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31 Jan 2007 : Column 125WH—continued

We are three years on. Are the Government ready?

I have two more questions. Sources of infertility are terrifically important, and we have discussed the doubling of chlamydia rates over recent years. The Minister has told us that at the end of June last year, 36 per cent. of PCTs had rolled out chlamydia screening. The target—intention, perhaps I should say—is that by the end of March, 100 per cent. of PCTs should do so. How many have done so now and will the 100 per cent. figure be reached by the end of March?

Another source of the lack of infertility treatment is the lack of availability of egg donors and sperm donors. The National Gamete Donation Trust said in October last year that the average wait throughout the country is two years and that it is very concerned about the lack of donors. The Minister knows that I objected to the removal of anonymity. Will she, even at this stage, accept that we should discuss the subject during the review of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990?

I have a final plea. We understand the nature of the distress that we cause couples who are infertile. The NHS should be there for them—we believe in equitable access—but currently access is deeply inequitable throughout the country. Will the Government produce a means to overcome the inequity and the dreadful social criteria that are being introduced? They must do so before a case is brought, as one will be.

Let us take, for example, a couple who have children. The man has children from a previous relationship, but the wife, in her second marriage, has none. She could go to court and seek protection under the European convention on human rights and her right to family life, and I am pretty sure that she would have all the social criteria overturned. Why should we wait until such a case is brought before the Government do what is necessary?

3.49 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Caroline Flint): This has been an interesting debate during which many issues have been raised helpfully and constructively. We have heard about what is and is not provided at the moment, and the debate has shown the extent to which the commissioning of such provision is informed by the best possible evidence of the most effective forms of treatment. I shall touch later on the question of how that process is informed by the prevention of problems with fertility—a point made by several hon. Members. Key to all this is how we get the best value for money.

In some small way, I hope that I can reassure hon. Members. Through the three years of work that I commissioned with Infertility Network UK, which began last year, I hope to find out what is happening to
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primary care trusts and look at the best possible practice—as well as some that is not the best—to try to answer some of their questions or go some way to debating further social criteria, the commissioning of services and the levels of hormones used. I was glad that my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North (Dr. Gibson) raised that last issue. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden (Siobhain McDonagh) brought it to my attention when she grabbed me in the Lobby to ask whether I was aware of the conference that has been mentioned.

To follow up this debate, I would like to ensure that my Department is aware of what is being discussed at that conference—I have no reason to suppose that it is not—and I hope that we can share that information with NICE, if that is not happening already. NICE will review the guidelines in 2008, and there are clearly several issues that could be looked at. I want the best possible commissioning process because there is wide variation, which I am sure many hon. Members know already.

There seem to be different levels of expertise in the commissioning of services for infertility and, on the other side of the coin, good examples of PCTs getting together to commission in a wider area, so they can share expertise and strengthen their commissioning. There are clearly very good results in certain parts of the country compared with others.

All those issues are important, and although we are dealing with the here and now, we have a responsibility to take a breath, tackle all the issues and see how they fit in with how fertility treatment can be better provided in the 21st century. It is fair to say, regardless of all the comments made this afternoon, that the NICE guidance was the first of its kind. For too many years, fertility services—how they are commissioned and purchased, and how patients are dealt with—had been left pretty much to their own devices. The NICE guidelines are not the end of the story. In some ways, they were the beginning of the challenge to discuss the issue in as rounded a way as possible.

The hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) commented on what the then Secretary of State for Health said about one cycle of IVF, which was reflected by the comments of the hon. Member for South Cambridgeshire (Mr. Lansley). In many respects, that was an attempt by the then Secretary of State to be helpful in a situation where NICE recognised that moving to three cycles was not going to happen overnight, by any stretch, and it was also in recognition of the fact that some PCTs were not even offering one cycle.

Those comments, which may have been taken out of context, were that those PCTs that were not providing any cycles should at least attempt to provide one. In respect of couples living without children being a priority, again, I think that the then Secretary of State was trying to be helpful by not ruling out other couples and their family circumstances from being taken into account.

The hon. Member for Romsey, whom I congratulate on securing the debate, asked about trusts varying their criteria on social questions. That is an interesting point. NICE advises on clinical terms, but we are considering the question through the work that we are doing with Infertility Network UK to see what variation there is in
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relation to the social questions that are asked. In part, that goes to the heart of the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North about the science, the evidence and the most effective fertility interventions.

Should we put all our energy into using three cycles, or is one cycle better and more effective? I do not know the answer to that question, but it is worth exploring further. Due to the nodding that I saw during my hon. Friend’s contribution, I think that it is worth looking into. It could inform us better on how to proceed, and might lead to better consistency in the NHS in the commissioning of services. There remains a question of where social conditions fit into that process, as regards age and other issues.

