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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the only guaranteed non-infectious material that can be given to haemophiliacs is Recombinant Factor VIII? Perhaps the noble Baroness will tell us the present position. I understand that because the product is chemically manufactured rather than being a natural product, it carries VAT. Many of the centres working with haemophiliacs find that a heavy burden on their NHS budget. Is anything being done about that?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. We can guarantee a lack of risk with the synthetic Recombinant treatment. It is because of the anxiety about a possible rather than proven risk that the NHS provides that treatment to children and new patients. I shall make inquiries about the VAT issue and write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the worry about hepatitis C goes wider than just haemophilia? The problem as regards liver transplant units and the transfusion service is very great. When will the Government bring out guidelines about testing treatment, and counselling for patients?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. Liver disease affects people other than those with haemophilia and causes an enormous strain. It is a very unpleasant disease and the difficulties of transplantation are enormous. I met the British Liver Trust about the way forward and improving

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guidelines. I believe that there is the opportunity to give better advice throughout the health service as to patterns of treatment for people with liver disease.

The Earl of Longford: My Lords, will the Minister be kind enough to look at the experience of other countries? One is under the impression that they do a great deal more than we do in this respect.

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, I undertake to consider whether there are specific differences in the treatment of people with haemophilia infected through blood products with hepatitis C to see whether lessons can be learned. Different jurisdictions deal in different ways with non-negligent injuries. Those issues were considered at some length by the Government in 1998. However, I shall look at them again.

Lord McNair: My Lords, does the Minister accept that if I and thousands of reports in medical journals over the past 100 years are correct about the anti-infective properties of oxygen therapies, many of these sad cases might not have proved fatal? Will she consider encouraging research into whether ozone or hydrogen peroxide could be used to purify blood products in order to ensure that such incidents do not happen in future?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, the House will be aware that detailed expert committees are examining the safety of blood products across a range of activities. We take the best possible advice in ensuring the safety of all the products used. I know that the noble Lord has a particular interest in hydrogen peroxide therapy and the benefits it may offer. I shall undertake to see whether there is literature which suggests that it might be possible in this case.

Lord Monkswell: My Lords, we all hope that the welfare state can take up the problem of non-negligent injuries. However, is my noble friend aware of the erosion of unemployment benefit and pension provision to half their real value that occurred under the previous government? Will my noble friend make representations to the Chancellor of the Exchequer to see whether there can be recompense for that erosion?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, my noble friend tempts me into wider areas of welfare reform. The Government's policy in providing extra help to severely disabled people in the greatest need may help some of the people with haemophilia to whom reference has been made, particularly haemophiliacs under the age of 20 who have not had the chance of working. In future, they will receive incapacity benefit at a much higher level than the old severe disablement allowance.

Lord Hayhoe: My Lords, can the Minister say how much the Government save by not extending to those infected with hepatitis C a scheme similar to that available to those with HIV?

Baroness Hayman: My Lords, estimates made at the time indicated that the cost of such a scheme would be in the order of £220 million, excluding start-up costs and the costs of managing the process.

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Indecent Assault: Protection of Young Women

2.52 p.m.

Baroness Seccombe asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What representations the Minister for Women has received about the potential consequence of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Bill on the reduction in the age of consent for an act of buggery committed on a woman, and whether it remains government policy to reduce the level of protection for young women against this form of indecent assault.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we do not have a breakdown of the thousands of letters received. However, officials estimate that only a very small number referred to buggery involving a female. We remain committed to the measures in the Bill. These would have provided for greater protection for young people by removing the criminal liability of those under the age of consent for buggery with someone over that age.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving his usual courteous and clear Answer, but I must admit that I am extremely disappointed and astonished that the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, the Lord Privy Seal and the Minister for Women, is not answering the Question, as it is essentially a women's issue. I searched her glossy publication, Better for Women, Better for All, and can find no mention of this issue; nor can I find a reference to it in the fact sheet, Teenage Girls, accompanying the publication. If it is such good news, as the Government say, why is it not included?

Recognising that detailed consultation is essential in such a sensitive matter, can the Minister assure the House that all the major women's organisations were consulted? Can he also give the House the view of the Women's National Commission?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, it was felt that it would be more helpful if I replied, because the Home Office is the lead department dealing with these issues. Furthermore, as a matter of background, any letter on this issue sent to my noble friend the Leader of the House would automatically be transferred to my department rather than be dealt with by hers.

It may well be that there is no such reference in the documents referred to by the noble Baroness because such incidents are relatively low in number. In 1997, there was one caution and two prosecutions, resulting in no convictions of males aged 16 or over for buggery with a female aged 16 or 17, so the numbers disclosed by prosecutions are low.

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I have made the Government's position plain: we believe that the Bill which was introduced was properly introduced. We remain of that view.

Earl Russell: My Lords, further to the Minister's remark about lack of convictions, might that have some connection with the difficulty of gathering evidence about consensual acts?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is undoubtedly a feature. A further feature is that if those who might otherwise have complained are in danger of being criminalised following their complaints, that reluctance might well point to the low level of prosecutions and convictions.

Lord Quirk: My Lords, is it not the case that, irrespective of the law, girls must have the protection of sound advice on sexual health? Therefore, does the Minister deplore the fact that the Health Education Authority, which has recently issued this jazzily colourful pamphlet, repeatedly presents girls with anal and vaginal sex as equally commendable alternatives, with not the slightest hint that one of these alternatives carries many thousand times greater risk of damage; for example, of anal lesion?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, of course young girls and young boys of this age and above require protection. That was the whole point of a significant part of the Bill, which was cast aside by your Lordships despite my suggestion that we ought to improve the protection specifically in respect of the abuse of young people by those in positions of trust. That is not the only publication; the Sex Education in Schools circular, No. 594, following the Education Act 1993, deals with the appropriateness of sex education in schools at a point appropriate to the age and maturity of the pupils. It stresses that education about HIV, AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases is extremely important.

Baroness Young: My Lords, can the Minister help the House by answering the question put by my noble friend Lady Seccombe as to which organisations were consulted about this major change in the law? Does he agree that although it is desirable in law to have some protection against abuse, had the Government not considered changing the law, protection in this particular case would not have been necessary?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, I do not. We put out the document for consultation, and on many occasions I have read out a list of those organisations which responded. With respect, I do not agree with the noble Baroness. I believe that the Bill was a very notable step forward in the protection of those who are particularly vulnerable and who now will remain so,

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I am sorry to say, perhaps for a considerable period of time because they are subject to abuse from those who are in positions of trust in respect of them.


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