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22 Oct 2002 : Column 244continued
That, at the sitting on Wednesday 23rd October, opposition business may be proceeded with, notwithstanding paragraph (2)(c)(i) of Standing Order No. 14 (Arrangement of public business), for three hours or until Seven o'clock, whichever is later, and proceedings shall then lapse if not previously concluded.[Mr. Caplin.]
The Petition of Consumers for Health Choice and its supporters,
Declares that Consumers in the United Kingdom have for many years maintained good health by choosing to take safe vitamin and mineral supplements and herbal remedies; and fears that the European Food Supplements Directive and the Proposed European Directive on Traditional Herbal Medicinal Products would severely restrict the number and range of such products on general retail sale in the future.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons requires that the Secretary of State for Health does all in his power to protect the rights of the UK consumers by ensuring that such European legislation does not unnecessarily and unacceptably restrict the availability of natural health products.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons requires that the Secretary of State for Health does all in his power to protect the rights of UK consumers by ensuring that such European legislation does not unnecessarily and unacceptably restrict the availability of natural health products.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
Mr. Parmjit Dhanda (Gloucester): I am delighted to be able to present a petition calling for greater regulation of air weapons, which was signed by 272 people from my constituency of Gloucester. The petition
The Petitioners therefore request that the House of Commons urge the Secretary of State for the Home Department to bring forward legislative proposals to raise the minimum age for unsupervised use of air weapons from 14 to 17 years, and to bring the regulation of air weapons into line with existing firearms legislation.
And the Petitioners remain, etc.
I would like to bring the Minister's attention to something about which there has already been correspondence with the Department of Health, namely the case of my constituent, Dominique Porché, who suffers from hepatitis C and for whom all avenues of compensation appear to have closed, most unjustly.
The Campaign for Effective and Rational Treatment estimates that there are between 300,000 and 500,000 hepatitis C, or HCV, cases in this country. By way of tribute to the Haemophilia Society, I should add that about 2,800 haemophiliacs also have HCV and the society has produced a well thought-out compensation package for consideration.
I shall outline what we are dealing with medically. Hepatitis C is a disease characterised by inflammation of the liver, usually producing swelling and, in many cases, permanent damage to liver tissue. It is a contagious, viral disease that can lead to serious permanent liver damage. The identification of the specific hepatitis C virus in 1989 solved a mystery: over the previous 10 years, large numbers of hepatitis victims began to appear, but when examined those patients tested negative for both hepatitis A and B. In 1990, when a test was developed to identify individuals infected with a hepatitis variant, hepatitis C was found to be responsible for the majority of cases.
In contrast with most other types of hepatitis, the majority of HCV infections lead to liver disease. Hepatitis C, in combination with hepatitis B, accounts for 75 per cent. of all cases of liver disease throughout the world. As HCV infection is typically mild in its early stages, it is rarely diagnosed and is often not recognised until it has progressed.
The virus mutates frequently. Once an infection has begun, hepatitis C creates different genetic variations of itself within the body. The mutated forms are frequently different enough from their ancestors that the immune system cannot recognise them. Thus, even if the immune system begins to succeed against one variation, the mutant strains can take over and become new predominant strains. As a result, the antibodies developed against hepatitis C do not produce an immunity against the disease, as would be the case with most other viruses.
I turn to the case of my constituent Dominique Porché who, despite his infection, has dealt with his illness in an enormously robust and positive way. I have come to admire his resilience, patience and good humour in adversity.
In 1996, he was informed by the National Blood Authority, via his GP, Dr. Bateman, that he had been identified as infected. That flowed from the Department of Health's national hepatitis C look-back exercise. My constituent said:
In April 2001, more than 12 years since my constituent underwent surgery, he happened to be watching a television programme and became aware of possible compensation claims. At no stage had he been informed either by Addenbrooke's hospital, the National Blood Authority or any other arm of the national health service of his right to pursue such a claim.
I shall also mention the case of another constituentMrs. Angela Woodley of Haverhill. Although her case is different in some respects from that of Dominique Porché, there are similarities in that she contracted the disease at Addenbrooke's hospital from blood transfusions in the 1980s. Mrs. Woodley was receiving treatment for cancer at the time. Her situation represents another tragic story and she is still fighting for compensation. She recently observed to me:
Indeed, in a letter to me dated 25 January, the then Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), detailed the legal underpinnings of the so-called 10-year rule:
Dominique Porché is a self-employed painter and decorator. He has a young son and his wife is expecting another baby. Obviously, he worries about their future in the event of his condition deteriorating. I personally feel deeply committed to supporting him and to trying to secure him some compensation for the tragedy that has cast such a blanket of anxiety over his life.
Let me tell the Minister that I shall not allow this issue to be pushed under the carpet after this debate. Compensation arrangements have been made in many other countriesIreland, Spain, Hungary, Sweden, Canada, Italy and Norway, among others. The Minister will note the absence of the United Kingdom from that list.
British citizens are entitled to clean blood, as Mr. Justice Burton ruled in the case of S and others v. the National Blood Transfusion Service and others last year. However, in practice, that right is not recognised in this country, as it does not extend to individuals, such as Dominique Porché, who are also seeking compensation.
In my view, the moral argument is transparently obvious and powerful. I hope that the Minister will accept that Dominique Porché has been treated shabbily and unsympathetically because of inflexibility of the system. That really is not fair; it is simply not good enough.