I do not have to tell hon. Members this, but we have enormously increased the funding available in the NHS. In 2007-08, we shall put in £92 billion, and there has been a real-terms increase of 92.5 per cent. over this Government’s 11 years in office. Are people using that money wisely? I totally understand the comments made by the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood) and the concern in his constituency, where IVF services are suspended while financial deficits are dealt with.

Hon. Members have asked me whether more can be done about prevention. Chlamydia, for example, is a major source of infertility problems, and if we could do something about it, we might reduce the pressure on the waiting list. However, whether we are dealing with fertility services or public health, if we are to find the space and money to devote to those areas, the NHS has to reform how it runs its finances. There is no hope for services such as IVF and public health in other areas—

Martin Horwood: Will the Minister give way?

Caroline Flint: I am not going to give way because I only have three minutes left. There is no hope if we do not take a hold of what, in some cases, has not been an appropriate use of resources or where resources have not produced effective outcomes.

Martin Horwood: Not the case.

Caroline Flint: I am afraid that that is the case. We need a financial balance to create a level playing field,
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so that we can look at a different way of providing health services for the future.

If I have missed any questions, I am happy to write to hon. Members about them. However, I want to say the following in the short time I have left: what I have done to move the debate forward is fund Infertility Network UK to work with PCTs over a three-year period to identify what is happening on the ground. I recommend all hon. Members, including those who have not been part of the debate, to check that their PCT has answered the questionnaire—a point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor). I was happy to meet colleagues from the network recently to talk about how the survey has been going. I have done that with my own PCT, and asked it to copy me in to its response to the network.

We need to look at what is happening to services on the ground, and to social conditions and criteria. Once we have that information, the next step is to feed it back to the NHS and PCTs, and use it to look at where best practice is happening to inform, in a constructive way, those who may not be providing best practice in respect of what they can learn. It would be worth including in that information this afternoon’s debate, particularly the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Norwich, North, to explore that process further.

Infertility Network UK knows that it is part of the work that will go towards the implementation of the NICE guidelines. The network’s particularly valuable engagement allows the voice of patients to be heard, which is very much part and parcel of what it sees as good practice for the future. Through an agreement with me, it is also considering chlamydia services as part of its survey, so we can take a twin-track approach by considering how important chlamydia screening is in reducing the pressure on services by treating it earlier and by consciousness-raising on the links between chlamydia and fertility to prevent chlamydia in the first place. That is supported by the Department’s sexual health campaigns, too.

We are trying to create an environment, which might not be that well recognised, where the debate can go beyond firefighting to something that is more sustainable for the future, more informed, more effective and more cost-effective.

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Abu Hamza

4 pm

Mr. Greg Hands (Hammersmith and Fulham) (Con): I start by welcoming you to the Chair, Mr. Cook. Half an hour is too short a time in which to give a detailed examination of the issue in every respect, so I shall try to highlight only a few aspects.

My central thesis is that none of the lessons of Abu Hamza’s stay have been learned. In fact, the entire saga could happen all over again. He, his wife and his family would likely be granted British citizenship, housed by a local authority, assessed as being entitled to thousands of pounds in benefits from the general taxpayer and entitled to buy their home from the local authority.

Furthermore, Abu Hamza would likely neither be brought before a British court for terror offences—unless the Government relented and allowed intercept evidence to be used in court—nor, crucially, be prevented by the Chancellor’s supposedly tough anti-terror measures from transferring assets worth many hundreds of thousands of pounds from a terrorist suspect family member to another family member who had actually been convicted of terrorist offences. The nightmare that has been Abu Hamza’s stay in Britain could happen all over again. In fact, it could happen sooner than we think, because Abu Hamza could be released from prison as early as next year.

I should declare what my interest in the matter has been. I have followed the history of Abu Hamza’s stay in Britain closely since 1999, when, as leader of the Conservative opposition on Labour-controlled Hammersmith and Fulham council, I first became aware of Hamza’s status as a Hammersmith and Fulham council tenant, living in a highly desirable street property on Adie road in the heart of the leafy Brackenbury village in Hammersmith. I called for the council to investigate Hamza’s financial affairs in 2001, and further called for him to be stripped of citizenship and expelled from Britain.

I undertook a great deal of research on the purchase and sale of the Adie road property in Hammersmith and called for resignations on the council when it transpired that Abu Hamza and his family had been housed not just once but twice by the then Labour council. Locally, I called on the council to investigate Hamza’s benefits and his tenancy. In 2003, I called on the Government to investigate his financial affairs in detail. In this debate, I shall set out to correct some of the many instances of misreporting in the press on the Hamza affair and bring some new information into the public domain.

