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Mrs. Browning: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. Does he not think that midwives, health visitors and similar people are professionals? They are the people who will vet whether material is appropriate to be sent to mothers. My colleagues in the Department are working hard to ensure the success of the campaign to put before mothers the positive benefits of breast milk, and that is the right way to go. However, the debate denigrates that part of a woman's body from her shoulders to the top of

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her head. It assumes that women do not have the intelligence or the nous to form an opinion for themselves. Most of the professionals giving that opinion are also women.

Are Opposition Members who contributed to today's debate really saying that midwives and health visitors should not be allowed to see an advertisement for a product that is on sale in every chemist and Tesco branch in the country? One would think that it was a banned substance. The hon. and learned Member for Montgomery comes from a party that is constantly asking for deregulation of banned substances. He seems now to want to ban a substance that is available to anybody to purchase in any shop in the country.

Mr. Alex Carlile: That point was rather unworthy of the hon. Lady, particularly as I am personally opposed to the deregulation of the substances that the hon. Lady has in mind. She has been a little less generous than she should have been, given the spirit of the debate. My case is not that mothers are unintelligent or that professionals will not receive the information. It is that, under the regulations, it will be possible for freely available advertising material to lie about unsupervised and unadvised in doctors' surgeries, clinics, dentists' waiting rooms and so on. Surely the Government did not intend that.

Mrs. Browning: I assure the hon. and learned Gentleman that any publication placed in a doctor's or hospital waiting room will have been vetted by the professionals upon whose expertise we rely in giving advice to mothers.

Mr. Carlile: That is being complacent.

Mrs. Browning: Not at all. That is the restriction imposed by the directive. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman not trust health care professionals to vet an advertisement for a product that is freely available? I have not had occasion to buy the product in question for many years, so I made a point of examining its packaging and the claims made for it. I would be concerned if anything on the packaging said that the mother should stop breast-feeding and change to milk powder-feeding, but it does not say that.

Dr. Lynne Jones: It is more subtle than that.

Mrs. Browning: Women are subtle, and they are subtle enough to make intelligent, informed decisions for themselves. They do not need hon. Members to elevate their judgment above that of millions of mothers in this country. While we all agree on the benefits of breast milk-feeding, to assume that hon. Members have better judgment than mothers when it comes to the interests of their babies--

Mr. Carlile: I do.

Mrs. Browning: The hon. and learned Gentleman says that he does have better judgment. Good luck to him. I hope that he will take his advice to maternity units around the country and put it to the test.

Mr. Martyn Jones: I remind the Minister that the bodies to which the material will be submitted are the same organisations that are asking her to ban infant formula advertising.

Mrs. Browning: The hon. Gentleman is right when he says that the representations made by professional bodies

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were in opposition, but when independent research is undertaken of professionals at the sharp end--health visitors and midwives--there is a different result. They are the professionals, and they say that they are the right people to give advice, and I agree. It is absurd of the hon. and learned Gentleman to put his judgment above that of an experienced midwife or health visitor. He should acknowledge the professionalism of those experts--mainly, but not exclusively, women--who advise women.

Dr. Lynne Jones: Will the Minister give way?

Mrs. Browning: No, because I have only a few more minutes and the hon. Lady merely intervened--it is not her Adjournment debate. As I said, we were fully committed to supporting the promotion of breast-feeding, and therefore conscious that to adopt only the minimum in the directive would have meant controls less restrictive than those already in place under the voluntary agreement with the industry. We decided that that would not provide the support that the promotion of breast-feeding deserves.

After careful consideration, we concluded that the option that best served that dual purpose was the one that has been operating voluntarily and successfully since 1983. Under the voluntary code of practice, infant formula advertising that is to be read mainly by mothers and pregnant women is not permitted unless it is disseminated under the supervision or care of the health care system. I assure hon. Members that it will remain for the judgment of the professionals concerned. The regulations give statutory effect to the existing voluntary requirements, which means that infant formula advertising will continue to be allowed, but only in baby care publications distributed through the health care system, scientific publications and certain trade journals not seen by the public. I am grateful to the hon. and learned Gentleman for initiating the debate. We share his concern about, and his enthusiasm for, breast-feeding, but I have to tell him that the women of this country, the mothers of this country and the professionals in the health service are able to make rational judgments. They do not need to be protected from something that is in daily use and that will continue to be so.

