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My hon. Friend is well aware of the difficulties. I agree that we need to make sure that we handle things sensitively. Michael Redfern clearly has experience of doing that from his last inquiry and he will want to do everything he can to make sure that the families are not distressed further. One of the things in which he will want to be involved at an early stage is how the families are approached, so that we can
explain what is happening now as well as giving them as much information as possible about what happened to their next of kin in the past.
John Thurso (Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross) (LD): It will come as no surprise to the Secretary of State to hear that I have already received representations from constituents regarding Dounreay. Is he able to give any reassurance about Dounreay, or any other UKAEA site, and if notas may be the casedoes he agree that the matter should be looked at as part of the inquiry?
Mr. Darling: I have given as much detail as I possess about where the individuals worked. I have no information to suggest that any of them worked at Dounreay. If someone had died in Caithness and there had been further investigation, I am not sure that further analysis would necessarily have been carried out at Sellafield, but I have no information about that. As I said earlier, it is important that we have a fair idea about this problem and I want Mr. Redfern to concentrate on that. I do not want the inquiry to become so wide that we cannot reach conclusions from which we can learn. If it comes to light that anyone working at Dounreay or any other establishment was affected, that information will certainly be part of Mr. Redferns considerations.
Mr. David Drew (Stroud) (Lab/Co-op): On that note, will my right hon. Friend accept that those of us with nuclear stations, or former nuclear stations, in our constituencies would like reassurance that the practice did not apply at those facilities? Will he, at the very least, press BNFLnow the British Nuclear Groupto make a quick investigation to put our minds and the minds of our constituents at rest, so that we know what we are dealing with?
Mr. Darling: The investigation needs to centre on the post mortem investigations and further analysis carried out at Sellafield. That is what we are talking about. In respect of the deaths of people working in other parts of the industry, it is not possible to say whether the coroner, the families or anyone else asked for further analysis to be carried out elsewhere. That would be a different body of work. I am keen to resolve the questions that have arisen about examinations carried out at Sellafield; we need to know why and on what authority and whether the families were told. We then need to learn from whatever conclusions Mr. Redfern draws.
Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP):
I welcome the Secretary of States swift action in setting up the inquiry under Michael Redfern. However, to follow up the question from the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), it is important that we do not get into a situation in which a drip, drip of cases come out from other nuclear installationsif there are such cases. The Secretary of State will be aware that there is no coroners system in Scotland. There is a different system for unexplained or sudden deathssuch deaths are presumably why the coroners were looking into these matters. Will he assure us that, should there be any indication that any Scottish installation or anyone resident in Scotland has
been involved in this matter, there will be a full investigation with the relevant Departments in Scotland to ascertain what information is held in the Scottish system?
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman is right to the extent that a sudden death is a matter for the procurator fiscal. I suppose this point follows on from the point that was just made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Mr. Drew). There could be cases where someone has died and the procurator fiscal, or coroner in England, or members of the family, have asked for further analysis. That could have been carried out anywhere in the country, but not at Sellafield. I am not sure whether it would be a practical proposition to find out whetherand how oftenthat has happened over the past 45 years.
We know from the information that we have now that in the 65 cases to date, those involved were subject to further examination at the Sellafield site. We also know that the data that were obtained from those examinations have been used in subsequent research. That is something quite distinct and we know that much about it. We need to find out more. As I said to the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso), if further information comes to light that is relevant to the consideration that I have asked Mr. Redfern to look at, of course he will look at it.
Dr. Alasdair McDonnell (Belfast, South) (SDLP): I thank the Secretary of State for the speed with which he has tackled the problem and come to the House with the information at his disposal. I welcome the inquiry and share the sympathy for the families and the deep concerns about the great distress that the matter will cause them. I hope that the inquiry is comprehensive enough to alleviate the distress and the concerns of the families. Where I am coming from, I see the problem for British Nuclear Fuels Ltd. and for the Government as a very different problem from that perceived by the public. There is a Frankenstein implication when it comes to people and nuclear radiation.
I would like to persuade the Secretary of State, if at all possible, not just to include in the inquiry the whys and wherefores of the unauthorised retention of tissue, but to spend a small amount of time on what medical information was gleaned from the biopsies and what other research was established. Peoples minds are uneasy about this matter. It has serious implications for those of us across the Irish sea, where there appear to be significant pockets of cancer created by nuclear spills at Sellafield. [ Interruption. ] People may say that that is not true, but it is true. They should talk to some of the people with whom I live. The coastal areas of Antrim and Down are contaminated at times. People in Northern Ireland have concerns, and they will approach me with those concerns.
The hon. Gentleman is one of a small number of hon. Members who have spoken today who are asking for something that seems more akin to a general inquiry into the nuclear industry, and I will not agree to that because it is not right in the context of this inquiry. I have asked Michael Redfern to look at the matter, primarily because I am greatly aware of the
sensitivities in relation to the individual families and because it is in the public interest to find out what happened. What was published is freely available, but I will arrange to put in the House Library those publications that I understand derived from the research. I will endeavour to do that in the next day or so.
