Previous Section Index Home Page

8 Jan 2008 : Column 157

Umbilical Cord Blood (Donation)

3.33 pm

Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): I beg to move,

Given that I have six children, I should be declaring an interest in the subject of the Bill. My constituency is adjacent to Barnet general hospital, one of only four NHS hospitals that collect umbilical cord blood. That would seem to be a good reason for developing an interest, but we have not donated umbilical cord blood despite six opportunities to do so at a nearby hospital. Like most parents throughout the United Kingdom, we were not informed of the value of cord blood or the possibility of collection. Until recently I did not consider the umbilical cord, once clamped after birth, as anything more than a waste product. The first purpose of the Bill, and of my speech, is to encourage parents and the wider public to be more informed about the value and benefits of umbilical cord blood.

Hon. Members may be ignorant, as I was, of the nature of cord blood. The baby’s blood in the cord contains different types of cell, including stem cells. Cord blood has been used for the last 20 years for blood transplantation. It has treated patients with leukaemia, sickle-cell diseases, immune deficiencies and other diseases: there have been 85 treatments to date.

There are possible treatments in the pipeline beyond blood therapy. Trials for the use of cord blood in brain injury in children are under way and cord blood is being developed for many other therapies, including diabetes and liver therapy. Treatment for leukaemia highlights the particular value of cord blood transplants, which can be used as an alternative to bone marrow transplants. Such cord blood transplants are less complicated, with fewer delays, and more readily available, as they can be stored and frozen for many years. Significantly, it is easier to find a match from stem cells than from bone marrow.

Umbilical cord blood collection leads to increased access to transplantation, particularly for patients from ethnic minorities. The reality is that umbilical cord blood, which is thrown away routinely after birth, has a life-saving value. Becki Josiah contacted me after her daughter Billie died from leukaemia in April 2006. She was ill for two years and awaiting a bone marrow transplant. A major difficulty for the Josiah family was their daughter’s mixed-race background. As Mrs. Josiah said to me,

The Bill attempts to increase the chances of a cure for families such as the Josiah’s.

Mrs. Josiah has also highlighted the limitations on donation. She recently had another baby and wanted to donate her newborn baby’s cord blood to help cure a child with leukaemia, like her daughter. However, her family does not live near one of the four NHS hospitals with facilities to accept her donation. As she said, it was not possible for her blood to

8 Jan 2008 : Column 158

Successful treatment is possible for one’s own blood, a sibling’s or that of an unrelated patient. We must find a way of enabling more patients to access this source of treatment, and my Bill takes some steps in that direction.

My interest in umbilical cord blood arose when as a member of the Joint Committee I scrutinised the draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill. Our remit was focused on the Government’s approach, which is to ensure that the UK is at the forefront of scientific development in embryonic stem cell research. A majority of public money supports embryonic research compared with other stem cell sources. The House will no doubt have the opportunity soon, with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, to debate whether it is wise to move into the realms of interspecies research to deal with the limited number of embryonic stem cell lines.

As well as the political hurdles, there are ethical and biological hurdles in the way of the Government marching us up to the top of the hill of embryonic research. It is therefore timely to consider an alternative hill of stem cell research. The terrain is the same: wanting the UK to be at the forefront of bringing stem cell therapies and regenerative medicine to the clinic in order to relieve suffering and reduce health care costs. With the help of this Bill, the focus would be on core blood stem cell therapy, which already results in treatment of diseases. Research in the field holds out an exciting future; notably Professor Colin McGuckin has led a team in Newcastle to be the first in the world to characterise human embryonic stem cells from umbilical cord blood.

The question that the Bill raises is why only 150 cord blood transplants out of 8,000 worldwide have been carried out in the UK. Why are we routinely disregarding the proven life-saving value of umbilical cord blood but legislating and investing predominantly in the unproven and ethically challenging route of embryonic research? Given that we will in the foreseeable future depend on non-embryonic stem cell therapies, why are we putting literally most of our eggs in one basket?

There are supporters of the Bill who are not necessarily opposed to embryo research but recognise the value of umbilical cord blood and its availability. The Bill would make it a universal requirement for doctors to inform pregnant women of the benefits of collection and storage of cord blood. The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists advises that if there is a known genetic condition in a family—already a child with leukaemia or a blood-related disorder—a clinician may recommend that parents bank their babies’ cord blood. My Bill would presume that collection takes place in such circumstances unless parents opt out or medical reasons prevent it. If nothing is done in this area, some private banks will simply exploit families’ fears.