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1.59 pm

Ms Margaret Hodge (Barking): I have called this debate on the drug known as septrin, or bactrim, as I am horrified by what I have learnt about the possible side effects of this commonly prescribed antibiotic.

The significance of the drug goes beyond the horrendous suffering that it has caused a considerable number of those who have taken it, to wider questions about the effectiveness of our regulatory system for drugs and medicines. I have called the debate for two reasons: first, to ask the Minister urgently and thoroughly to review the licence of the drug; and, secondly, to draw the attention of the House to my concerns about the framework for licensing drugs, and the need for change.

I first became aware of the issue of septrin, the generic name of which is co-trimoxazole, in January this year. My constituent, Kate Reid, a young woman in her 30s, came to my advice surgery. She told me that, eight years ago, she visited her general practitioner, as she had a sore throat. She was prescribed septrin. After two days of taking the medicine, she collapsed, her tongue having swollen so badly that she could hardly breathe. She was rushed to hospital. Six weeks followed, during which she continued to suffer because of her allergic reaction to the drug. The skin over her whole body blistered horribly and completely fell away. Her vagina closed up. Her finger and toe nails fell out, and she was unable to walk or talk. She was very lucky to have survived at all. Her suffering has, of course, continued and she will never regain her good health. The physical scars will never disappear, nor will the mental scars.

Not only has Kate Reid had to endure numerous skin grafts and surgery, but she is left unable to walk properly because of the pain in her feet left by the blistering. Her tongue remains black and blistered. He body has stopped producing saliva or tears. Her finger and toe nails have never grown back. She has lost her job and lives on benefit. Her relationship with her boyfriend fell apart and she has had to have psychotherapy to come to terms with the trauma. As one can imagine, when she told me all this, I was horrified at the suffering that this woman had endured as a result of a drug prescribed for a sore throat. At least, I thought, it must be a one- off. Surely such an horrendous reaction must be almost unique. Tragically, that is not the case. As I have discovered, more and more people are coming forward following recent publicity about septrin. As many as 700 people who have suffered, or whose relatives have suffered similar reactions to those experienced by Kate, after being prescribed septrin for minor ailments such as sore threats or cystitis, have contacted either journalists or one of the septrin action groups. Most of those people are women, as women more commonly get urinary tract infections.

No one knows precisely how many people have died as a result of having taken septrin. A recent report to the Committee on Safety of Medicines in England says that deaths linked to the sulphonamide component of septrin have so far reached 137. The same committee's research, however, shows that 10 times as many cases go unreported. As septrin has been one of the most popular antibiotics since the 1970s, the total figure may well be much higher, and, of course, there are thousands of people like Kate who suffer in varying degrees because of its side effects.

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What I have tried to do, as a layperson, is to see whether there is a case for reviewing the drug's licence. I submit to the House that the Department of Health cannot continue to ignore the evidence of totally unnecessary human suffering resulting from the inappropriate prescription of septrin. The Department is failing in its duty if it does not call for an immediate and thorough review. More people's lives will be destroyed and more families may lose loved ones in the future.

Septrin was first marketed in 1969 and has been a highly successful commercial product for the Wellcome Foundation. Worldwide sales are said to be worth up to $5 billion. Since it was first licensed, however, extensive medical research has shown that only one of its ingredients, the sulphonamide component, causes those horrific side effects. Furthermore, in most cases, that ingredient is not necessary. Giving patients the other ingredient, trimethoprim, on its own, would be just as effective and much safer.

I am aware that septrin may have a very important role to play in certain circumstances, for example in the treatment of people with acquired immune deficiency syndrome--AIDS--where trimethoprim has not been shown to be as effective as septrin. However, all the major studies have shown that, in most circumstances, trimethoprim alone is just as effective as septrin and much safer. What I cannot understand, therefore, is why the data sheet, which licenses the use of septrin, has not been changed to limit its use to the few circumstances where no other treatment will do.

