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Mr. Bermingham: Does the Minister agree that if we pass a law that is incompatible with treaty obligations, the European Court will strike it down?

Ms Quin: My hon. Friend is right. There is no doubt that the substance of the Bill could result in European legal action being pursued. It is important for us to be consistent and the Government have rightly said that we obey European laws to which we have agreed.

The hon. Member for Eddisbury rightly pointed out why we so strongly deplore the French attitude to our beef exports. The hon. Member for South Suffolk (Mr. Yeo) urged us to be robust, so I should report to the House that I was at an annual international agricultural event in Paris yesterday to promote British meat products with members of the Meat and Livestock Commission and our own agricultural community. We sell lamb and sheepmeat to France in considerable quantities and it is therefore important to convey our support for those products. I also held a press conference that firmly criticised the completely unjust unilateral action taken by the French Government and repeated why British consumers have confidence in the high standards that we have introduced, to which Members on both sides of the House have referred.

Given the clear incompatibility of the substance of the Bill with European legislation, I was surprised that two Liberal Democrats spoke in support of it. I remind the House that we had to pay compensation when we introduced legislation that was struck down in the European Court of Justice--even legislation that appeared to be less at risk of being struck down than the Bill. It might have been useful for the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Bedfordshire--the former Attorney-General--to have listened to that point. The most striking example is provided by the Factortame judgment under which the Merchant Shipping Act 1988, which restricted the registration of fishing vessels and was designed to deny Spanish quota-hoppers access to United Kingdom fish quotas, was struck down in the European Court. Substantial compensation had to be paid.

The hon. Member for South Suffolk said that the Bill would not cost the Government anything. If it were implemented in anything like its current form, it could be extremely costly to the United Kingdom and could damage our reputation considerably. Although I agree that the principle behind what the hon. Member for Eddisbury is trying to achieve is dear to all our hearts--it has been the subject of a number of Government initiatives so far--it is simply impossible for us to give the Bill fair passage, knowing what its implications would be.

The hon. Member for Hazel Grove (Mr. Stunell) hopes that the Government will use the Bill as a lever in our arguments with other European countries. Although I am happy to listen to his advice, it is unnecessary because we are already taking action in that respect. I do not want to take a party political approach because there is a lot of common ground between Members on both sides of the House, but I believe that we have been far more active on labelling issues in the EU framework than the previous Government. Indeed, some complaints about the state of EU legislation have arisen from directives into which they entered.

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We are strongly committed to giving the consumer relevant information and there is no difference between us on the information that consumers want on labels. We are helping to create a system whereby consumers get more information now, and in the future we will be able to satisfy some of the hon. Gentleman's understandable aspirations.

The Government were taken to task by the hon. Member for West Dorset (Mr. Letwin). He blamed us for not being proactive enough on the Bill. I was once fortunate enough to get a much lower position in the ballot than the hon. Member for Eddisbury, and I wanted to introduce a public safety information Bill. I immediately approached the Department and sought a meeting with the relevant Ministers. Unfortunately, they did not accept my sensible measure. The hon. Gentleman could have come to us. He received support from the National Farmers Union, so I contacted that organisation to explain where we agree with it on labelling initiatives and the reasons why the Bill is not acceptable.

Mr. Letwin rose--

Ms Quin: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to continue, I shall come to the point that he specifically raised.

During the debate, many hon. Members have said that it will be possible to deal with some of these issues in Committee. Obviously, if the Bill proceeded into Committee we would have to tackle them. However, it would be tantamount to an abuse of parliamentary procedure to expect a Bill to go into Committee when its two substantive clauses are, in the Government's view and in the opinion of legal advisers, in contravention of Acts already on the statute book and of EU law. The two substantive clauses are incompatible with European law.

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We believe that to achieve the goals that the hon. Member for Eddisbury rightly wants to achieve, it is far better for Ministers to pursue the initiatives that they are already taking, and to spend time building up support in the European Union for our objectives, rather than to spend a huge amount of time in Committee on a Bill, the substantive elements of which are not compatible with European law. I think that there has been widespread understanding of that position during the debate.

