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Glenda Jackson: Is it not also the case that the independent ethical committee raised those very issues in 1996, before permission was given for the investigations to proceed?

Miss Johnson: I am not an expert on all the details of the arrangements and I would not want to disagree with what my hon. Friend suggests, but we need to be certain that the right processes are being carried out. Ethics is about good practice. As the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health recommends, each research ethics committee that considers a project involving children should be advised by people with a close practical knowledge of babies and children. The ethics committee also needs to have, or to have access to, the appropriate expertise to cover the breadth of issues dealt with by the research proposal. That is demanding because of the complexity of much of the research undertaken. Input from independent experts is a means of ensuring that the committee can cover all the issues.

The hon. Gentleman made an important point about the management of research at the Royal Free. I am sure that the hospital and my hon. Friend, as the local MP, will take careful note of his points and that the hospital will consider his concerns in the light of the statements it has made.

The General Medical Council is considering serious matters of research and ethical conduct. We must await its deliberations and its indication of how it intends to take them forward in using its statutory powers. I assure the House that should aspects of the case require further

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scrutiny or investigation at that point, we will give them the most serious consideration and act appropriately. I assure the hon. Gentleman that we are waiting for the outcome of the GMC's deliberations and will give them careful consideration. I trust that the Royal Free will also look at what he said and think about the appropriate response.

Dr. Evan Harris: I am grateful to the Minister for her considered response. I raised my concerns with her some days ago. Does she accept that the GMC cannot consider the conduct of, and the procedures that were funded by, the Legal Services Commission because that is not part of the inquiry? Does she also accept that there may be other practices elsewhere of which she and the Department of Health may wish to take note? Are there not grounds for considering a wider inquiry, because there may be another form of investigation—by the Crown Prosecution Service—for which the GMC would want to wait?

Miss Johnson: It is conceivable, although perhaps not likely—it is not for me to comment on the likelihood either way—that the case has not been brought to a final conclusion. The LSC has refused to grant further financial support for the litigants' case and it appears that it will not continue. However, notwithstanding the privileges that the House enjoys, it would not be appropriate for us to comment on something on which theoretically, if not practically, legal proceedings were still pending.

I take the hon. Gentleman's point about the ethics committees. I am sure that the Royal Free has listened carefully to what he said.

Question put and agreed to.

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