The case of septrin shows up the failure of our drugs regulation system. The evidence against the wider use of septrin has been around for 20 years, but it has not resulted in a change in the drug's data sheet or licence. Why not? What is in our regulatory framework that can lead to an appalling failure to protect people? First, the system is governed by secrecy. Section 118 of the Medicines Act 1968 basically gags the experts involved in regulation from revealing information on drugs beyond that specifically contained in the data sheet; so the experts cannot tell us, the public, or even the doctors, that septrin should be prescribed only in certain circumstances. That is particularly dangerous because the Medicines Control Agency, which regulates drugs, is totally funded by the pharmaceutical industry. Its members mostly have an interest in the products on which they advise. Indeed, almost all research in this field is funded by the drugs industry itself. One is left wondering whether the financial interests of the industry have too great an influence at the expense of safety of the patients.

Which? magazine recently undertook a telling piece of research. It sent duplicate requests for information about septrin to the US Food and Drugs Administration and the United Kingdom Medicines Control Agency. The FDA sent the equivalent of 300 pages of detailed data on the drug, including its side effects. The MCA, our agency, took longer to reply and could send a mere 22 pages. The Government's refusal to repeal section 118 is, in my view, misguided and seems to put the interests of industry profit above those of patient safety. My second point is that patients need better access to authority to complain about the side effects of drugs. At present, they can speak only to their doctor, who may not want to hear that their prescription is responsible for the side effects that the patient has suffered. My constituent, for example, was so persistent that the GP finally removed

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her from his register--perhaps that is another story. Again, precisely because there is no channel for complaints, the GP will be unaware of similar cases and may presume that it is a one- off, not to be taken as a reflection on the drug as a whole. We need a proper system to monitor openly all cases of side effects. The Committee on Safety of Medicines is a watchdog that never barks. At the very least, there should be patient representatives on it to beef it up so that cases like septrin are taken seriously and are not swept under the carpet. We also need a system under which patients can seek redress for the harm done to them. We seem to have learnt nothing from the thalidomide tragedy. Incredibly, the success rate of legal claims against drug companies in Britain is zero. I hope that the Select Committee on Health will examine the position.

A third change to the regulatory system would have prevented much of the suffering related to septrin had it been introduced 20 years ago. We need a proper, stringent and thorough review of drug licences when they are renewed. The Medicines Act requires the renewal of licences every five years, but I understand that the reviews are generally conducted by administrative staff at the Department of Health rather than by experts, and tend to go through almost on the nod. We can only presume that that happened with the renewal of the licence for septrin; how else can the licence have been renewed time after time with no change in the rules governing its use? In its report last summer, the Select Committee on Health made precisely that point to the Government. It recommended a national prescribing list of medicines for the NHS, with drugs being reviewed stringently every five years for inclusion in the list. In a vast and ever-changing market, it is essential that the Government accept the Committee's recommendations: regular reviews of drug licences are essential to determining which drug is the most appropriate, in terms of both effectiveness and cost.

The final change that I consider crucial to the safeguarding of patients is for the Department of Health to take responsibility for informing doctors when a drug's licence has changed. At present, even if the information were getting through to the Medicines Control Agency and drug licences changed when they should, GPs would be unlikely to be aware of the change. That is borne out by evidence that most hospitals have largely abandoned the use of septrin, other than for the treatment of people with AIDS. GPs have not followed suit. There are so many products on the market that GPs tend to use those that they have heard of--those that drug companies have promoted heavily, or tried and tested products that they are used to. Just one example is griseofulvin, an anti-fungal medicine. Last year, the data sheet for griseofulvin was changed, stating that it should not be prescribed for men who expect to father a child in the next six months. There was no announcement of the change to GPs. How many have continued to prescribe griseofulvin in exactly the same way as they always have, unaware of any change in the data sheet? If the Government made the changes that I have recommended to tighten drug regulation, tragedies such as those that have befallen my constituent and countless others might be avoided in the future. The onus is on the Government to reassure the British people that their concern lies with the health of the patient, not the health of the drug industry. The evidence on septrin itself

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overwhelmingly suggests that the sulphonamide component increases both the danger and the cost of the product. I call on the Government to change the licence for the drug with the utmost urgency, before any more people suffer as Kate Reid has suffered.

2.13 pm

Mr. Doug Hoyle (Warrington, North): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Ms Hodge) for allowing me to speak, and for the detailed way in which she put her case.

