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Customs and Excise

Mr. Jim Cunningham: To ask the Solicitor-General if a decision has been reached concerning the future of Customs and Excise as a prosecuting authority. [153572]

The Solicitor-General: The report by His Honour John Gower QC and Sir Anthony Hammond KCB QC was delivered to the Attorney-General on 5 December 2000. I have today placed a copy of the report in the Libraries and copies of the report are available on request to the solicitor for HM Customs and Excise.

The report concludes that the Customs and Excise solicitor's office should retain its prosecution function, but that in exercising this function, including the giving of advice to investigating officers, it must be truly independent and be seen to be so. To that end, the report has also concluded that in relation to the prosecution function the solicitor should be accountable to the Attorney-General rather than to the commissioners and that the solicitor/client relationship between the commissioners and the solicitor should cease in relation to this function. Where cases are referred to the solicitor's office with a view to prosecution, the decision on whether to do so will rest with the appropriate lawyer after consultation with, where

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necessary, an administrator on matters of policy and public interest. These recommendations are supported by a number of associated recommendations on detailed structural and financial aspects.

The Government have carefully considered all these recommendations. They accept all the recommendations in principle, but, given the significant resource implications associated with some recommendations, have opted for a phased approach to implementation.

The Government have had particular regard to the need to ensure that adequate resources are made available to the solicitor's office to enable it properly to conduct the large and complex drugs and other prosecutions which were the main focus of the report, and which are conducted by the special casework division of that office (SCD). They have therefore decided to afford this area of work the greatest priority.

Accordingly, it has been decided that, with effect from 1 April 2001, Customs and Excise will invest sufficient extra resources in the solicitor's office to enable it to implement the recommendations in the report which bear directly on the cases conducted by the SCD. This will mean that, taken with additional resources already provided to the solicitor's office in relation to the Butler report, the number of staff working on those cases in the SCD will almost double.

These additional resources will enable recommendation 10 of the report (the attendance at conferences with counsel, and attendance at hearings in the Crown court) to be implemented quickly in relation to all SCD cases, and in over 60 per cent. of the cases conducted by the solicitor's office in total. The implementation of the remainder of that recommendation will be subject to local trials to evaluate the benefits and costs.

Recommendation 15 (the conduct of magistrates courts proceedings) will not be implemented immediately and will also be subject to such local trials.

The report concludes that Customs and Excise lawyers are dedicated professionals with valuable skills and expertise, and the Government believe that making the changes in accountability, responsibility and resourcing referred to above will ensure public confidence in the solicitor's office as a prosecuting authority.

To enable detailed consideration to be given to the implementation of the remaining recommendations in the report, particularly where these have structural and budgetary implications, the change in accountability will have effect on 1 April 2002.


NHS Dentistry

Mr. Breed: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will list the criteria his Department uses in assessing whether NHS dentistry is available to those who need it; and how many extra dentists will be required to ensure full availability, on these criteria, by 2001. [143259]

Mr. Hutton: We are committed to making National Health Service Dentistry available to all who need it by September 2001. The key test for this target will be whether callers (to the health authority or to NHS Direct) can be offered dentistry.

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There are more dentists working within the General Dental Service than ever before. In England there are now about 18,040, over 1,600 up on 1997. Availability problems are not caused by a shortage of dentists but by the amount of time dentists dedicate to private work. To address this problem the dental strategy, "Modernising NHS Dentistry: Implementing the NHS Plan", offers incentives to NHS dentists to maintain and increase the amount of NHS work they do. The strategy also allows health authorities to commission personal dental services in areas where there are access difficulties.

Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy

Mr. Hinchliffe: To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will list the membership of the task force formed to study Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy; and if he will make a statement. [146327]

Mr. Hutton: We have not formed a task force to study Munchausen's Syndrome by Proxy.

However, the Griffith's review (Review of the Research Framework in the North Staffordshire National Health Service Trust) recommended that the Department convene an expert and inter-disciplinary panel to review methods of identification of children who have either had illnesses induced or fabricated by their carer. In response to this recommendation, which the Government accepted, a steering group has been formed to develop draft guidance for public consultation. This guidance is being developed within the framework of our interagency guidance on child protection "Working Together to Safeguard Children" (1999).

The group is chaired by Mr. Bruce Clark, a senior official of the Department, and in addition to the external members listed, comprises administrative officials, together with medical, nursing and health advisers, from the Department of Health, the Department for Education and Employment, the Home Office and the National Assembly for Wales.

The external members include:

Genetic Conditions (Insurance)

Siobhain McDonagh: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what safeguards apply to ensure that people applying for insurance policies are not asked to reveal the results of tests for genetic conditions which have not had approval from the Genetics and Insurance Committee. [148856]

Yvette Cooper: The use of genetic test results by insurers is governed by a genetic testing code of practice issued by the Association of British Insurers. For an insurance company to ask for the results of a genetic test

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for a condition which is not approved by the Genetics and Insurance Committee (or is not one of the specified tests for conditions currently being considered by the Committee) would be in breach of an undertaking given by the ABI and in breach of their code of practice. Individuals who feel they have been unfairly treated under the code of practice can refer their case to an independent Adjudication Tribunal set up under the code. If the tribunal upholds a complaint, it is required to consider what further remedy or penalty is appropriate.

A requirement to report to Ministers on the compliance by the industry with the recommendations of GAIC is also included in the terms of reference of GAIC.

We have asked the Human Genetics Commission to examine the issues and the use of genetic information including in insurance and employment.

Cardiothoracic Transplant Services

Mr. Allan: To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) when he expects to publish a discussion document on the reorganisation of cardiothoracic transplant services; [149672]

Mr. Denham: We will issue a document soon setting out proposals for the future of the National Cardiothoracic Transplant service. The document will invite views on the proposals from patients, the public and appropriate organisations.

Weston General Hospital

Mr. Cotter: To ask the Secretary of State for Health what the waiting times in the Gastroenterology Department of Weston General Hospital were in 2000; and what the national average waiting time was in that year. [152428]

Mr. Denham: The national average waiting times for the gastroenterology speciality at 31 December 2000 were two months for inpatient treatment; and 8.1 weeks for an outpatient appointment. Waiting times for the gastroenterology service at Weston Area Health National Health Service Trust are not reported separately to the Department because at the trust this service is provided within the general medicine speciality. The hon. Gentleman may wish to contact Ms Martha Perriam, chairman of the trust, for further information.

Mr. Cotter: To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many appointments were cancelled by Weston General Hospital in 2000; and what the national average was in that year. [152429]

Ms Stuart: The information requested is not collected centrally.

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