The practical problem facing any future extension of donation of cord blood is the limited number of NHS maternity units equipped for collection and storage in a safe environment. The NHS cord blood bank at Edgware restricts its collections to Barnet general, Northwick Park, Luton and Dunstable and Watford hospitals, which are the only dedicated units in England. The collection sites do not form a planned
8 Jan 2008 : Column 159
approach to collection of cord blood and we are currently missing—or, more to the point, wasting—the opportunity presented by umbilical cord blood.

The Bill seeks to promote the collection of cord blood from specific shortage groups, particularly ethnic minority groups and mixed-race families. The UK Thalassaemia Society, which has its base in Southgate in my constituency, recognises that point in its support of my Bill, as does the Leukaemia Society in the United Kingdom. They have emphasised to me the difficulties for leukaemia patients of Cypriot origin in finding appropriate bone marrow matches and support the proposed extension of cord blood donation.

The purposes of the Bill are not wholly dependent on legislation. The Anthony Nolan Trust, which also supports the Bill’s aim to promote the benefits of cord blood collection, is setting up the first charitable cord blood bank in the UK and plans to promote opportunities for more cord donation. The hope is that six maternity units will facilitate collection. The aim is to harvest 12,500 cords within five years for clinical and research use.

The Bill seeks to raise our sights higher, given the value now of cord blood’s treating 85 different diseases. It also seeks to rebalance the debate on stem cell therapy, which can often be more led by media proxy and hype than the ability realistically to treat patients. The Bill supports an ethical and convenient alternative to embryonic sources of stem cells. It also supports parents who are waiting desperately for treatment for their children with diseases such as leukaemia.

I leave the last words to Becki Josiah. She says:

and asks whether anything can be done to help her.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. David Burrowes, Geraldine Smith, Simon Hughes, Robert Key, Mr. Julian Brazier, Mr. Stephen Crabb, Mr. Andrew Dismore, Bob Spink, Michael Fabricant, Jim Dobbin, Andrew Selous and Mrs. Nadine Dorries.

Umbilical Cord Blood (Donation)

Mr. David Burrowes accordingly presented a Bill to promote the donation of cord blood from women after giving birth; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 17 October, and to be printed [Bill 50].

8 Jan 2008 : Column 160

Opposition Day

[5th allotted day]

Network Rail

Mr. Speaker: We come now to the first debate on the Opposition motions. I inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

3.44 pm

Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I beg to move,

As if non-stop gloomy economic news and the return to work after the Christmas break were not enough to depress people last week, thousands of travellers had rail chaos to contend with as well: a truly miserable new year greeting from this Government and Network Rail, the organisation that Labour created to maintain and run the tracks on our railways—a creation process in which the Prime Minister and his closest Treasury advisers were heavily involved. A key national route—60,000 passengers a day use the extensive stretches of the west coast main line—was seriously disrupted when upgrade works around Rugby ran four days over time. Many people were forced on to lengthy bus journeys and were subject to hours of delay.

Liverpool Street station, which is used daily by 100,000 passengers, was completely closed on the first working day after the new year, when a bridge project overran, and services remained disrupted for another two days. That level of disruption damages our economic competitiveness, and causes misery for passengers and inconvenience for those who are running freight on our railways. It is simply not acceptable, it should not have happened and it need not have happened had there been sensible planning. The fact that it occurred on a day when fares increased by as much as 14.5 per cent. in some areas compounded the anger and dissatisfaction felt by so many passengers, who rightly believed that they were not getting value for money.

Mr. Brian H. Donohoe (Central Ayrshire) (Lab): The hon. Lady may not have been in the House when Robert Adley, the ex-Member for Christchurch, commented that the privatisation of the railway network was like the “poll tax on wheels”. Many Transport Select Committee reports have made it clear that everything we are facing is down to fragmentation. In these circumstances, why are the Opposition suggesting that the answer to the problems over the Christmas period, which affected people north of the border who were travelling through Rugby as well as those south of the border, is further fragmentation? Why is the hon. Lady advocating that?

8 Jan 2008 : Column 161

Mrs. Villiers: Where I agree with the hon. Gentleman is on his statement that the disruptions impacted negatively on people north of the border as well as on those south of it—the Opposition are deeply concerned about that. On the rest of his contribution, I must tell him that this Government have to start answering for their own record on the railway network.

Ms Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab) rose—

Mrs. Villiers: They have been in charge of our rail network for the past 10 years, so I would welcome an explanation from the hon. Lady.

Ms Clark: Does the hon. Lady accept that there has been a huge improvement in service since Labour took power? Indeed, since the creation of Network Rail there has been a 28 per cent. decrease in delays.

