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Lady Hermon (North Down) (UUP): I am always reluctant to intervene in an Adjournment debate, especially when I have not spoken to the hon. Member who initiated it, but I am increasingly concerned that the NICE guidelines do not extend to Northern Ireland. The Minister, perhaps unwittingly, has mentioned

11 Feb 2004 : Column 1546

England several times. Will he confirm that what he has said about liquid-based cytology and the retraining of staff will apply to Northern Ireland as well? Women there who read this debate or watch it on Sky television will be worried that only England has been mentioned this evening.

Dr. Ladyman: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for that question, but I am a health Minister for England. Devolution means that my responsibilities are only for England, so it is not for me to speak about what will happen in Northern Ireland. However, I undertake to make sure that the attention of the relevant Northern Ireland Ministers is drawn to this debate. I will also make sure that any evidence that we in the Department have is shared with colleagues in Northern Ireland. I will ask those Ministers them to write to her about their intentions, and I will put a copy of the correspondence in the Library.

Lady Hermon: I am grateful for that response, but I remind the Minister that the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly was suspended in October 2002. Many months have passed since then, and it is important that the women of Northern Ireland are not forgotten.

Dr. Ladyman: The hon. Lady is right to say that the Assembly is not sitting at present. However, the legislative framework in which Northern Ireland Ministers take decisions is very different from what applies here. My responsibility is for England only, but I accept that women in Northern Ireland will want this technique to be rolled out there. I undertake to ensure that Ministers in Northern Ireland are aware of the concern that she has expressed, and that they respond as positively as they can.

Once again, I give the hon. Member for South-West Devon and the Van Neck family the assurance that they seek. We will not waste any time in rolling out the technique. We know how important it is. We cannot guarantee that it will be any more accurate than the other technique, but we can guarantee that it will be more sensitive. Fewer women will have to undergo the distress of re-tests, and I believe that fewer mistakes will be made in the future.

Question put and agreed to.

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