My interest in septrin began when a constituent, Mr. Beddows, came to see me in November last year. He had been prescribed the drug for bronchitis, but when he took it his skin peeled off and he blew up like a huge balloon. He was in a dangerous condition, and had to go to hospital. Moreover, he could cite other cases among his small circle of friends. A child had lost skin off both legs; an adult had suffered from internal bleeding; another had experienced low blood pressure. According to Mr. Beddows, an action group had established that as many as 25 per cent. of users of septrin were suffering from adverse effects.

Having heard all that, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Health and received a reply from the Under-Secretary of State, Baroness Cumberlege. I thought it rather complacent: although she admitted that there were adverse side effects, she suggested that they were a matter for GPs, who knew their patients. I wrote to Mr. Beddows, who came to see me again, bringing with him the case against septrin that had been prepared by Professor Richard Lacey--an extremely detailed case.

I wrote again to the Minister, whose reply went a little further this time. She repeated her view that, although dangers existed, they were a matter for GPs; but she also took up Professor Lacey's suggestion that trimethoprim, taken on its own, was the answer. She claimed that that, too, had side effects, but admitted that clinical practice was changing in relation to the prescribing of antibiotics, and that "in some situations"-- I believe that in this regard she was following Professor Lacey to some extent--clinical practice "favours the use of single rather than combination antibiotic therapy."

She added:

"The Medicines Control Agency is reviewing whether the licence for Septrin should reflect this."

I wrote to the Minister again on 2 March, and am still awaiting a reply. In my letter, I asked what evidence there was that serious side effects from co-trimoxazole--septrin--were rare, and what evidence there was that trimethoprim also had side effects. According to Professor Lacey, those side effects are minor in comparison, and trimethoprim would be much safer to use. I hope that the Minister will mention that when he replies.

More and more people are joining the new action group, saying that they, too, have experienced adverse effects. It is time for a complete review of the drug, and if it is found to have serious side effects, I hope that it will be withdrawn from the market without hesitation.

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2.17 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Tom Sackville): The safety of medicines is an enormously important topic. Many medicines have serious side effects, and many people suffer without knowing that their suffering results from an adverse reaction.

The story of Kate Reid, related to us by the hon. Member for Barking (Ms Hodge), is very harrowing. I have visited hospitals and seen people who have been badly affected by drugs, including antibiotics. It goes without saying that there is an element of risk in all medicinal compounds, however many efforts are made to test them and avoid side effects; a balance must always be struck. As the hon. Lady said, co-trimoxazole has been sold as septrin by Wellcome and as bactrim by Roche Products Ltd. Some 100 generic licences for the production of the compound have now been issued. Since 1969, 85 million prescriptions for co-trimoxazole, under its different names, have been issued in this country. Some 3,500 adverse reactions have been reported to the Medicines Control Agency, and 137 deaths have been linked to the use of co-trimoxazole. However, before coming to any conclusions on that, we must assess whether those adverse reactions and the tragic deaths were attributable to co-trimoxazole or to one of its constituent parts. It has been alleged in the press recently--and, I think, implied by the hon. Member for Barking--that sulphamethoxazole, the other constituent, has mainly been responsible for the adverse reactions. I, too, speak as a layman and I am informed by the Medicines Control Agency that no difference exists between the pattern of adverse reactions to co- trimoxazole and the pattern of adverse reactions to trimethoprim alone.

It has been fairly widely alleged that it would be safer to use trimethoprim. I understand that not only is the pattern of adverse reactions to the compound and to the substance similar but a comparable pattern of adverse reactions exists across the range of widely used antibiotics. That takes the debate much wider into the question of the use of antibiotics and how widely they are used, but we are talking specifically about whether a case exists for a review or, as the hon. Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) said, for withdrawing co- trimoxazole from the market. I understand that such a case does not exist because, as I said, the pattern of reactions is comparable across the range of antibiotics.

A body of expert literature exists about this subject. It confirms the Medicines Control Agency's advice, which it arrives at through its yellow card system of adverse drug reactions reporting, that no special degree of risk is associated with co-trimoxazole. As I think the hon. Gentleman knows, a study has been carried out recently by Dr. Hershel Jick at Boston university, who is a much-renowned expert on drug reactions. It has considered the prescribing data on tens of thousands of people and compared the adverse reactions of co-trimoxazole with those of alternative antibiotics. That work, which I suspect will be published soon, has been made available to researchers and professionals in advance of publication. It confirms that the risk of severe adverse reaction from co-trimoxazole is not only low but comparable with that from other widely used antibiotics.

