the Minister give way?

Ms Blears: On further research—

Mr. Bacon: I just want an answer to my question.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): Order. I must say to the hon. Gentleman that when he is questioning a statement, he gets one bite at the cherry, and he did take a rather large bite.

Ms Blears: A great deal of research is going on in this area. It is important that we get as much knowledge and information as we possibly can. I return to the first principle that I mentioned—public confidence in the vaccination programme is key, because vaccinations have saved many, many lives.

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Gambling

Question again proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Alan Haselhurst): We now resume the debate on gambling. I understand that the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) had not quite exhausted his advice to the House when I terminated his previous remarks.

11.50 am

John Thurso: May I reiterate briefly the last point that I made, which is that the tourism, hospitality and gambling industry has given a warm welcome both to the Budd report and to the Government's response? That in turn has excited a keen anticipation that something will actually happen. I suggest to the Minister that having excited this anticipation, the introduction of legislation at the earliest practical moment would be much appreciated by the industry.

11.51 am

Mr. George Howarth (Knowsley, North and Sefton, East): I begin by referring the House to my declaration of interest, which is fully and clearly set out in the Register of Members' Interests. There is also great constituency interest. In my constituency, we have the Ladbroke's call centre at Aintree. Vernons Pools are located at Aintree. Vertex, which operates the bet direct call betting service, is at Kirkby in my constituency. Merseyside in general has Littlewoods as a major employer. A number of relevant matters are of direct concern to my constituents.

First, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Minister for Sport on having the debate, which has already been significant and important. Secondly, I congratulate him on the excellent way in which he has conducted this part of his brief over the past 12 months. He has earned the trust of all parts of the racing and betting industries. He is listened to with great respect by all sections of an important industry. The same comments apply, of course, to the Secretary of State.

I apologise to my right hon. Friend because unfortunately I will not be able to stay in the Chamber to hear his wind-up speech. I have a constituency surgery tonight. However, I shall read his reply with great interest next week. I hope that he will recognise that if I am not in my place to hear him, that is not out of any discourtesy. My absence will be due to a constituency necessity.

I shall try to be brief because I know that other Members hope to speak. However, I shall raise a few points. The first relates to casinos. I welcome the Budd proposals and I welcome the Government's response to them. I welcome also the proposals that are being made for Blackpool being brought to fruition. There is a great deal of potential in revitalising Blackpool on the strength of some of the proposals that are being put forward. It is obviously important that the process that the partnership is going through is completed in a proper manner, and I am sure that it will be.

Comparisons with Las Vegas are invidious. The idea that Blackpool will suddenly recreate itself as Las Vegas is neither appropriate nor, I suspect, realistic. None the less, there is something that can be done that will be for the benefit both of the people of Blackpool and those who

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want to operate casinos. There will also be benefit for those who want to make use of the facilities. The hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) referred to the tourist industry.

It is important that if there is to be an extension of casinos—the hon. Member for Ryedale (Mr. Greenway) made a similar point—we should be cautious and careful about the way in which we do so, especially in high streets, small towns and areas where there is currently no record of casinos. I am mindful of the point that the hon. Gentleman made—others have echoed it—that a rapid increase in the number of casinos would almost certainly suck in some inappropriate sources of investment. No matter how well developed the regulatory framework was, it would be difficult to prevent that investment taking place.

I think we all know of the way in which licensed premises and clubs are increasingly being used for money laundering. There is a lot of money that, as it were, is looking for opportunities. I would be cautious, but I accept that there is a need to modernise regulation and also to modernise the primary legislation that covers it.

There is also the role of magistrates and, as is proposed, local authorities in relation to betting shops. I favour the idea of leaving things as they are. The hon. Member for Ryedale made a similar point. I do not have any in-built prejudice against local authorities. I hardly could, because I was a member of Hyton urban district and then a member of Knowsley borough council for about 14 years before I came into the House. I have parts of Sefton council in my constituency, along with the hon. Member for Southport (Dr. Pugh). Both councils do an excellent job.