The hon. Member for Eddisbury also mentioned the importance of the devolution aspects of his proposal. I assure him and the House that Ministers in my Department have regular meetings with the corresponding Ministers and Secretaries in the devolved legislatures and organisations. We are keen to move together on issues to which single market considerations apply, and when we need to present a common position to the European Union to get the changes that he and the Government want to achieve.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the proposed Bill in the Scottish Parliament, which I understand is at an early stage. As he recognised, that Bill refers to labelling of meat, so it is a much narrower measure than his Bill. I think that he would agree that it makes sense to make our approaches compatible. That is not an argument against devolution, of which I am an enthusiastic supporter, but it is a reason to support the approach taken by my Ministry and the Government, which have worked in harmony with representatives of the devolved Administrations to try to ensure that we present a united front on European and single market issues.

During the debate, many references were understandably made--

It being half-past Two o'clock, the debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed on Friday 9 June.

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Remaining Private Members' Bills


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 10 March.


Order for Second Reading read.

Hon. Members: Object.

Second Reading deferred till Friday 19 May.




That Mr. Desmond Browne be discharged from the Select Committee on Public Administration and Mr. John McFall be added to the Committee.


That Mr. Bob Blizzard be discharged from the Environmental Audit Committee and Mr. Phil Sawford be added.--[Mr. Sutcliffe.]

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Silicone Breast Implants

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

2.30 pm

Mr. Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington): I am pleased to have the opportunity to bring the House's attention to an issue that affects more and more women in the United Kingdom as well as abroad, on which I believe the Government have so far failed to take decisive action. I first became aware of the health risks associated with silicone implants when I was approached by a constituent whose case will, I believe, interest the House. It raises concerns about the safety of the operation as well as the product itself, but it is the latter that I shall consider in detail.

Dawn contacted me in September last year, having already suffered from the adverse effects of breast implants for more than a year. In June 1998, she found that the implant in her left breast had ruptured and needed to be replaced. In July, the implants were removed and replaced with others; however, Dawn found that the implants had made one of her breasts larger than the other. Moreover, it appeared that the scar tissue was infected.

A course of antibiotics was prescribed in an attempt to resolve the problem, requiring Dawn to return to hospital every week for 10 weeks. However, her condition deteriorated further: holes developed in her breast, requiring her to return to hospital for a further course of antibiotics. It culminated in her being rushed to hospital, where a doctor found that the implant was beginning to fall out. I apologise for going into such detail, but the detail highlights the concern felt by many about the safety not just of the operation, but--as I shall demonstrate--of the product itself.

Further intervention was required: an implant was removed. Subsequently, the wound had to be left to heal, with no stitches, so that the infection could be cleared. That obviously had a detrimental effect on both the physical and the mental well-being of my constituent, who, after what should have been a straightforward operation, was experiencing pain and--because she could not work for a long period--loss of income. She described herself as having been depressed and even suicidal. Moreover, she developed a peptic ulcer, which I think her doctors would suggest was a result of the stress that she experienced.

A further operation was performed to replace the implant, which left my constituent feeling numb on her left side down to the waist. Apparently, she was told that that was perfectly normal. For a further two months she had to visit the doctor every couple of weeks, and was taking painkillers and other medication.

By April, my constituent's doctor was still concerned about one of the implants, which he thought might have encapsulated. There was concern that her lymph glands were swollen. That evening, she was in such pain that she had to be admitted to hospital. After that series of operations, both implants were removed. The doctor informed her that, during removal, staff had had to remove a benign lump from her breast and--this is key--had found silicone around the lymph glands in her armpit.

My constituent continues to suffer the pain and anguish associated with the operation and with what happened subsequently. She continues to see various specialists to

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try to get the matter resolved. It seems that hers is not a lone case. She has been in regular contact by e-mail with concerned women throughout the world who are experiencing similar problems. Apparently, she is receiving up to 50 e-mails a day from different parts of the world. People are passing on information about the impact that Dow implants may have had on their health.

Silicone Support UK, which runs a helpline for women with similar problems, has told me that it has been in contact with no fewer than 2,000 women who are suffering from similar symptoms, so it is by no means a unique case. It appears that many thousands of women are affected in the UK and in other countries. I am sure that each hon. Member will have constituents who have health problems that would appear to be associated with either the operation to put the implants in, or the implants themselves, which I learned today contain no fewer than 37 constituent parts; they contain different chemicals or metals. It is not just inert silicone that is contained in implants, but many other materials which Members would find less acceptable and would say were in no way inert.