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It has also been said during the debate that a lack of information about medicines exists for patients and doctors. Recently, the Medicines Control Agency was asked for the information about co-trimoxazole and it gave 22 pages of the precisely relevant data. I am not aware that anyone has made a case that anything is missing from that data. The equivalent body in America produced 300 pages simply because it handed over the entire file on the product. One cannot measure relevance or efficacy of information by the weight of paper. As far as I know, all the relevant data were made available on that occasion.

The British National Formulary , which is supplied free to all doctors, clearly states the side effects of co-trimoxazole. There is an alarming list, as there often is on antibiotics and many other drugs. It starts with nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, glossitis, rashes and gives a list of Latin names which I shall not go through. No one is in any doubt that there are adverse reactions to the antibiotic, as there are to most others. A large number of adverse reactions, and indeed deaths, are associated with the range of penicillins, but, if one considers the pattern, it is broadly similar. Clearly, therefore, no simple answer exists, except by raising the question of the use of antibiotics.

Co-trimoxazole still has a place. It is less widely used than it was, and trimethoprim is more commonly prescribed than


Ms Hodge: If it is true that co-trimoxazole is less well used than before, will the Minister please just listen to the speeches that my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington, North (Mr. Hoyle) and I made today? Instead of coming here with a prepared speech, will the Minister go away and really do a thorough review? The reason that it is used less often is that a safer alternative drug is available which can deal with many of the common ailments. He should consider limiting the licence under which septrin is marketed so that it is used only where it is absolutely necessary.

Mr. Sackville: I have not used a prepared speech. I have some notes that I made during the hon. Lady's speech, but I happen to have spent some time with the Medicines Control Agency to try to find out the detail of the argument. A reason still exists for co-trimoxazole to be in the British National Formulary. The hon. Lady referred to drug resistance. It is well known, and a great

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body of evidence exists on this, that trimethoprim, given alone, leads to greater resistance to antibiotics. There is a great deal of data to suggest that, in some parts of the country --I have a letter from a leading paediatrician to prove this--there is up to 30 per cent. resistance to trimethoprim given alone. There are cases, and she cited one of them--pneumocystis carinii pneumonia, or PCP, among AIDS victims--where it is clear that trimethoprim given alone leads to too much resistance and quickly becomes ineffective. Other practitioners will tell us that much larger doses of trimethoprim must be given if it is given alone, and that it is possible to give a much smaller dose if it is accompanied by the other constituent of co-trimoxazole.

Clearly, antibiotics have been one of the great advances of modern medicine. Thousands, if not millions of lives, have been saved by them, but, like many other medicines, they have an attendant risk. What we have to be clear about--this is germane to the debate--is whether co-trimoxazole has a higher level of risk than antibiotics generally. The evidence that has been given to me is that that is not the case. The hon. Lady mentioned that there should be a five-yearly review. She will forgive me if I say that the Select Committee was talking about the efficacy and value of drugs rather than safety. Safety is reviewed all the time. There is a yellow card system of adverse reactions reporting in this country which, I hesitate to say, is the envy of the world because it is such a comprehensive system. The Medicines Control Agency advises the Secretary of State about drug safety. That body is also widely respected as probably the agency with the greatest professionalism and probity of any in the world. I challenge the hon. Lady to find another country with a more efficient system.

I can assure all those who are concerned about co-trimoxazole that that drug and all others like it are constantly under review. Drug leaflets will be issued with all drugs in future. Since last year there has been a rolling programme for all medicines to have a drug information leaflet and one has already been approved for co-trimoxazole. We have a high-grade system for the monitoring and licensing of medicines and I can assure the hon. Lady that drug safety will continue to be of the highest priority.

It being half-past Two o'clock, the motion for the Adjournment of the House lapsed, pursuant to Order [19 December].

