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House of Commons

Wednesday 15 February 2006

The House met at half-past Eleven o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]

Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked—

Drugs Approvals

1. Jenny Willott (Cardiff, Central) (LD): What recent discussions he has had with the Secretary of State for Health about the impact on health services in Wales of the process for approving new drugs. [50375]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Nick Ainger): My right hon. Friend regularly meets Cabinet colleagues and discusses a range of issues, including health. Health matters are devolved to the National Assembly. The Assembly Government have to be satisfied of the safety and efficacy of new drugs and weigh the optimum use of resources in different prescribing choices.

Jenny Willott: Given that more than 40,000 people in Wales suffer from dementia and that four clinically proven drugs that have successfully treated the symptoms of Alzheimer's have been available for several years, does the Minister share my concern that National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence withdrew the drugs solely on the ground of cost and thus ignored any consideration of quality of life? Will he get assurances from the Department of Health that NICE will co-operate fully with the Assembly's review of the drugs approval process?

Nick Ainger: The advice that NICE gives is not based purely on cost—far from it. It is based on the total efficacy of a drug. In 2001, based on the information that was available at the time, NICE issued guidance saying that Aricept was suitable for prescription and an effective drug. However, further information has been provided over the past four or five years, so NICE has reviewed its advice. That is its job. It must use the best evidence available. There clearly was not a great deal of evidence at the time at which the decision was taken, but there is now more evidence. It is vital that we get the best resources from our investment in the NHS, and NICE must deal with such issues.
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Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC): Will the Minister talk to his colleagues in the Scotland Office and the Scottish Parliament because I understand that the process for approving drugs in Scotland can take as little time as a few weeks, rather than the many months that NICE takes? If he finds, as I suspect that he will, that the Scottish model is superior, will he write to Welsh Members to give them his findings?

Nick Ainger: As the hon. Gentleman may well know, Brian Gibbons, the Minister for Health and Social Services in Wales, is doing such work now. The matter was raised during a recent debate on Herceptin because it appears that the Scottish Medicines Consortium can undertake an analysis of the effectiveness of a drug somewhat more quickly than NICE. Brian Gibbons is holding discussions with his colleagues in the Scottish Executive for the All Wales Medicines Strategy Group to find out whether they can work together to ensure that we get the right decision as quickly as possible.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): After the brave Assembly protest by Jayne Sullivan over Herceptin, the judgment this morning that a primary care trust was right to deny the drug to a patient, and the Health Secretary's confusing statement that PCTs should not reject prescribing Herceptin for early-stage breast cancer on the ground of cost, will the Minister agree to press his Labour colleagues in the Department of Health and the Assembly to sort out the confusion over the prescribing of the drug because this vital matter affects all breast cancer patients in England and Wales?

Nick Ainger: The judgment has supported the advice of the Secretary of State that every case should be judged on its merits. That is the current position and I am sure that the Department of Health will reinforce it. Doctors can choose to prescribe unlicensed drugs, such as Herceptin, if, after considering a patient's medical history, they feel that their clinical needs can be best met by using it. The Secretary of State for Health has made it clear that PCTs in England—I am sure that Brian Gibbons in Wales agrees with this—cannot refuse to pay for a drug on the ground of its cost. Each case must be judged on its merits, with a consideration of strong clinical evidence. The drug still has not been licensed for treating early-stage breast cancer and the drug company has not even made an application to the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products. I hope that Roche will make that application as soon as possible so that the processes can be gone through as quickly as possible.


2. Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): When he last met the Secretary of State for the Home Department to discuss policing in Wales. [50376]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Peter Hain): My right hon. Friend and I both believe that an all-Wales strategic force is the most effective way of delivering a safe and secure Wales against threats such as terrorism, serious and organised crime and drug trafficking.
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Mr. Llwyd: I thank the Secretary of State for repeating that mantra. Given his spectacular refusal to stand up for the Welsh police authorities and the people of Wales, can he envisage any circumstance whatever in which he would be prepared to argue against Government policy in the best interests of the people of Wales?