Dr. Richard Taylor (Wyre Forest) (Ind): May I add a historical perspective? It is sadly needed. Anybody who worked or trained as a doctor in the 60s and 70s knows that the standard of obtaining consent for post-mortems was abysmally low. In hospitals, it was left to the most junior houseman to ask. No detail was mentioned. It was also well known among members of the medical profession that it was automatic to retain certain amounts of body tissue for examination afterwards. In the 60s and 70s, and until the desperate Alder Hey disaster, it was not recognised that that should form a separate request. In 2007, it is probably hard to recognise that, but we have to be realistic about what the standards were at the time. Regrettably, it is probably still necessaryanother hon. Member drew attention to this factto remove a whole brain if one has to examine it, because it cannot be fixed in the short period of time during the post-mortem. Obviously, that is now asked for specifically.
Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. I said earlier that it is difficult to judge those who were responsible for these matters in the 1960s by todays standards, because the mores, law and practice are different. However, the question has arisen and the relatives are entitled to know what happened. They may be distressed by what happened and they may strongly disapprove of it, but they are entitled to know. I hope that the inquiry will help us to establish what happened. I entirely agree that it is difficult to judge people who were working 40 years ago by the standards that we might apply today.
Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): The Secretary of State rightly said that people need to know, where possible. I put it to him that he should consult the Health and Safety Executive and the royal colleges on the terms of reference. Even though the inquiry may be limited, its implications for research for medical purposes, and for our safety and the analysis of risk, will matter. If people are not able to reuse data in the future, we may find that that has implicationsas in the past, when we did not pick up on the dangers of asbestosis or pneumoconiosis or other things that have killed many more people than any possible deaths attributed to the nuclear industry. He should take great care in not letting the matter go beyond his proper purpose into some way of saying that nuclear is uniquely dangerous, when we know that it is not.
As I told the House, what is important, first and foremost, is to find out what happened. In my short statement, I quite deliberately avoided widening the inquiry into matters that, frankly, would be difficult to resolve within anything like a reasonable time. I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman makes about the repercussions. One of the reasons why I asked Michael Redfern to look at this matter is
precisely that he has some experience, following the Alder Hey inquiry, and he will be well aware of the fact that his recommendations led to a change in the law just a couple of years ago. In relation to the final point: yes, the workers were employed in the nuclear industry, but we need to get these things into perspective. The nuclear industry has had its problems in the past, but it would be a big mistake to draw any conclusions from what we know today or to develop that into a wider criticism of the whole nuclear industry per se.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD): This is a serious matter and an inquiry is justified, but we have to be aware of the unforeseen and damaging consequences of the fallout from the Alder Hey inquiry, with the impact on hospital interest post-mortems and recruitment and capacity in the pathology profession. Will the Secretary of State endeavour to ensure that the comments made reflect the value of properly consented post-mortem examinations and the fact that the storage of tissue, properly consented, is not a Dr. Frankenstein practice, but a vital part of diagnosis, research and training? Finally, will he ensure that doctors are not demonised when they are acting in good faith by the standards of the time?
Mr. Darling: I largely agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is important to reiterate the value of post-mortem examination and further analysis, because only by that can we learn for the future. Many people working in medicine and science could not do their work if they were unable to carry out that researchand most members of the public understand that. The law now is, broadly, that the next of kin have to consent, though there is an obvious exception in respect of coroners. The position now is, of course, different from 40 years ago. As I said to the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Dr. Taylor), it would be wrong to judge people who were operating in the 1960s by the laws and standards of 2007, as that would be unfair. I agree that it is important to recognise the value of these further investigations. I reiterate that what I want to find out and what the familiesand the publicwant to know is what happened in this particular case. We should be very careful about drawing premature conclusions for which there is no evidence one way or another. We should address the issue in a measured and balanced way, with all the sensitivity that the situation requires.
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to make further provision in relation to child care facilities in Wales, and for connected purposes.
There are people who believe that poverty is a fact of life, and there are people who believe that many should live in poverty because that is the way of the world. I profoundly disagree, as I believe that poverty is not some mysterious dispensation that descends from heaven on some families and not on others. I also believe that one of the first duties of Government is to try to tackle the inequalities between rich and poor, between rich countries and poor countries and between rich areas and poor areas of a country. It is particularly important to tackle the inequity that is child poverty.
I believe that the single best means that Governments have of tackling child poverty is to enable parentswhether they be lone parents or happily married or cohabiting couplesto work. I think so for two main reasons. First, work brings money into the household, and what better way is there to tackle poverty than by ensuring that money is available in the household? I am glad that the Government have done so much over recent yearsthrough child tax credits, working tax credits and the national minimum wageto make sure that work pays. Secondly, it is also important for parents to be able to work because it gives them the social contact that is essential for their families to flourish.