Abu Hamza was a man at the heart of international terrorism. He influenced both the 7/7 and the 21/7 bombers. Two of the 7/7 bombers spent at least two periods living in the Finsbury Park mosque, while a third attended to hear Abu Hamza’s speeches. According to his family in France, the so-called 20th 9/11 bomber, Zacarias Moussaoui, was changed by the Finsbury Park mosque experience from a happy, outgoing young man into a hard-line radical. Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, was also there, as was the police killer and ricin poison plotter, Kamel Bourgass.

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The Government failed to act on much, if any, of that, and decided to act only after US authorities made a move for Hamza, seeking his extradition. As it would have been difficult to extradite him to the US for offences for which he might have faced the death penalty, the British authorities took the easier choice of finally putting him on trial here for stirring up racial hatred, various public order offences and one terrorism offence.

Hamza’s views were heinous. There has been much material in the public domain, which I shall not repeat, but I shall repeat material that I downloaded from his website—the website of the Supporters of Sharia—before 9/11. The website was taken down a few days after 9/11, but I shall read a few of its statements that were allowed to go unchallenged by our authorities:

Just before 9/11, the Supporters of Sharia published a book entitled “Jihad in America”, which said:

The first failure by those in authority that I wish to examine concerns Abu Hamza’s right-to-buy purchase of his flat on Adie road, Hammersmith. It was the kind of property that many of the homeless people and those in poor accommodation in my constituency can only dream of—a street property in the heart of the leafy Brackenbury village, home to various media personalities and celebrities. Despite the fact that Hamza was on a wide array of benefits, the Labour council accepted his story that the funds to purchase the flat had come from donations via the mosque. It seems incredible now that the presence of those substantial donations, totalling £75,000, did not trigger the stopping of his benefits.

Just as incredible is the fact that the Charity Commission was at the time investigating the finances of the Finsbury Park mosque—or the North Central London Mosque Trust, to give it its official title—where Hamza had been preaching since 1996 or 1997. Indeed, during the long period between the right-to-buy application being submitted in 1998 and the final purchase on 22 May 2000, Hamza and the Finsbury Park mosque were the subject of a number of Charity Commission investigations. According to the commission, five years of accounts were not submitted by the trustees. To use its own words,

Some years later, in 2002, an order was made by the commission to suspend a Barclays bank account after it emerged that Hamza was a signatory to the account and after the trustees confirmed that they had not been aware of the existence of the account.

The information on the case is not yet complete, but there should be an urgent investigation of whether the £75,000 purchase price for the Adie road property came from diverted funds from the charitable mosque. That investigation should of course have been carried out thoroughly at the time. It seems extraordinary that a man on benefits could pitch up with £75,000, explain
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it as donations to fund the purchase of a house and not have his benefits stopped, nor have questions asked about the origin of such a large sum of money. It is also worth remembering that Hamza bought the flat for £75,000 and that his son sold it four years later for £228,000.

The second issue that needs urgent investigation is how the Labour council, having sold Hamza the flat on Adie road, managed to house him again, this time in an even bigger and better property—a five-bedroom house on Aldbourne road, Shepherd’s Bush. To give an idea of the desirability of the road, it is home to a Cabinet Minister and another member of the Government. Five-bedroom houses for social rent are in incredibly short supply in Hammersmith and Fulham, and one can imagine how that must appear now.

Frank Cook (in the Chair): Order. I am listening carefully and doing my best to acknowledge that the hon. Gentleman is staying within the terms of the debate, which I must remind him is listed in the Order Paper as “Case of Abu Hamza and Government attempts to freeze terrorist assets”. I read that as national Government rather than local government, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman can confine his comments to that issue.

Mr. Hands: Thank you for your guidance, Mr. Cook. I am coming on to explain how the funds that were raised from the purchase of the property on Adie road include some funds that are at issue in relation to central Government efforts to clamp down on terrorist financing. If you bear with me, I shall try not to test your patience, but there is a point to the information that I have given.

It was not Hamza who was housed on Aldbourne road, but his wife. She had already been living there since December 1994, being supported by all of us, through income support, housing benefit and council tax benefit. The wife was originally housed by the council from 1989, in various properties. The reason for housing her at that time was that she was reportedly fleeing domestic violence at the hands of Abu Hamza. Domestic violence is a serious problem in my constituency, but I draw attention to the fact that after Abu Hamza and his wife were housed separately, they went on to have four further children together, making seven in total.

The Labour council seemed to be in complete denial that Hamza was living in the five-bedroom house on Aldbourne road.

Frank Cook (in the Chair): Order. I must point out again that the hon. Gentleman is expecting a ministerial reply, but the Minister cannot be held responsible for the actions of a local council. The one thing that I want to avoid is the hon. Gentleman wasting his debate, so if he would please try to focus on national Government attempts to freeze terrorist assets, rather than on local government attempts to shuffle benefits into Hamza’s pockets, that would makes things much easier for the Chair.

Mr. Hands: I thank you for that guidance, Mr. Cook, and shall accelerate a little.

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