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The consultations that we have had and the development of the strategy, which we will publish shortly, have made clear the importance of the GP
understanding, knowing, diagnosing and being able to refer on appropriately individuals who may have any condition on the autism spectrum. An important part of the strategy that we wish to pursue is the training of professionals-not only GPs, although they are a key and vital part of the front-line services. Training of professionals and raising awareness among professionals of what autism is, how to respond to it and what services are available is a critical part of the strategy going forward.
Natascha Engel (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab): At the last Health questions, I raised the issue of lab technicians who make dentures and crowns for dentists, and I thank my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for agreeing to meet me and my constituent, Andrew Taylor, this afternoon. In advance of that meeting, can she confirm what her Department is doing to encourage UK dentists to use UK lab technicians?
Mr. David S. Borrow (South Ribble) (Lab): It is estimated that there are more than 20,000 men and women in this country who are HIV-positive, and who have not been tested or diagnosed and therefore do not know that they are HIV-positive. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Department should aim to reduce that figure by at least 50 per cent.? What action is the Department taking to achieve that objective?
Gillian Merron: Obviously, early identification is crucial. We have talked at some length with the all-party group on AIDS about measures that we can take, and I am happy to continue those conversations.
Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham) (Con): I have a young mum in my constituency dying of breast cancer and desperate to prolong her life, with two young daughters who rely on her. She has been prescribed Herceptin. It is not working because of the size of the molecules. She is told by her specialist that Lapatinib would work for her. It costs less than two thirds of the cost of Herceptin, yet she is being denied it. I wrote to the Secretary of State on 19 November and I have chased him twice since, but I have still not had a reply. Will he please look at the matter urgently?
Mr. Mike O'Brien: I have indeed been looking into the issue of Herceptin, and I am aware of the way in which the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence has approached it. These are important and difficult issues, and I can assure the hon. Gentleman that, if he has an outstanding letter on this matter, I will chase it up with my officials.
Mr. Mark Harper (Forest of Dean) (Con): I was listening to what the Minister said about ambulance response times. They are of course important, but more important are patient outcomes-whether a patient lives or dies and what actually happens to them. What progress is the Department making on ways of measuring patient outcomes so that ambulance trusts can be more sophisticated in the way they deploy their resources?
Mr. O'Brien: I have heard the term "outcomes" being bandied about, but it is not always entirely clear what the Opposition mean by it; they seem to have different views of what it means at different times. As far as the Government are concerned, the important thing is that we ensure that the ambulance service is there when patients need it, that its response times are within the criteria that we have set for it, and that targets are met. The Opposition would get rid of the targets that save lives; we would keep them.
Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Was the threat of 65,000 British swine flu deaths an unscientific exaggeration that has cost the country dearly, not only financially but in terms of stress and distorted NHS priorities?
Andy Burnham: We had to take every possible step to keep the country safe through what was declared a world health pandemic, not by this Government but by the World Health Organisation. We saw the events in Mexico in the spring, followed by the exceptional spike in flu cases in this country in the summer. There were understandably high levels of public concern, and I make no apology for making all the necessary preparations to keep the public safe through that. We have come through the pandemic because of the strength of the plans and preparations that this Government put in place.
Christopher Fraser (South-West Norfolk) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that, to allow waiting times for cancer treatment to be monitored, specific data should be collected individually for each of the most common cancers, so that a better picture can be seen? I was not sure from his previous answer.
Andy Burnham: I refer the hon. Gentleman to the report issued by the national cancer director at the end of last year. He will see in it the publication of data, primary care trust by primary care trust, that have not been published in this form before. The report shows how many patients are being referred on the two-week urgent referral pathway, and there is a whole wealth of data on survival rates. I am always prepared to go further, however. The complaint from the Opposition is always that we collect too much data, but if the hon. Gentleman wants me to go further, I am prepared to consider doing so.
Linda Gilroy (Plymouth, Sutton) (Lab/Co-op): On Saturday, I met the Plymouth and South Devon Dystonia Support Group, which was celebrating its first anniversary. Will the appropriate Minister please meet me to discuss research and development, and treatment and support for that group of sufferers?
Tony Baldry (Banbury) (Con): The Minister of State, Department of Health, the right hon. and learned Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien), made a welcome announcement over the Christmas break about payments to the Thalidomide Trust. Did I miss the statement to the House confirming that announcement? The news was very welcome, but I would just like to know whether it is now on the record.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): The Secretary of State knows that I have raised concerns about the awarding of the contract for the Eccleshill independent sector treatment centre in Bradford. He will now be aware that the decision to award that contract has been suspended for another five months. I have said that it should not go ahead in the light of the concerns, and that there should be a public consultation. Can he tell me why that decision was made, and whether we will now get that consultation?
