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House of Lords

Thursday, 19th January 1995.

The House met at three of the clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Lichfield.): The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Blood Donations

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will ensure that blood donated in the United Kingdom and surplus to the needs of the National Health Service is used as a free component of United Kingdom overseas aid.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Baroness Cumberlege): No, my Lords, because we do not collect surplus blood.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, is the Minister able to give an assurance that blood freely given in this country will not become the subject of some kind of market but will be disposed of at least as freely as it has been given?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I can categorically give that assurance. There is absolutely no question of privatising the blood service and no question of selling blood, although we do sell some blood products which are surplus to our requirements. But just as we cannot run a car without petrol so we cannot run a health service without blood. Therefore, all the blood that is given through voluntary donations we need to use.

Lord Molloy: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware of reports in serious newspapers and on the BBC that blood is being sold abroad? That blood is from donors who gave it freely and thought it would contribute to the National Health Service. It is British blood and, according to reports, it is being sold overseas for money.

Baroness Cumberlege; My Lords, those reports are inaccurate. The National Blood Service immediately approached the newspaper concerned but unfortunately it chose not to correct the statement it had made. There is no question whatever that this nation would sell blood.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is the Minister aware that when, some years ago, I was a member of the Greater London Council, one of my colleagues went to prison and served a sentence for attempting to sell blood commercially outside this country?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I am sure that the prosecution was fully supported throughout the country.

Lord Rea: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that, at least until now, our National Blood Transfusion Service—which relies totally on voluntary blood donations—has been an outstanding success? We can be proud of its success in the international community. Does the noble Baroness realise that hints—even if they are not true—of the initiation of market principles and

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commercialisation and now the new economies proposed by the new National Blood Authority might well deter many current donors and perhaps make it more difficult to recruit new donors?

Perhaps more to the point of the original Question, can the Minister say how far techniques for freezing whole blood have been developed? That would make it much easier to handle fluctuating supplies and fluctuating needs for blood of different groups rather than having to process it into blood products.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, I endorse the noble Lord's comments about blood donors. We are enormously grateful to the 1.8 million people who freely give blood every year, to the benefit of others. I am not sure about the freezing of blood. I know that there is a story in the newspaper today about using crocodile blood which, I think, has some interesting connotations.

There is no question of the reorganisation of the National Blood Service deterring donors. The whole purpose is to make it easier for donors to give blood. The reorganisation is concerned with the treatment and delivery of blood, which we know can be improved. Indeed, we anticipate saving £10 million.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, my noble friend will recollect that last year there was said to be a shortage of blood. Does she recognise that the willingness to give blood is often outweighed by the inconvenience of doing so? Would she regard it as not too wide of the Question to consider whether we could have facilities for giving blood in the Palace of Westminster?

Baroness Cumberlege; My Lords, I am absolutely sure that it would be very high quality blood, if not totally blue blood!

Lord Bruce of Donington: My Lords, are we to understand from the noble Baroness that, on being approached by the Government and asked to publish the Government's correction, a newspaper declined to do so? If that be the case, will she name the newspaper?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, it was the newspaper called Today.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that much mischief is done by reporting which is wholly inaccurate? Will the Government take steps to make an example of the newspaper?

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, we have a very interesting relationship with the newspaper industry. I think that we did all we could; in the end, we have to consider issues such as the freedom of the press. That is a very important freedom.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that it is intended to reduce the number of centres at which people can donate blood? If so, can she indicate how that will make it possible for people to continue giving blood in the way they have done? Surely, it will deter some blood donors.

Baroness Cumberlege: My Lords, at the moment there are 15 centres in the country. The proposal is to

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concentrate on 10 centres. Very few people—in fact, only 5 per cent. of all blood donors—give blood in the centres. What we are trying to do is to make local facilities better, more convenient and more conducive for people to give blood, using mobile centres and, as we have in the past, local facilities which are accessible to people and convenient for them.

Baroness Faithfull: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a number of people who feel that their blood donor centre will be done away with have said that they will not give blood? Is it being made clear to them that they can continue to give blood in the towns where they live?

Baroness Cumberlege: Yes, my Lords. The chairman of the National Blood Authority is putting a great deal of personal effort into this, talking to countless donors up and down the country, especially those where the centres will be rationalised.

Independent Television News

3.8 p.m.

Lord Donoughue asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they expect the ownership structure of ITN to comply with Section 32(9) (a) of the Broadcasting Act 1990.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of National Heritage (Viscount Astor): My Lords, the Independent Television Commission announced in November 1994 that, in the light of the Government's review of media ownership, its earlier deadline for compliance with these requirements will be extended by one year to 31st December 1995.

Lord Donoughue: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that, contrary to the provisions of the Act—which indicated a maximum shareholding of 20 per cent. in ITN—two shareholders currently control 72 per cent. of ITN? Is he further aware that those same two shareholders control 52 per cent. of ITV, which takes it news solely from ITN? Since they are in a position to arrange the supply contracts between ITN, which they control, and ITV, where they control 52 per cent., is that not a clear breach of the Fair Trading Act? Will the Minister refer this matter to the Director-General of Fair Trading?

Viscount Astor: My Lords, the contract that the noble Lord describes was set in 1992, long before the changes that he described in the ownership either of ITV franchises or of ITN took place. The Government remain committed to encouraging accurate, impartial television news.

Lord Haskel: My Lords, is the Minister aware of a report in yesterday's Evening Standard that the existence of a non-competition agreement between ITN and Reuters was revealed; and that this in effect deprived Channel 4 of seeking a competitive news

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supply? Is that not a serious breach of competition policy, and will the Minister also refer this matter to the Director-General of Fair Trading?

Viscount Astor: No, my Lords. We will not refer either of the two matters to the Director-General of the Office of Fair Trading. Regarding the point that the noble Lord makes about Channel 4, it is up to Channel 4, if it wishes and when the current contract comes to an end, to renegotiate the contract with a body other than ITN.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the House has not so far found the answers satisfactory? I think that the Minister should attempt to answer the first question from my noble friend.

Does the Minister accept that Michael Green, who contributes a lot of money to the Tory Party, is chairman of ITN and also chairman of Carlton and therefore holds considerable power? Would it not be in his best interests, and indeed the interests of the country, if he were seen to be absolutely above suspicion in matters of this kind?

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