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Points of Order

3.31 pm

Mr. George Foulkes (Carrick, Cumnock and Doon Valley): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Some of the lawyers representing families in the Ayrshire child abuse case have been quoted in the press as saying that Members of Parliament should not raise matters on behalf of their constituents. I represent seven of the social workers involved, and I consider that the action taken by those lawyers constitutes intimidation: they are trying to stop me performing my role as their Member of Parliament. I hope that you will make it clear, Madam Speaker--today or on some other occasion--that not even the most distinguished Scots lawyers can stop Members of Parliament looking after the interests of their constituents.

Madam Speaker: I am sure that, like every other hon. Member, the hon. Gentleman is not intimidated by any such comments made outside the House. All hon. Members have a duty to carry out their responsibilities on behalf of their constituents, and they will certainly be able to do so for as long as I am Speaker.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will be aware, as we all are, that one of the most distressing experiences that our constituents can have is having their homes burgled. Have you seen this morning's report that 1.5 million burglaries take place in Britain every year--more than in any other country in Europe? According to the report, the chances are that, every year, 65 in every 1,000 homes will be burgled, compared with 37 per 1,000 in Holland and 30

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per 1,000 in Germany. Is it not time that the Home Secretary dealt with that disgraceful position? Has he asked permission to make a statement to the House?

Madam Speaker: The answer is no. What the hon. Gentleman has raised with me is by no means a point of order; it is a matter that he must pursue through the normal channels.

Mr. Mike O'Brien (Warwickshire, North): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Is it possible to quote, in an early-day motion, the words of a respected Member of the other place, who said today:

"This lot are a complete shower. . .and one of the worst Governments I can remember"

under the Prime Minister's "feeble leadership"? That was said by Lord Whitelaw--

Madam Speaker: Order. I certainly will not give a ruling without notice and without seeing the full context of what the hon. Gentleman intends to put into the early-day motion. If he will let me see that, I shall give my ruling.

Mr. John Marshall (Hendon, South): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. Given that my right hon. and learned Friend the Home Secretary is directly responsible only for the Metropolitan police, has he asked to make a statement about the success of Operation Bumblebee, which has substantially reduced the number of domestic burglaries in London?

Madam Speaker: As I explained to the hon. Gentleman and the House only yesterday or the day before--certainly this week--if any statements are to be made in the House, they will be on the Annunciator screen by lunchtime so that we are all aware that they are going to be made.

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School Transport Safety

3.34 pm

Mr. Jimmy Hood (Clydesdale): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to improve the safety of school transport by imposing stricter standards for school vehicles; by providing for the licensing by local authorities of such vehicles and their drivers; by requiring the supervision of children travelling in school vehicles; and by permitting controls on heavy goods vehicles on school transport routes.

The School Transport Safety Bill is about saving lives--children's lives. First, I want to record my appreciation of the national Belt Up School Kids group, whose secretary, Pat Harris, does an excellent job in campaigning on this issue, and my local branch of that organisation, the Carnwath and Biggar branch, led by Sherley Gallant, the chair; Helen McKenzie, the secretary; and John Pate, the treasurer. I should like to give a special thanks to Shona Cousins, who is also a member of that group. Shona is the mother of Tony Cousins, a young boy who, along with his school colleague Francis Scorgie, died in a school bus accident in my constituency on that terrible and tragic day, 17 February 1994.

My Bill will make seat belts compulsory on all vehicles transporting schoolchildren. It will end the obscenity of three children in two seats. It will empower local authorities to license vehicles and, indeed, to license drivers. It will require supervision of children travelling to and from school in coaches other than by the driver of the vehicle. Equally important, it will control heavy and awkward vehicles using school routes in rural areas where children are travelling to and from school.

The date of February 1994 will live with me for the rest of my life. Two children in my constituency received injuries that caused their death. Those two children left home at 8 o'clock in the morning, as they had done hundreds of times before, but, unfortunately, on that day, they did not return to their families. There has been a great national campaign on the issue and great concern has been expressed about seat belts and the safety of children travelling to and from school. In response to that great concern, on 19 July the then Secretary of State for Transport stated, in answer to a written question, that the Government intended to act ahead of the European Commission and to legislate to make seat belts compulsory on minibuses and coaches. That was welcome. I am pleased that the hon. Member for Salisbury (Mr. Key), the Minister with responsibility for such matters at the time, is here to listen to the debate. Unfortunately, eight or nine months have passed since that statement and little or nothing has been done. I am Chairman of the Select Committee on European Legislation. It set up a Sub-Committee to consider the transport safety aspects and the competency of member