Mrs. Villiers: It is certainly true that some progress in the rail industry has been made, a significant amount of which results from privatisation. It would not have been possible to achieve that progress without the enterprise introduced by the private sector train operating companies.

Andrew Miller (Ellesmere Port and Neston) (Lab): As a regular traveller on the west coast main line, I am particularly interested in the project to which the hon. Lady refers. Will she put this debate into perspective by telling us the scale of the project that was undertaken during this winter break? How many person hours were put in to the work that she is challenging?

Mrs. Villiers: It was clearly a huge project, but there is no excuse for the disruption that caused misery to so many people.

Labour created Network Rail and Labour must carry the can for its failure. To all intents and purposes, it is a nationalised industry—more or less everyone accepts that, except the Government and the management of Network Rail. No matter how many somersaults they do to try to keep Network Rail’s debts off the Government balance sheets, they are simply in denial if they think that Network Rail is not effectively an agency of government. May I draw the House’s attention to something said by the former Leader of the House, the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr. Straw)? He explicitly referred to the fact that the Government

Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I am a regular user of the railway from Colchester to London Liverpool Street, and I have a lot of sympathy with the points that the hon. Lady is making because I have constituents who were similarly affected. Does she accept that the fragmentation of the railway industry has not helped the situation?

Mrs. Villiers: The serious problem that is revealed, as I shall explore in my speech, is that Network Rail is not sufficiently accountable to passengers and customers.

8 Jan 2008 : Column 162

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Further to the point made by the hon. Member for Colchester (Bob Russell), is my hon. Friend aware that many of my constituents experienced huge disruption from the overrun of the engineering works at Liverpool Street? It is not acceptable for Network Rail consistently to blame contractors: it has to take responsibility for overruns that inconvenience the public.

Mrs. Villiers: I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, as I will explore later in my speech.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that if Labour really believed that any split in the old British Rail monopoly was wrong, it should have nationalised the whole thing years ago and proved that that was better? Of course, it is not better, which is why Labour has not done it. The railway moved from decline to growth when we privatised it.

Mrs. Villiers: The reality is that Ministers now have more control over our railways than they did in the days of British Rail. They take more detailed decisions on a range of issues, such as timetabling and rolling stock, than Ministers have ever considered in the past. In Network Rail, they took the decision to create an organisation that is not properly accountable to anyone—to shareholders, passengers, customers or the regulator—and they must take responsibility for the consequences of that decision.

Albert Owen (Ynys Môn) (Lab): My constituents in Wales were seriously affected by the overrun of engineering works in Rugby, but their main concern is that the lessons are learnt for the future. They welcome the upgrade of the line and the additional services that they are now getting, but what they want—sensibly—is for the regulator to look into the problems and the lessons to be learnt, so that we can have even faster and more frequent trains to north-west Wales.

Mrs. Villiers: Absolutely lessons must be learned for the future, and it is sad that Network Rail has not always learned lessons from similar incidents in the past. The simple fact is that Network Rail’s senior management was incompetent in failing to plan properly to get the work finished on time. I emphasise that it is senior management that has been found wanting, because the Opposition recognise the hard work and difficult job done by so many dedicated Network Rail staff, whose morale must have plummeted in recent weeks.

Ministers were invisible as the crisis on the rail network deepened. Network Rail’s failure to communicate effectively either with passengers or with the people responsible for running the trains was inexcusable. It is one thing to overrun on a possession, but the impact is far worse if one gives only short notice that that will happen. There seemed to be a blithe assumption that if a train company were given a few days’ notice, its passengers could switch their plans and travel on a different day. But we are talking about new year’s eve. If one is going to a new year’s eve party, there is not a lot of point in getting a train on 4 January.

At Liverpool Street, One Railway, the people responsible for running the trains in and out of the station and for getting passengers from A to B, first learned of the
8 Jan 2008 : Column 163
work overrun at about 1 am on 2 January, about four hours before the station was due to reopen and trains to start running. By then, it was simply too late to get any information to customers before they turned up at stations across East Anglia, not unreasonably expecting to be able to take a train into work. That is an extreme example of Network Rail’s damaging tendency not to co-operate closely enough with train operating companies, or even keep them informed of what is going on. That approach is hindering efficiency in the railways and increasing fragmentation.

Mr. Mark Prisk (Hertford and Stortford) (Con): My hon. Friend makes a powerful point about the failure of Network Rail management to learn their lessons. I received a letter today from Iain Coucher in response to my correspondence. He says that, while there have been similar problems in the past,

Next Section Index Home Page