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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is exactly the case. We are extending the principle, which, in

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fairness, was rather more limited in the 1998 Act. That Act enabled joint membership of the Irish Senate and the Northern Ireland Assembly. My noble friend is right to say that the provision was passed without much controversy or discussion and it is now embodied in Section 36(5) of that Act. It was not resisted by either House.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, does the Minister accept that there is a difference between membership of a second sovereign Parliament and membership of a subsidiary Assembly? Will he confirm that the Disqualifications Bill was the result of a secret agreement between Sinn Fein/Provisional IRA and the Prime Minister, at which Sinn Fein undertook not to object to the Prime Minister's famous five hand-written pledges, given on the day before the referendum, in exchange for the later introduction of the Bill? Incidentally, those five pledges have not been honoured in any case.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Viscount has embroidered history, as far as I understand it. The Bill stands on its own merits. The aim is to improve, strengthen and deepen the quality of our relationship with Ireland. I believe that it will make a significant contribution towards that end. That is why I believe that it is entirely justified. We should concentrate on the future and the positive improvements that we can continue to make to strengthen the existing peace agreement.

Noble Lords: Next Question.

The Attorney-General (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, we are now in the 24th minute and there is one further Question.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, this Question started two minutes late. Does the noble Lord agree--

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, we are in the 24th minute. We have spent a good deal of time on this Question. In courtesy to the last questioner, I believe that we should move on.

Cancer Screening

3.30 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will introduce pilot studies to assess the value of recently announced DR-70 blood test screening for cancer.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, this test requires careful study. The UK National Screening Committee will discuss its appraisal of the available research evidence at its December meeting.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, which sounds better than

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many. However, is he aware that if this test is successful, as is claimed following independent tests carried out in China, Chile and Taiwan, we would be able to avoid the tragic situation of past years whereby, because of delays caused by NHS waiting lists, by the time people are admitted to hospital their conditions are inoperable? As the test has been welcomed as the "holy grail" of cancer, does he not believe that it is most important that people should be made aware of whether it is successful?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the only details I have concerning the test are probably those from the same newspaper articles the noble Baroness saw earlier this week. My understanding is that trials continue. I accept that we must make the most use of new and emerging technologies. That is why the National Screening Committee will be watching closely the progress of this particular test and will make recommendations in due course.

As to the specific issues the noble Baroness raised, she will be aware of the recently published national cancer plan which is designed to deal with the issue of waiting to which she referred.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, clearly it is important for the public that such screening tests are carried out quickly and authoritatively. Is there not a good case for passing responsibility for evaluating such tests to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence--NICE--provided it has the appropriate resources?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am not persuaded of that. The National Screening Committee has an excellent reputation internationally for the quality of its work. I believe that it is the appropriate body to whom we should refer such situations and tests. I am satisfied that when it reports and advises Ministers, it does so on the best available, robust evidence.

Earl Howe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that one of the obstacles to meeting the Government's targets on cancer treatment is the shortage of cancer specialists? Is he concerned, for example, that a maximum two-month waiting time between referral and treatment of patients with breast cancer will be unattainable by the target date of 2002 because of the time that is currently needed to carry out the diagnosis?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I fully accept that issues of workforce are important in determining whether we shall meet the target set in the national plan. In relation to breast cancer, I understand that we have made great progress so far as concerns the two-month wait between an initial meeting with a GP to referral to a consultant. The success rate in meeting that particular target is over 90 per cent.

Overall, the NHS plan contains proposals for increasing the number of cancer specialists over the

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next few years. I am confident that we shall meet those targets. I also believe that we need to increase not only the number of consultants but the number of support workers involved in screening. Again, they are very much a part of our workforce planning.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, the Minister says that he has read newspaper reports. Does he know that a scientific report published in the Journal of Immunoassay states that more than 90 per cent accuracy has been achieved in the test? Will he also comment on the statement that the people who produce the blood test, which is simple and takes only a matter of minutes, say that they would like to launch it in the private sector first and that they intend to make an application to the Government for permission to do so? Is he sure that the cancer screening group, or whatever other group he suggests, will be confident that the test is successful before it is launched, even privately?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the information that she has provided and I should be glad to read the additional information to which she referred. My understanding is that the National Screening Committee will give this matter consideration at its December meeting. However, at present the test is still undergoing trials. Clearly, any decision made by the committee and any advice that it gives to Ministers must be based on the most robust evidence possible. I assure the noble Baroness that, whatever advice we receive, it will be given the utmost consideration. I share with her the desire to use screening and other tests wherever they are shown to be effective.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, is my noble friend able to give preliminary indications as to whether this new test would replace the more conventional forms of screening which now take place? If that were to happen, would there be a saving in NHS resources and a speeding up of the screening process?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I believe that it would be very unwise for me to go into those matters before the National Screening Committee has considered this particular test. The whole purpose of the screening committee is to give the best possible advice to Ministers. However, it is worth saying that over the past few years in this country screening--particularly for breast cancer--has had a most beneficial effect. Indeed, I understand that through screening in 1998-99 breast cancer was detected and treated in nearly 8,000 women in England.

We need to build on the effectiveness of current tests. In the national plan and the cancer plan we made it clear that we shall undertake pilot studies of other cancer tests where they can be shown to be effective and will assess the effectiveness of those screening tests. As I said, we shall consider very carefully the advice from the National Screening Committee.

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Business

3.37 p.m.

Viscount Cranborne: My Lords, with the leave of the House, I should like to ask a question of the Deputy Leader of the House about the order of business. We understand that the NAO report on the Dome was published this morning. I wonder whether the Leader of the House or the Government Chief Whip can tell the House whether a request has been received for the noble and learned Lord the Minister for the Dome to come to the House to tell your Lordships about the Government's reaction; whether that request has been delivered; whether it was denied; and whether it was denied on the grounds that there would be an opportunity in the near future to question the noble and learned Lord on that matter.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, first, I am sorry that the Leader of the House is not here. She has official engagements elsewhere. I regret to say that, because I had not received notice of this question from the noble Viscount, I simply do not know the answer. Had I any information, I should of course want to share it with the House. However, in the absence of prior notification, I simply do not know the answer.


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