The statistics clearly support my case. International figures for child poverty and parents in work show a remarkable correlation. The country with the lowest level of child poverty is Sweden, with only 4.2 per cent. of children growing up in child poverty. What is the number of women with children in work in that country? It is 76.6 per cent.70 per cent. of women with children under three and 80 per cent. with children over three. That shows a clear correlation because Sweden is the country with the highest proportion of mothers in work and the lowest proportion of children living in poverty.
In the United States of America, on the other hand, merely 58 per cent. of women with children are in work and 21.9 per cent. of children grow up in poverty. Sadly, Britain is closer to the American level than to the Swedish level, with 57 per cent. of women with children in work and 15.4 per cent. of children growing up in poverty. When the Government came to power, we were at the bottomthe absolute bottomof the league for child poverty in Europe. I believe that that was because there was systematic ignorance and deliberate carelessness about child poverty on the part of previous generations of Governments. I am glad that we have managed to lift ourselves from the bottom of the league, but we are still only half way up. That is why I want us to tackle, with increased energy, the issue of child care provision, particularly in Wales.
I am proud of some things that the Government have done. I am proud of Sure Start and how its rolling out made it possible for many parents to get into work. I am proud of the additional 23,000 child care places introduced in Wales over the past eight years. I am
proud of the £12.5 million of European Union structural funds that have been secured to spend on child care in Wales. I am proud, particularly in respect of the Rhondda, of Flying Startthe new scheme now coming on track, whereby significant extra resources of health visitors are being provided. As well as making a difference on child care, we need to ensure that parents with health problems have the support that they need to get into work. Also important are free part-time child care for the poorest members of our community and tackling deprivation in the poorest wards in my constituency. I am proud of all of that.
Very significant problems remain, however. There is still not enough child care available. Quite simply, there are not enough places for everyone who wants to go to work to place their child in proper child care. There are many reasons for that. One is that child care is not greatly valued in society, which is why it is still not valued highly as a career. Many of the people working in child care are on the national minimum wage. At a time of relatively high levels of employment and relatively low levels of unemployment, alternative careers are available, which has made it difficult to recruit people to work in child care.
There is also a significant problem with buildings. Should we not have a sense of shame about the fact that very few Members could cite a single child care building that was expressly built for that purpose? In other countries, many thousands of buildings were expressly built for that purpose, yet we end up using buildings that were built in the 19th century for completely different purposes.
The cost of child care is still prohibitive for many parents, which makes it difficult for them to make the choice to work. There is still a lack of flexibility. Many child care facilities insist that parents have to use them for a full week rather than just two days. Parents say that they want only part-time child care and if they cannot have it, they cannot decide to go into work. We need to meet more accurately the pattern of work by which people live their lives. That often means making provision close to home and close to places of work. Many people in the Rhondda who may work in Cardiff, Newport, Swansea or elsewhere need very flexible arrangements if they are to take the opportunity of going into work.
We also need to make it possible to cope with crises. Many lone parents who have courageously gone off benefits and into work with excitement and glee are able to cope with the expected crises of the year, such as school holidays, because members of their extended family may be able to help. What is really difficult for them to cope with, however, is the unexpected crisis, when a child or parent is ill. That is why the new idea espoused by the Welsh Assembly Government, to which Labour is committed in its manifesto for Wales, is so important. I refer to the idea of having mobile mammas who will be able to provide the crisis support
for child care at the moments when lone parents really need it. It will make a dramatic difference in the years to come.
Sometimes child care provision does not feel as inclusive of every young parent as it might. One young parent told me that it was great going along to many of the new facilities and everyone was very welcoming, but it sometimes felt like a gathering of the middle classes. Everyone was chatting away about how to cultivate organic pears, but they did not seem to have a proper understanding of how child care might fit their particular personal needs. We need to go much further in making child care available, particularly to those who have gone forward with teenage pregnancies.
Two very important principles are relevant. First, there should be no compulsion. We should not be forcing every single parent to put their child into child care and go into work, but we certainly should make it possible for every single parent to have that option. Also, child care should not mean just warehousing. Some people have been concerned about recent reports suggesting that children who have grown up in child care that effectively places babies in a row and leaves them there for several hours turn out to have more social problems later in life than others who did not go through that.
The role of the mother will always be vital in bringing up a child, and child care should not be an alternative to the role of the mother. It is vital that every child learn the difference between a frown and a smile from one person, and the primary person in that role will always be the mother. But it is important, too, that we give opportunities for people to go into work. It is absolutely vital that we get this right. We should not have a stop-start approach to child care; there should not be a new idea every two or three years, because we must introduce a generational change.
I wholly support the Welsh Assemblys idea of mobile mammas, because that will make it much easier for young mums in particular to cope with crises. It is important that we investigate whether we should have a universal right to child care, as parents enjoy in Sweden. It is important that we have a recruitment campaign to ensure that more people have access to child care. Finally, there are 1,420 lone parents on benefit in the Rhondda. We must not fail them, and we must not fail their children either.
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