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Cervical Screening

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Ann Keen): I announced in my written ministerial statement on l3 March 2009, Official Report, column 36WS, that we had asked the independent Advisory Committee on Cervical Screening (ACCS) to formally review the evidence relating to risks and benefits of cervical screening in women under 25 years, including current evidence regarding incidence and mortality in young women.

The review took place at an extraordinary meeting of the ACCS held on 19 May 2009. The ACCS is an independent ministerially appointed committee, with most members nominated by their respective professional bodies. A number of guests were also invited to the review meeting to ensure all opinions and available evidence were heard, including the voluntary sector and patients.

No new scientific evidence was presented to the review meeting to support the reintroduction of screening in women under 25. Indeed some new evidence was presented indicating that screening is of little or no benefit in women in this age group. There is evidence that treatment following screening in this age group can lead to an increased risk of subsequent premature births, increasing the risk of babies dying or having severe disabilities. Evidence was also presented that showed there has been no significant increase in the number of women aged under 25 contracting or dying from cervical cancer since the policy change in 2004.

Members of the committee were unanimous that there was no reason to lower the age at which screening commences, which is in line with international recommendations

Members of the committee were, however, concerned that young women who present to their general practitioners with gynaecological symptoms are not always being given appropriate advice. They strongly recommended that the Department of Health should take further
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action in this area, and the ACCS will be considering how best to take this forward as a matter of urgency at their meeting on 25 June 2009. Members also recommended that more effort is made in increasing the uptake of cervical screening in women aged 25 to 34, where coverage has been falling in recent years. We will develop plans with NHS Cancer Screening Programmes and the National Awareness and Early Diagnosis Initiative to take this forward.

The committee will keep the decision closely under review, especially by monitoring the incidence of cervical cancer in young women. In the interests of transparency, the minutes of the review meeting have been placed in the Library and are available at:

I would like to thank Jo’s Trust for their contribution to the review, and pay tribute to the family of Claire Walker for continuing to raise the awareness of cervical cancer.

Employment Strategy (Learning Disabilities)

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Phil Hope): The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Minister with responsibility for disabled people, my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) and I are today publishing a new strategy—“Valuing Employment Now: Real jobs for people with learning disabilities”.

The Government are committed to supporting more people with learning disabilities into jobs. “Valuing People Now, a new three-year strategy for people with learning disabilities” published on 19 January 2009, emphasised that people with learning disabilities are entitled to the same aspirations and life chances as other people including the opportunity to work.

This cross-Government strategy sets out an ambitious goal to increase radically the number of people with learning disabilities in employment by 2025. The Government want as many of these jobs to be at least 16 hours per week. We aspire to close the gap between the employment rate of adults with moderate and severe learning disabilities and that of the disabled population as whole, currently estimated at 48 per cent.

The strategy includes action to raise expectations throughout the system that all people with learning disabilities can and should have the chance to work: from birth and early years through education, among health and social care staff, local authorities, employment agencies, employers, and people with learning disabilities themselves and their families. The strategy is supported by a detailed delivery plan.

The strategy and delivery plan have been placed in the Library and copies are available to hon. Members from the Vote Office.

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Sentencing Guidelines Council Annual Report

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): I have today laid before Parliament the annual report of the Sentencing Guidelines Council. The Sentencing Guidelines Council has published its annual report, jointly with the Sentencing Advisory Panel, giving details of the excellent work it has achieved during the past year and outlining its ongoing work plans in 2009.

Northern Ireland

Consultative Group on the Past

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I have today published a consultation paper on the recommendations of the Consultative Group on the Past. Dealing with the legacy of the events of the last forty years remains one of the greatest challenges still facing Northern Ireland. The Consultative Group on the Past was established in 2007 and asked to make recommendations about steps that might be taken to support Northern Ireland society in building a shared future that is not overshadowed by the events of the past.

When the report was published, one recommendation—that £12,000 recognition payments should be made to the relatives of all those who died as a result of the troubles—dominated all discussion of the report, and overshadowed all the other 30 recommendations.

I have already confirmed that the Government do not propose to take this recommendation forward. However, I am concerned that there has not yet been a thorough debate about the other recommendations in the report. That is why the consultation paper I am publishing today invites everyone to study all of the recommendations carefully and share with the Government their views on each of them.

In particular, I am calling on the political leaders in Northern Ireland to engage fully in a study of the proposals. The way forward cannot be imposed on Northern Ireland; it must be based on emerging and wide-ranging consensus. Achieving that consensus will not be easy but I believe that if the recommendations are studied carefully there will be those that will have widespread support.

The consultation period will run until 2 October 2009. Whatever the outcome of the consultation may be the Government will continue to support Northern Ireland on the path to reconciliation.

I have arranged for copies of the consultation paper to be placed in the Libraries of the both Houses of Parliament.

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