Mr. Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): Earlier, the Secretary of State referred to the Health Committee's report on alcohol, and said that he was open-minded about it. Does that mean that the Government are prepared to consider minimum pricing for a unit of alcohol?
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look at this Government's record on tackling tobacco over the past decade. That shows that we will continue to take the bold steps necessary to improve the health of the nation. I have said that we will do more on labelling, and on our mandatory code. Pricing is of course a key issue in this debate. I do not know whether he has
concluded that minimum unit pricing is now essential, but we must also consider the issues of deep discounting and selling below cost price, which also form part of the equation. This is a time not for shouting across the Floor of the House but for both parties to address the issues and to ask whether the public mood has changed and whether we need to take a different approach to alcohol in our communities.
Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove) (LD): The Royal British Legion says that little effective progress has been made on the veterans' NHS priority treatment scheme. What steps is the Minister taking to ensure that PCTs and hospitals monitor progress on this and that veterans get the care to which they are entitled?
Mr. Mike O'Brien: Yesterday I was able to make an announcement, together with Combat Stress, one of the veterans' organisations, to ensure that we deal in particular with some of the issues that arise as a result of people being involved in combat. We also want to ensure that GPs are more fully aware of the rights of veterans. We have asked that all PCTs ensure that they have somebody at a director level who is responsible for ensuring that this information gets out, and that strategic health authorities have someone in place at a director level-on the board-who is responsible for ensuring that this sort of information gets out and that veterans, who have served their country, get the service from the NHS that they deserve.
Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. While you are in the Chair before the House goes into Committee, I wanted to ask for your guidance. The Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Corby (Phil Hope), has written to my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State for Health stating that the costings in the published impact assessment on the Personal Care at Home Bill, which we are about to consider, are wrong. On 5 January, he told me in a parliamentary answer:
"A one-off transition cost of £335 million is set out in the impact assessment".-[ Official Report, 5 January 2010; Vol. 503, c. 277W.]
On 8 January, he told my hon. Friend that, strictly speaking, the one-off cost should be zero. Could you guide me, and indeed the rest of us, Mr. Speaker, as to whether it is acceptable under our rules for the House to be considering a measure today, particularly on the Floor of the House, when it does not have the full information before it, and despite the Government's having had adequate notice to correct their errors and to ensure that they furnished us with the information in advance of the debate?
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I do not know whether a Minister present wishes to say anything; he or she is under no obligation to do so. The hon. Gentleman has registered his point very forcefully on the record. However, I hope that he will understand when I say that on the strength of his 12 and a half years' service as the hon. Member for Eddisbury, he knows that that is a perfectly legitimate point of debate but it is questionable whether it constitutes a point of order.
Alan Simpson, supported by Mr. John Gummer, Mr. Gordon Prentice, Andrew Stunell, Mr. David Amess, Mr. Andrew Dismore, David Howarth, Mark Durkan, Andrew George, Mr. David Drew, Bob Russell and Steve Webb, presented a Bill to promote energy efficiency; to require specified bodies to publish sustainable energy plans; to make provision for the transfer of functions to principal councils; and for connected purposes.
Mr. Speaker: I apologise to the hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) for extending his service in the House by two years. He has been here for 10 and a half years; I will not say that it feels like 12 and a half.
That leave be given to introduce a Bill to extend the criteria under which music and sports video works and documentaries lose their exemption from classification.
Although we passed-or perhaps I should say re-passed-the Video Recordings Bill last week, for technical reasons of urgency it was not practical to propose amendments at that stage. However, some small but highly significant amendments are needed to ensure a more robust regime for child protection. As chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, I am an ardent supporter of the right to free speech and expression, but I acknowledge the need for a system of regulation that protects children from harmful content in film, videos and DVDs.
At the current time, we have a very effective system of classification. The British Board of Film Classification undertakes extensive research into public opinion about what is acceptable content. The BBFC also takes account of research evidence and the advice of psychologists, health care professionals and the police, among others, to produce guidelines, which are updated every four years, that ensure that the content that reaches children in the UK legally in the form of film, DVDs and videos is of an age-appropriate nature and is not harmful to them.
However, there are gaps in the current regime covering videos and DVDs under the Video Recordings Act 1984-the VRA-and that is what my Bill aims to address. The VRA permits a number of exemptions to the classification regime. Currently they relate not only to video games but to other video works such as music and sports videos. When the Act was passed in 1984, the assumption was that such works were unlikely to cause any concern. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has recognised that the regime for video games needs to be updated, and the Digital Economy Bill, currently in the other place, is intended to do that. As an aside, it is important to note that in doing so it should in no way undermine the classification regime for linear-non-interactive-material by confusing the responsibilities of the BBFC and those of the Video Standards Council, which is intended to be the statutory authority for classifying video games.