The problems associated with silicone implants that have been reported by different women range from partial paralysis to arthritis, severe allergies, chronic fatigue syndrome and memory problems. As hon. Members may know, a moratorium on silicone implants exists--except for clinical trials, in the United States and Canada--and they are banned in Australia, Japan and France, so what are the UK Government doing? I would not want to accuse the Government of doing absolutely nothing. Historically, action was taken when public awareness was perhaps at its height. In 1992, the Department of Health set up an independent expert advisory group to investigate the association between silicone gel breast implants and connective tissue disease. Apparently, it found no evidence of a link and no reason to alter existing policy.

In 1993, public anxiety was such that a breast implant registry was established at Salisbury district hospital. Apparently, the registry was to form the basis for future research projects. In 1994, the Medical Devices Agency of the Department of Health, which has continued to keep the issue under review, published a further analysis of the health risks of silicone implants and reached the same conclusions that had been reached in 1992. It is worth noting that medical health professionals are under no obligation to report incidents to the agency: there is a voluntary arrangement, which is a source of concern.

In 1997, the Government set up an independent review group to review all the evidence of possible health risks. The history is that, as concern has mounted, the Government have naturally wanted to reassure the public and be seen to be doing something, but being seen to do something is about all that it amounts to.

Let us examine a specific example. The breast implant registry at Salisbury district hospital was set up in 1993, nearly eight years ago. A parliamentary question that I tabled recently has identified that, since the registry was established, no research has yet been published.

The purpose of the registry is to collate information on breast implants, to enable research to be undertaken on the basis of that information and identify potential problems. However, although the registry has been up and running for seven years, no research has been published. I have been told that only one research project is under way. If one research project is all that the registry has been able

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to achieve in the past seven years--perhaps the Minister will correct me if it has accomplished more than that--it is not a terribly great achievement.

The registry contains details on 40,000 implant recipients, the ages of whom range from 12 to 80. The registry's scientific co-ordinator states:

Perhaps the Minister will say precisely how the registry has been able to raise "awareness of the process" and how the proportion of total registered procedures has increased since the registry was established in 1993.

The fact that no research has been completed might explain why no findings have been published. Surely the Minister will agree that, so far, it seems to be a case of activity for its own sake, rather than to serve a specific purpose. I wonder how the registry is informing the Government's policy. I should also like to know how much money has been invested in the registry. Perhaps the Minister will clarify that issue--if not now, then later, in writing. The registry does not so far seem to have been terribly good value for money.

The independent review group was established in 1997, to review all the evidence on possible health risks, and it reported in 1998. It identified various problems and made various important recommendations. The key issue is information and advertising. Hon. Members may have seen advertisements in various women's magazines, such as the one I am holding, which mention the "Natural look", "Natural feel" and "Natural push-up" of implants. There is nothing in the advertisements about the possible health and safety implications of implants. As a doctor told me, the results that are demonstrated in photographs in such advertisements are always perfect, whereas, as doctors accept, in many cases, the results can be anything but perfect.

What response has there been to the independent review group's recommendation that better information on implants should be provided? The Advertising Standards Authority and the Government are considering how best to deal with the matter, and they will seek to ensure that information on the risks of implant surgery is made readily available. However, it is another case of action in progress, but nothing delivered. The absence of advice for women on breast implants is a major stumbling block.

The independent review group also recommended that all patients undergoing surgery should be able to obtain free of charge comprehensive information from a designated body. I was told in the answer to my parliamentary question that such information would be available by the end of 1999, but that information has still not materialised. Will the Minister clarify when that freely and readily available information on the operation--to inform women of the risks, and perhaps of the financial costs--will be available to the general public? I have been told that information from the European Union on implants could be made available, but has been refused as inappropriate or not good enough for the United Kingdom. If that is not good enough, could we have something very quickly that is?

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The Government banned soya bean breast implants one year ago, after reports of 74 adverse incidents among the 5,000 women who had received such implants since they were introduced in 1995. Apparently, they were banned in accordance with the precautionary principle. Perhaps the Government were concerned about genetically modified organisms in soya when they banned those implants on the basis of the precautionary principle, which is now being advanced as a reason for scaling down the use of genetically modified organisms.

The deputy chief medical officer commented last year:

If those particular implants have been banned on the basis of the precautionary principle, there is at the very least a persuasive argument for the Government to ban silicone implants, as has been done in many other countries. I know that the Minister will not concede that today, but I hope that she will give me the modest assurance that the Government will agree to look at the matter again, perhaps with a greater degree of urgency than has been demonstrated so far. For my constituent, Dawn, and thousands of women like her, that is the very least that we can demand.

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