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Mr. Robertson: My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary has pointed out to me that the Russians were extremely disappointed that, after six hours of discussion in Belgrade, this was all that Milosevic was willing to offer. As one who is not in the Foreign Office, I can vouch for how much my right hon. Friend has done in the past few weeks--for the hours that he has put in, the commitment that he has displayed, and his passionate search for an agreement that would avoid the bloodshed and any further violence that might prove necessary. He and the French Foreign Minister, Hubert Vedrine, deserve a vote of thanks. I do not think that they will look for it until we have a settlement, but no one is working harder than they are to achieve it.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North): Everyone must be well aware of the horrors of what is happening in Kosovo, and of the dreadful treatment of ordinary people there by the Serbian forces as a result of Milosevic's orders.

I was disappointed that my right hon. Friend's statement made no reference to the United Nations, or to any effort to persuade the UN to introduce a monitoring force with the possibility of a ceasefire. What urgent efforts will be made to contact the UN, to bring in Kofi Annan and to bring about a ceasefire, protect refugees and secure a long-term settlement guaranteeing the autonomy of Kosovo? Many people believe that the bombing campaign will not resolve the problem, and will land us with a long-term disaster.

Mr. Robertson: My hon. Friend has a long record of campaigning against tyrants. Perhaps he will tell us how he would deal with this particular tyrant: we should all be interested to hear his practical proposals.

As for what my hon. Friend said about the United Nations, it was the UN Security Council which passed resolution 1199 last October, with the support of the Russians. That resolution called for an end to the disproportionate violence, called for the troops to be pulled out of Kosovo, and said that there should be a political agreement that all other parties should sign. It was the UN Security Council which, last week, considered a resolution from the Russians condemning the NATO action. That resolution was defeated by 12 votes to three, the biggest defeat of a resolution since 1993. It is the United Nations which is involved in the humanitarian emergency, and in delivering supplies that will help the victims of Milosevic's aggression.

Mr. Michael Colvin (Romsey): Does the Secretary of State agree that, while it is vital for the NATO summit

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scheduled for next month to proceed, there might be some merit in postponing any decision on NATO's new strategic concept--as it is described--until the lessons of the Kosovo operation have been learned?

Mr. Robertson: I have reached the opposite conclusion. I think that there is all the more reason for us to press ahead with a new strategic concept that takes into account the new rules that NATO is being expected to observe.

The hon. Gentleman is, however, right to refer to the 50th anniversary of NATO that is to take place in three weeks or so. NATO is in action now, and its organisation has kept together 19 allies. Without NATO, the Kosovar Albanians would be at the mercy of an unprincipled and unscrupulous butcher. NATO is our proving ground, and I believe that it will prove itself for the next 50 years as a result of what happens in the next few weeks.


Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael J. Martin): With permission, I shall put together the motions relating to delegated legislation.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 118(6) (Standing Committees on Delegated Legislation),

Civil Aviation

    That the draft Carriage by Air Acts (Application of Provisions) (Fifth Amendment) Order 1999, which was laid before this House on 18th March, be approved.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

Question agreed to.


Nuclear Waste

10.59 pm

Ms Jackie Lawrence (Preseli Pembrokeshire): I wish to present a petition with about 20,000 signatures collected by people living in the area of the village of Trecwn in my constituency. The petition expresses total opposition to efforts by Omega Pacific Ltd. to promote the former Royal Naval Armaments Department Trecwn site for the storage of intermediate and low-level nuclear waste. The site is in an environmentally sensitive area adjacent to the Pembrokeshire Coast national park. It is in close proximity to Skomer marine nature reserve and the Pembrokeshire Islands special area of conservation. In addition, proposals would create economic blight in an already depressed local economy when opportunity is offered through objective 1 status.

The petition asks the House of Commons to urgethe Government to recognise the environmental and ecological importance of Pembrokeshire, and

To lie upon the Table.

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1219

Cystic fibrosis

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.--[Mr. Mike Hall.]

11 pm

Mr. Archie Norman (Tunbridge Wells): I am glad, even at this late hour, to have a chance to raise the cause of cystic fibrosis sufferers. I am grateful, too, to the Minister for remaining here late to hear what I have to say.

Cystic fibrosis is a serious genetic disease. It isthe United Kingdom's most common life-threatening inherited disease. It causes great suffering throughout life and is, in most cases, the eventual cause of death for sufferers. One in 25 of the UK population is a carrier of the CF gene, and one in 2,500 babies is afflicted with the disease.