Except in relation to video games, exemptions are unfortunately not addressed in the Digital Economy Bill. That is a missed opportunity and the reason I have chosen to bring forward my Bill, which would extend the criteria under section 2 of the VRA to result in specified video works losing exemption from classification. At present, exemption can be claimed for video works such as music and sports videos, which can be very popular with children. Those videos can then be sold to children perfectly legally, even if they contain material that is potentially harmful. My Bill is not intended to extend the VRA to all such exempted works, only to those that contain content that is potentially harmful, such as graphic violence, sexual content falling
short of actual sexual activity, imitable dangerous behaviour and drug use. Harmless video works of football matches or artists from the "The X Factor" would remain exempt.
I have seen some of the less benign sport and music videos myself. For example, the Ultimate Fighting Championship's "UFC Best of 2007" is a combat video featuring martial arts and other fighting techniques. It is available on the high street to any child because its distributor has, quite legally, claimed exemption from BBFC classification under the VRA. It therefore carries no age rating or consumer advice. It contains close-up images of bloody and sustained head blows, which are replayed in slow motion from every conceivable angle to ensure that the best possible view is given of the moments of impact.
Another work that I have seen is Mötley Crüe's "Greatest Video Hits", which features topless lap dancing and a George W. Bush lookalike in a limousine with a prostitute. The packaging carries an E for exempt rating. Gorgoroth's "Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam" features bloody bodies being crucified and a sheep's head on a spike. The American band Slipknot is hugely popular with children, some as young as 10, as well as with teenagers. As expected from the band's reputation, its 10th anniversary DVD features strong content designed to offend parents. Among the most concerning images are those of the consequences of self-mutilation carried out by two teenage girls who have carved the name "Slipknot" into their arm and torso respectively, yet the video carries a letter E in a green triangle indicating that it is exempt from VRA classification.
Those are all works that parents could and should legitimately expect to be regulated, yet under the current legislation they can all be sold legally without any age restriction. Indeed, it is worth noting that some of that material is rated and age-restricted in other countries. For example, the German film classification body rated the Slipknot DVD as suitable only for those aged 16 and above and the Gorgoroth DVD as suitable only for adults.
Trading standards officers would welcome the power to prosecute the supply of such unclassified works, but believe that the current legislation exempts them because, for example, they do not contain gross violence, which is a very high threshold, or actual sexual activity. Local Authorities Co-ordinators of Regulatory Services, which represents local authorities on this matter, and the BBFC both support my Bill's minor amendments to section 2 of the VRA in order to broaden the criteria that determine when a video work loses its exemption. Such amendments would enable law enforcement agencies to prosecute the supply of video works that are currently exempted, to protect children from potentially harmful media content.
I understand that the Government believe that the enforcement authorities can already take such action. However, the view of those who actually have that responsibility is that they cannot, because of the very high bar set by the VRA in order to lose an exemption. For example, had the Slipknot DVD shown the two girls actually in the process of mutilating themselves with a sharp blade, that may well have constituted gross violence under the VRA, but showing the scars after the event almost certainly does not constitute violence sufficient to lose exemption from classification.
Many responsible members of the home entertainment industry voluntarily seek classification certificates for exempted video works that contain such potentially harmful material. Members of the British Video Association-the BVA-do so even though they are not legally obliged so to do. Their actions in this regard are to be commended. I understand that BVA members support amendments to the Video Recordings Act that would make it a legal obligation on distributors to have potentially harmful material classified, as proposed in my Bill, but there are distributors who do not take the same responsible attitude. That lack of a level playing field serves only to add to consumer confusion.
A parent looking through a shelf of music or fighting videos, some of which are rated 15 or 18, but some of which are marked E for exempt, is likely reasonably to draw the conclusion that the E video is suitable for younger children. Otherwise, the parents would assume, surely it would have been classified. Yet often, the content of E for exempt videos is virtually identical to or worse than that of an age-restricted product. I would therefore like to urge my hon. Friend the Minister to support this Bill.
To conclude, this Bill is aimed at modernising the VRA and improving consumer-and most particularly-parental empowerment, to protect their vulnerable children from harmful video material. I commend this Bill to the House.
That Mr. Andrew Dismore, Mike Gapes, Rob Marris, Mr. Virendra Sharma, Mr. Edward Timpson, John Austin, Ms Karen Buck, Clive Efford, Mr. John Whittingdale, Judy Mallaber and Keith Vaz present the Bill.
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