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states vis-a -vis the European Commission's proposals. We took evidence from the former Minister way back in July. Because nothing had happened, we decided to call the Minister for Transport in London, whom I am pleased to see present, to give evidence. By coincidence, lo and behold, the day before the Minister appeared before that Committee, another statement was issued by the Department of Transport. It mirrored what had been said nine months previously. As happened nine months ago, I did not scorn that statement too much because I welcomed any move that would help to deal with the problem, but I say to the Minister that it is the same as the statement on 19 July. It is too little, too late and it promises to deal with the problem in another 18 months. God knows how many children will lose their lives in that time.

I have argued that seat belts will save lives, but I am not arguing that seat belts are the only thing that we need to have to save those lives. That is why my Bill addresses the problem of supervision. If we have seat belts in coaches, the wearing of them has to be enforced in some way. When there are 30 or 40 children on a coach or bus going to school, they have to be supervised.

It is important to look at the problem of licensing vehicles and it is necessary to have vehicles that are properly designed for the purpose. Equally, it is necessary to license drivers to ensure that they are competent to carry out their task. It is also important to look at the problem of traffic management, especially in rural areas such as my own in Clydesdale, where there are miles and miles of narrow roads on which cumbersome coaches transport children. We have to get rid of the nonsense, the obscenity, of overcrowding where three children sit in two seats. My Bill addresses those points. I shall close as I began, by saying that the Bill will save lives. In the memory of Francis Scorgie and Tony Cousins, I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Jimmy Hood, Mr. Tom Clarke, Mr. Charles Kennedy, Mrs. Margaret Ewing, Dr. Norman A. Godman, Mr. Don Dixon, Mr. Brian H. Donohoe, Mr. Adam Ingram, Mr. Nigel Griffiths, Mr. George Foulkes, Mr. John Austin-Walker and Mr. Jimmy Wray.

School Transport Safety

Mr. Jimmy Hood accordingly presented a Bill to improve the safety of school transport by imposing stricter standards for school vehicles; by providing for the licensing by local authorities of such vehicles and their drivers; by requiring the supervision of children travelling in school vehicles; and by permitting controls on heavy goods vehicles on school transport routes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 28 April, and to be printed. [Bill 88.]

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Orders of the Day


Order for Second Reading read.

Question, That the Bill be now read a Second time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 54 (Consolidated Fund Bills), and agreed to.

Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

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Jobseekers Bill

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.


That the Jobseekers Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely New Clauses except New Clause 6, Amendments to the Bill, New Schedules, Amendments to the Schedules to the Bill, and New Clause 6.-- [Mr. Bates.]

New clause 7

Expedited claims for housing and council tax benefit

`.--(1) This section provides for the making of regulations to enable--

(a) information to be passed between authorities, and

(b) priority to be given to certain persons,

with a view to claims for housing or council tax benefit made by or in respect of persons who cease to be entitled to a jobseeker's allowance or income support being dealt with quickly.

(2) In the Administration Act, insert after section 128-- "Expedited claims for housing and council tax benefit

Disclosure of information by authorities

128A.--(1) Regulations may make provision requiring the disclosure by one authority ("the disclosing authority") to another authority ("the receiving authority"), in prescribed circumstances, of information of a prescribed description obtained by the disclosing authority in respect of persons who have been entitled to a jobseeker's allowance or to income support.

(2) The regulations may in particular provide for--

(a) information to be disclosed--

(i) at the request of the receiving authority;

(ii) at the request of any person who falls within a prescribed category; or

(iii) otherwise than in response to such a request;

(b) the period within which information is to be disclosed; and (c) information to be disclosed only if it has been obtained by the disclosing authority in the exercise of any of their functions in relation to housing benefit or council tax benefit."

(3) In section 63 of the Administration Act (adjudication of claims for housing benefit or council tax benefit), insert after subsection (2)--

"(2A) Regulations may make provision requiring authorities to whom claims for housing benefit or council tax benefit are made by, or in respect of, persons who have been entitled to a jobseeker's allowance or to income support to give priority, in prescribed circumstances, to those claims over other claims for any such benefit.".'.-- [Mr. Roger Evans.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.42 pm

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