Cystic fibrosis used to be a children's disease. In 1968, when the prescription charge exemption list was first developed, adult cystic fibrosis was virtually unknown because of the simple fact that the children did not survive long enough to last into adulthood; they died in childhood. Now, as a result of advances in medical research and the improvement in palliative care, many sufferers are surviving into adulthood. Therefore, the question of prescription charge exemption is relevant.

I have a personal interest in the matter because my father, Dr. Archie Norman, devoted much of his working life to research into cystic fibrosis and the care of CF patients. He tells me that few of his former patients live on even into their 50s. Dr. Wallis of Great Ormond Street hospital for children estimates that, today, the average life expectancy of a new-born CF baby is 30 years.

Therefore, the time has come to reassess eligibility of CF sufferers for prescription exemption. That issue has been clearly identified by the Labour party as a serious issue and was set out as an explicit commitment in "Health 2000", which was published in February 1994 by the Labour party. It says:

That commitment was clear cut and unambiguous. The Minister will also be aware of the early-day motion that was tabled last November, which was signed by 120 hon. Members, 75 of whom were Labour Members, including the Chairman of the Select Committee on Health, the hon. Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe).

Today, the Prime Minister reaffirmed that commitment when, in answer to my question, he stated:

Those are fine words and noble sentiments. Regrettably, however, to date--and it is nearly two years--we have heard little from Ministers regarding any specific intention to act.

Despite that clear and reaffirmed commitment, despite the hope and belief that it gave to many CF sufferers who voted at the general election, after nearly two years we have had no announcement of any time scale. I ask the

31 Mar 1999 : Column 1220

Minister to give a clear indication of the position and to come clean as to when, not whether, the pledge will be delivered.

In particular, will the Minister clarify a statement made by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who, when he was Minister of State at the Department of Health, wrote to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, in November 1998, saying:

we knew that--

    "and no clear consensus for extending it has since emerged"?

That statement seems completely blind to the consensus that has indeed emerged on CF. The right hon. Gentleman seems also to have been unaware of the Labour party's commitment on the subject.

There is widespread support for exemption for cystic fibrosis sufferers. It may be that other conditions are good candidates for exemption, but are more contentious. It seems absurd, however, to penalise CF sufferers because other cases may be more doubtful.

The British Medical Association agrees that the current system is widely seen by the public as unfair. The BMA supports exemption for CF sufferers. Dr. George Rae, chairman of its general practitioner prescribing committee, has said:

In March 1999, the BMA also stated that

    "there are many unacceptable inequalities and anomalies in the present system. Those with cystic fibrosis are more disadvantaged than some of those presently exempt. There is no doubt that applying the original criteria"--

the 1968 criteria--

    "for prescription charge exemptions . . . CF would qualify now that sufferers are living into adulthood."

The National Association of Community Health Councils has endorsed that view, and Rosie Barnes, a former Member of Parliament as well as being chief executive of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, has said:

    "We believe that all adults with cystic fibrosis should be exempt from prescription charges on the grounds that they have a chronic medical condition which requires continuous essential medication".

The financial problems facing many CF sufferers as they grow into adulthood, and their families, are acute. Living costs are higher as a result of the condition, and not just because of medicines. Sufferers have a continual requirement for medication throughout their lives. Life as a CF sufferer from birth is a struggle to stay alive and to stay healthy.

I have spoken to many CF sufferers about the extent of the medication that they require just to stay alive. Rachel Lawrence, a working barrister who has CF, and the daughter of Sir Ivan Lawrence, the former hon. and learned Member for Burton, said:

She must also take vitamins and other supplements, and she has insulin four times a day.

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Mark Barron, a constituent from Tunbridge Wells, also suffers from CF. He says:

In addition, CF sufferers face other living costs that are naturally high. They need a high-calorie diet, which means that they cannot rely on normal junk food. Their life support costs are greater than for normal individuals, because it is essential that their homes are kept very warm and dry. Often, they cannot use public transport. They need oxygen on flights if they travel by air. They need a nebuliser, but, unfortunately, those provided by the national health service are not portable. For any kind of independence, they must pay £300 plus maintenance for their own portable nebuliser.

The cost of suffering from CF is therefore very great. A modest estimate for an adult would be in excess, above normal living costs, of £1,000 a year.

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