At the same time, the magistrates already have a body of experience, and they are once removed from the pressures that would inevitably come on local authorities if they had licensing responsibility. I am sure that the authorities would carry it out well, but I think that magistrates courts are probably the most appropriate places for licensing.

Side betting on the national lottery is important. My right hon. Friend the Minister understandably, and probably rightly, has to be mindful of the responsibility that his Department has to protect the proceeds of the lottery. That is particularly so in terms of the money for good causes that the lottery produces. However, I believe that the issue of betting on the lottery has already, to some extent, been solved through the lottery itself. Camelot is allowed to use hot picks, which is a form of fixed-odds betting on the lottery. That rather destroys the policy. There is some fairness about that. If Camelot is allowed to have fixed-odds betting on the lottery, when in effect it is not supposed to be in that business, it is rather difficult to exclude others from being involved in that market. My right hon. Friend should give that some thought. No doubt he will do so when he decides to read my speech. He is obviously not listening to it.

There is the question of whether there should be a trust, a voluntary operation between bookmakers and other gaming interests, a voluntary levy or some form of compulsory arrangement. First, as did the hon. Member for Ryedale, I draw my right hon. Friend's attention to the excellent work that has been done by Gamcare. There is probably an arrangement to be worked out. If talks take place in good faith on all sides, I believe that he could

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come to an arrangement that would be to the benefit of everyone concerned. I urge him to take that approach. The implication of that is that he does not close his mind to other possibilities that may be put to him. We all agree on what we want the outcome to be, and it is a matter of how we get there. I believe that there is a way forward, without spelling it out today, that could be of some significance.

I move on to jackpot machines. I have some knowledge, having had some responsibilities for that area when I was a junior Minister in the Home Office.

I welcome the Government's acceptance of the Budd report's recommendation that betting shops should be allowed to have jackpot machines. I do not think that there is much opposition to that idea—certainly not in this House, nor, I suspect, in another place. As my right hon. Friend does not envisage introducing primary legislation until 2003–04, I urge him to consider whether that change could be made by a statutory instrument such as an order. I know from experience that secondary legislation on such matters can be a somewhat fraught process, but as there is widespread support for the proposal, I think that it could be used in this case.

I have here a letter from Littlewoods Leisure, which, as I said earlier, has considerable importance in my constituency; I suspect that other Members may have had a similar letter. For the benefit of my right hon. Friend the Minister, I shall read out a small section of it. Richard Boardley, Littlewoods director of games and lotteries, writes:


I hope that my right hon. Friend will give serious consideration to that point, not least because Littlewoods is still a large employer on Merseyside, and has a long and honourable record of operating fairly and properly.

I shall now say a little about the public's attitude towards gambling in general. Hon. Members have already talked about the old days, and when I was a child, there was an illegal unlicensed bookmaker called Mr. Dunn at the corner of the square where I lived. He operated from a somewhat rundown caravan, from which he ostensibly sold things like a quarter of tea and a pound of sugar, but really he was taking bets.

Things moved on and betting became legal, but even then—[Interruption.] It did not become legal for Mr. Dunn. Even then, there was a slightly unsavoury aspect to betting. All of us—including you, Mr. Deputy Speaker—probably have betting shops in our constituencies, and the whole atmosphere of those shops is entirely different from what it was even five or 10 years ago. They are more open and cleaner, and a lot of information and technology is used. We also see more and more women comfortably using betting shops now, and I welcome that.

I suspect that the figures from the last month or so will bear out the fact that an increasing number of younger people are now betting on football results, always on fixed odds, in a more flexible way than the football pools used to allow for. Typically, they bet on who will score the

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first goal, or what the score at half time or full time will be. Indeed, I had a few such bets on the World cup myself—but sadly, like many of my other betting experiences, they did not pay any dividends.

Having placed their bets in a betting shop in the morning or telephoned them through to one of the many telephone betting services, punters can now spend a pleasant Saturday afternoon sitting in front of the television. As the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross said, betting is part of the leisure industry now, and leisure can just as well be taken at home as on somebody else's premises.

My right hon. Friend is therefore right to want to bring the legislation up to date, and to recognise not only the economic importance of the industry but the extent to which it is now an integral part of our leisure industry.


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