Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Hospital Infections (Greater London)

11. Simon Hughes (Southwark, North and Bermondsey) (LD): What the (a) figures for and (b) rates of hospital infections in Greater London were for the years (i) 2000–01, (ii) 2001–02 and (iii) 2002–03; and if he will make a statement. [155728]

24 Feb 2004 : Column 139

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Dr. Stephen Ladyman): In 2001–02, there were 1,571 reports of methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections in the London region and 1,655 reports in 2002–03. The rates for those years are 0.23 and 0.25 cases per 1,000 beds respectively. Earlier data and data for other infections are not available.

Simon Hughes : Can the Minister tell us what that means in crude terms in London, which is the region with the highest rate of infection, in deaths and other illnesses caused by hospital-based infections? A commission will be set up in April. Will it provide an annual report, region by region, on deaths and illness from hospital-based infections?

Dr. Ladyman: It is not possible to give precise information about how many deaths result from hospital-acquired infections, because they are acquired by people in a weakened condition as a result of other illnesses and death usually results from the other illness. I cannot give the hon. Gentleman the figures that he requests, but I can assure him that the chief medical officer is leading our campaign to drive down the rates of hospital-acquired infections and that is as applicable in London as anywhere else.

Urgent Referral Guidelines

13. David Taylor (North-West Leicestershire) (Lab/Co-op): What guidelines are given to primary care trusts

24 Feb 2004 : Column 140

about acceptable levels of general practitioner patient urgent referrals to acute hospitals; and if he will make a statement. [155730]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton): It is the responsibility of primary care trusts to put in place their own arrangements for reviewing levels of referrals, taking into account the requirements of national and local policies.

David Taylor: Last month, a widely respected, well-loved general practitioner, in a practice covering my home village, committed suicide during the lengthy investigations by the local primary care trust into his rate of urgent referrals of patients to acute hospitals. Does the Minister agree that public organisations that exercise an overview of primary care should ensure that that role is undertaken with sensitivity, and that holistic, clinical judgment is never overridden by spreadsheet-driven targets?

Mr. Hutton: Yes, I agree with both the points that my hon. Friend made. The death of Dr. Farley was a terrible tragedy for his family, as well as an enormous loss to the community that he served for more than 25 years—I know that my hon. Friend knew Dr. Farley. In the light of Dr. Farley's death, I think that the PCT has taken the right course of action. An independent inquiry team is being assembled as we speak, to be chaired led by Dr. Paul Cosford. The inquiry will look into all the relevant events leading up to the death of Dr. Farley. I hope that it will be able to conclude its work by the end of May and publish its findings as soon as possible thereafter. In the light of that ongoing work, it is probably best that I say no more about it at the moment.

24 Feb 2004 : Column 139

24 Feb 2004 : Column 141

British Detainees (Guantanamo Bay)

12.31 pm

The Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr Speaker, I should like to make a statement about the British citizens detained at Guantanamo Bay.

Agreement with the United States Government on the return of five of the nine UK detainees was reached on Thursday last, 19 February. Although the House was in recess, I judged that it was only fair to the families of all nine detainees that they should be informed immediately. We therefore made every effort to contact the families and their parliamentary representatives, and I made a public announcement late on Thursday afternoon. I could not report to the House yesterday, as I had to attend a European Union General Affairs Council in Brussels.

The attacks of 11 September 2001 were the most appalling terrorist atrocity the world has ever seen. The terrorists killed more than 3,000 people, including 67 British citizens. In response to those attacks, a coalition of countries came together to launch a military campaign against al-Qaeda and its Taliban supporters to remove them from their strongholds in Afghanistan.

In those operations, thousands of individuals believed to be al-Qaeda or Taliban fighters, or their supporters, were detained by coalition forces. The vast majority of those individuals were released, but those who were deemed to pose a substantial risk of returning to the conflict—to date about 800—were sent by the United States to its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, there to be detained and to be questioned about their knowledge of al-Qaeda's activities. As a result, valuable information has been gained, which has helped to protect the international community from further al-Qaeda and related terrorist attacks.

The Government have been in frequent and regular contact with the United States authorities concerning the British detainees at Guantanamo Bay. From the outset, the British Government have sought to ensure their welfare and have actively encouraged the US Government to resolve the position of the British detainees. British officials have visited Guantanamo Bay six times. We have kept the detainees' families and Parliament informed of their circumstances and of other related developments.

In July 2003, two of the British detainees were designated by the United States authorities as eligible to stand trial by the United States military commissions established to prosecute the detainees. The British Government made it clear straight away that we had concerns about the military commission process. Consequently, the Prime Minister asked the Attorney-General to discuss with the United States authorities how the detainees, if prosecuted, could be assured of fair trials that met international standards.

The Attorney-General therefore held a number of discussions with the United States authorities about the future of the detainees. In parallel, the Prime Minister has talked to President Bush; I have discussed the matter on many occasions with US Secretary of State Colin Powell; and extensive discussions have been held between British and United States Government lawyers and officials.

24 Feb 2004 : Column 142

Those discussions have involved many complex issues of law and security, which both Governments have had to consider carefully. Although the discussions have made significant progress, the Attorney-General's view was that the military commissions as presently constituted would not provide the process that we would afford British nationals.

Our discussions with the United States authorities are continuing. In the meantime, as I announced last Thursday, we agreed that five of the British detainees would return to the United Kingdom. The five are Rhuhel Ahmed, Tarek Dergoul, Jamal al-Harith, Asif Iqbal and Shafiq Rasul. Those men will be flown home to the United Kingdom in the next few weeks. The House will understand that it would not be right to disclose the operational details at this stage. The police have, however, established links with the families so that they can be informed of developments.

The police have confirmed that, once the detainees are back in the United Kingdom, where there are grounds under the provisions of the legislation, the five men may be arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 for questioning in connection with possible terrorist activity. Any subsequent action will be a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service. It would therefore not be appropriate to comment further on their particular cases, but I should like to emphasise two points.

First, the police have said that they are investigating all the detainees thoroughly and individually, in the normal way, which includes considering the circumstances that led to the men's detention. Every necessary step, including prosecution if appropriate, will be taken to protect national security. Secondly, the detainees will be treated in the same way as anyone else suspected of committing a criminal offence and, obviously, in accordance with UK law. Our processes have built-in safeguards and are subject to independent scrutiny to ensure that all individuals are treated fairly and properly. Those processes include access to lawyers.

We shall continue our discussions with the United States authorities on the situation of the other four British detainees. They are Feroz Abbasi, Moazzam Begg, Richard Belmar and Martin Mubanga. There are a range of security and other issues that we and the Americans are considering in respect of those four men. As a result of our talks, US legal proceedings against Mr. Abbasi and Mr. Begg were suspended in July and the US said that the men would not be subject to the death penalty. That remains the case.

Our overall position remains that the detainees should be either tried in accordance with international standards or returned to the United Kingdom. We shall continue to work to resolve their positions, and I will, of course, keep the House informed.

The Government remain determined to work with our allies around the world to defeat the scourge of global terrorism. Terrorism seeks to deny the most basic of human rights—to life, to security and the right to go about our daily business free from threat and harm. We will continue resolutely to defend those rights through a

24 Feb 2004 : Column 143

robust and determined approach to combating terrorism and its networks of support wherever they are to be found.

Next Section

IndexHome Page