Mr. Hain: I am arguing for Government policy in the best interests of the people of Wales. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) does not seem to be interested in the security of the citizens of north Wales and the rest of Wales. It is not a matter of political mantra. He is defying the recommendation of Her Majesty's inspectorate of constabulary that police forces need to be reorganised and that there should be an all-Wales force to tackle essential problems such as global terrorism and serious and organised crime. We simply do not have the capabilities—

Mr. Llwyd indicated dissent.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman shakes his head. We do not have the capabilities in north Wales or the rest of Wales to deal with those new problems. The modern criminal uses sophisticated procedures and techniques, and without a Wales police force that has the capabilities to tackle that we will be neglecting the security not only of his constituents, but of all the people in Wales. That is not only my view; it is the view of the police. He should recognise that he is arguing against the police view and not just the Labour Government's view.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): The HMIC report stresses the importance of security, in particular port security, yet in terms of the port of Holyhead in my constituency and of Mostyn, the recent settlement refers to cutting back on port security to the tune of £150,000, which the chief constable and the police authority say will have to come out of local community policing. Will my right hon. Friend meet the Home Secretary to ensure that port security is given priority now and in any future merger?

Mr. Hain: I share my hon. Friend's concern. I met the Home Secretary yesterday to discuss precisely that matter, and today I asked the chief constable of North Wales for his assessment. The example my hon. Friend gives reinforces the case for precisely the reorganisation for which we are arguing. To compensate, there is to be a reduction in resources for neighbourhood policing, whereas if North Wales, through an all-Wales police authority, had the capabilities to deal with the new threats—in this case, drug trafficking through the port of Holyhead—it would not have to take away resources from the neighbourhood level. That is precisely what the reorganisation is all about.

Lembit Öpik (Montgomeryshire) (LD): Since Labour came to power, the average band D council tax charge in Wales has increased by 85 per cent. Now, we learn from the Welsh Social Justice Minister, Edwina Hart, that police reorganisation would further increase headline council tax charges in south Wales by 3.5 per cent., because of the differential costs of policing in north and south Wales. Will the Secretary of State
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explain whether abolishing the four police forces will mean that south Wales is made to pay more, or that north Wales has a less-well-funded police service? It is self-evident that the levelling process demands the one or the other.

Mr. Hain: I have discussed that very matter with the chief constable of North Wales and it is not clear that that would be the case—[Interruption.] In that case, in saying that there is no solution to the problem, the hon. Gentleman is disagreeing with the chief constable of North Wales. I suggest that he discusses the matter with the chief constable. The Home Office is considering it now.

We return to the central point that I put to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), with whom the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) appears to be siding. Are the Liberal Democrats serious about the security of the people of Wales, or not? That is the issue—

Lembit Öpik: Nonsense.

Mr. Hain: The hon. Gentleman says that that is nonsense, but every chief constable recognises that something has to be done. The former Chief Constable of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, Ronnie Flanagan, says that the present arrangements in Wales are not sufficient to deal with security threats to the people of Wales. We have Plaid Cymru, the Liberal Democrats and, I think, the Conservatives, too, opposing the security interests of the people of Wales—what a terrible position to be in.

Paul Flynn (Newport, West) (Lab): Is it not a fact that the majority of the people of Wales have rejected that incoherent, uncosted shotgun wedding? When someone suggests that opposing it means that we increase the risk of terrorism in Wales, is that not just cheap, vacuous, desperate scaremongering?

Hon. Members: Answer.

Mr. Hain: I am about to provide an answer to my hon. Friend—one that comes from the lips of his own chief constable. The chief constable of Gwent said:

Despite my hon. Friend's rhetoric, unless we undertake reorganisation, our police officers in Gwent, north Wales and across Wales will not have the capabilities that the inspector of constabulary, who is not a politician, says that we need to deal with modern forms of threat to our security, including terrorism. If my hon. Friend wishes to ignore that, that is his decision, but I will not do so. As Secretary of State for Wales, I provide the leadership that the Government need to provide to improve security for our citizens.

Mrs. Cheryl Gillan (Chesham and Amersham) (Con): I shall give the Secretary of State another chance to answer the question that the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Lembit Öpik) asked. Twice at the Dispatch Box, the Secretary of State has failed to answer
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the question when asked of how much the police mergers will cost taxpayers in Wales. Edwina Hart, the Social Justice Minister in the Assembly, said that in south Wales there will be increase in the precept of 17 per cent. and that council tax bills will increase by 3.5 per cent. Why does she have the figures on a non-devolved matter, but the Secretary of State does not?

Mr. Hain: I do not agree with those figures, whoever supplies them. The hon. Lady has not taken account of the fact that up to £50 million will be made available by the Home Secretary for police reorganisation in the coming year, and £75 million the following year. Indeed, the police forces of Wales have, in their own assessment, said that over the years savings will be made as a result of reorganisation.

It is time that the Conservatives ended their opportunism on the future security of Wales. They played fast and loose with our jobs, our health services and our schools in Wales when they were in power. Now that they are in opposition they are playing fast and loose with the security of Wales.

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