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Health (Air Travellers)

3.32 pm

Mr. David Kidney (Stafford): I beg to move,

The cartoon by Blower in the Evening Standard on 11 January shows a British bomber plane in the second world war under attack from flak from the ground and fighters in the air. The tail gunner is saying to a crew mate:

In that amusing way, the point is made that the risk of deep vein thrombosis is less than some other dangers, and in a very serious way I acknowledge that it is currently overshadowed by the aftermath of the events of 11 September, but as airlines struggle to persuade passengers to fly again, they could well restore confidence all the more quickly if they adopted the measures proposed in the Bill.

I am grateful to Air Commodore Charles Clarke, retired, for providing me with a splendid copy of the cartoon. I am grateful, too, for the support that I have received for the Bill from hon. Members of all parties, including the hon. Member for Castle Point (Bob Spink) from the official Opposition, and the hon. Member for Oxford, West and Abingdon (Dr. Harris) from the Liberal Democrats.

My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) raised the issue of deep vein thrombosis in a powerful and persuasive speech in an Adjournment debate on 16 January 2001. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan (Mr. Smith) deserves more credit than me for his persistence and skill in raising the issue in many and varied ways, including in his speech in support of his own ten-minute Bill on 12 March 2001, and early-day motion 581 of the Session 2000–01.

My two hon. Friends both made reference to incidents of deep vein thrombosis that had come to their personal attention. My hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North spoke about his own wife's experience; mercifully, medical treatment was effective and she did not die. Regrettably, my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan told the House of the death of his constituent, John Anthony Thomas, at just 30 years of age.

My attention, too, has been attracted to this subject by a constituent's experience. Nick Balmforth nearly died after returning on a flight from Goa to Manchester. Over the weekend he fell ill, and when his GP saw him he was taken to hospital by ambulance. Tests showed multiple blood clots on his lungs, and the diagnosis was pulmonary embolism caused by deep vein thrombosis brought on by the long flight in cramped conditions.

My constituent was an in-patient for two and a half weeks, and relied on anti-coagulant treatment for the next six months. He has had a frightening time—and costly too, bearing in mind his prolonged absence from work. It is small wonder that he wrote to me:

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What is the scale of the problem of deep vein thrombosis? In a written question, I asked the Chancellor of the Exchequer about the statistics on deaths caused by deep vein thrombosis, including how many were related to air travel. The National Statistician replied that about 6,900 people die each year in England and Wales as a result of deep vein thrombosis or pulmonary embolism, but that figures were not available for how many of those deaths are related to air travel. The Aviation Health Institute, a medical research charity, estimates that worldwide 30,000 air travellers each year suffer deep vein thrombosis. Of those, dozens die.

What can be done to ensure that airlines have regard for the well-being of their passengers? Parliament has the benefit of the fifth report of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology, published last November, which sets out a number of helpful recommendations. It also reminds us that there is not yet a scientifically proven link between air travel and an increased incidence of deep vein thrombosis, and strongly recommends that more research should be done.

I give credit to the Government for their response to that report, because since then there has been Government-sponsored research. That has led in turn to a willingness to collaborate with the World Health Organisation's recently announced global study of deep vein thrombosis.

It is important to refer to the differences of opinion between scientists, because my Bill does not go as far as some would wish.

At this stage I am not willing to put on to airlines the burden of costly adaptations to their fleets of planes. Issues of design such as space around seats, aisle widths and so on should, in my view, await more definitive research findings. Of course airlines should not, however, be able to impede or delay that research. My Bill would require them to co-operate with research, and in particular to keep records of incidents of deep vein thrombosis, which is not done now.

Other steps can and should be taken already. I say that with confidence, because the best airlines are taking those steps now. In their pre-flight communications with potential passengers—websites, leaflets, and when sending out tickets, for example—airlines can alert the public to health considerations. They can also ensure that their staff are trained in flight-related deep vein thrombosis symptoms, preventive measures and treatment. They can give advice to passengers through staff announcements, their video and the health safety card.

What advice should the airlines be giving? That question is all the more pressing in view of the news this week about mass legal action against some airlines in the High Court that will make allegations about flight-related deep vein thrombosis. The Civil Aviation Authority has already produced information approved by the relevant Departments, setting out what is meant by deep vein thrombosis and pointing out that some are more at risk than others—for example, those with a history of thrombosis, those taking oral contraceptive pills, those who are pregnant, those who have recently been hospitalised, smokers, the obese, and some patients with congestive heart failure and malignant disease.

The advice sets out what can be done to reduce risk, such as periodic exercise of the feet and legs, and walking around, where feasible. Elastic stockings may be helpful,

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and people should drink water, not alcohol. Those who are particularly prone are advised to obtain expert medical advice before their journey.

My Bill would aim to make those measures compulsory for all airlines, bringing all airlines up to the standard of the best and, assuredly, saving many people from a frightening health incident and some of them from death. I assure the House that the seriousness of the problem merits legislation. More research is needed before some steps should be required by law to be taken, but the Bill represents a proportionate response to the risk in question. It is for those reasons that I ask the House for leave to bring in the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Kidney, Mrs. Janet Dean, Ms Julia Drown, Dr. Ian Gibson, Dr. Evan Harris, Dr. Brian Iddon, Lynne Jones, Mr. John Smith and Bob Spink.

Health (Air Travellers)

Mr. David Kidney accordingly presented a Bill to make provision for research and development, and dissemination of information and advice, relating to flight-related deep vein thrombosis and other medical considerations affecting air travellers; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 23 November, and to be printed [Bill 42].

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Personal Statement

3.41 pm

Mr. Geoffrey Robinson (Coventry, North-West): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a personal statement. I wish to start by apologising to the House for a failure to register in 1990 a conditional contract entered into, under which I expected a company I owned to be paid, and to apologise also for my failure to recall the existence of that contract and therefore, inadvertently, misleading the Standards and Privileges Committee when asked about a matter that might be considered to be related in 1998, some eight years later. I apologise to the House for those oversights and I accept absolutely the Committee's recommendations.

I want the House to know that I sincerely mean that apology, and I apologise for the non-registration of that contract in 1990. However, I did not receive—nor did any company associated with me receive—the payment as alleged. It is because that payment was not paid to me, despite allegations to the contrary, that I have continued to search the company files, archives and records to prove my case. That I plan to continue to do. I am grateful that the Committee did not accept that there was sufficient evidence to find that I received the money.

On the issue of registration, hon. Members will be aware that in 1990 no Member of Parliament was asked in the rules on registration to register conditional or other contracts between one company and another, far less contracts when payment was not guaranteed but merely anticipated, and no hon. Member recorded any contract in that year or any other year. All of us regarded a statement of our connection with a company as being sufficient. I repeat that I have never attempted to mislead the Committee and have fully—perhaps over fully—co-operated with it. At no point did I represent, lobby for or speak in debates associated with the company involved and I am pleased that the Committee has accepted my position in that respect.

I thank my constituents and my local party, which have given me their consistent and unstinted support throughout this affair. I also wish to thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to make this apology. In accordance with precedent, and with your permission, I will now withdraw from the Chamber.

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