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Written Answers

Wednesday, 13th October 1999.

Antigua: Assistance with Police Training

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What requests they have received from the Government of Antigua for assistance in the training of police officers in crisis management for contingencies such as hostage taking and terrorist crime; what reply they have sent; and what action they are taking.[HL4114]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): The Government of Antigua have approached us on a number of occasions for such assistance. The FCO is currently considering a request for the training of police officers in crisis management. We remain in close touch with the Government of Antigua on this subject.

Crime (Sentences) Act: Implementation

Lord Windlesham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    On what dates the provisions of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 were brought into effect prescribing (a) mandatory life sentence on conviction for the second time of a serious sexual or violent offence (Section 2); and (b) a minimum sentence of seven years for a third class A drug trafficking conviction (Section 3).[HL4130]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): Sections 2 and 3 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 were both brought into effect on 1 October 1997.

Lord Windlesham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many convicted offenders have been sentenced under Sections 2 and 3 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 since commencement; and in how many cases did the sentencing courts make use of the exceptions contained in Sections 1(2) and 1(3) of that Act.[HL4131]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Comprehensive information is not currently available centrally. However, Prison Service records confirm that there are 103 prisoners currently serving life sentences imposed under Section 2 of the Act.

Arrangements are being made to monitor cases arising under Sections 2, 3 and 4 of the Act from December of this year, when Section 4 is commenced. This will provide information about eligibility for a mandatory sentence and whether such a sentence was in fact imposed.

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Section 1 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 was repealed by Schedule 10 to the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. The relevant exceptions are now contained in Sections 2(2), 3(2) and 4(2).

Lord Windlesham asked Her Majesty's Government:

    When they intend to bring into force Section 4 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 (minimum of three years' imprisonment on third conviction for domestic burglary); and what are the reasons why the commencement of this section was delayed for a longer period than the other mandatory sentences in the same Act.[HL4132]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced in January this year, Section 4 of the Crime (Sentences) Act 1997 will come into force in December this year.

Like their predecessor, this Government made it clear that implementation of Section 4 depended on the capacity of the Prison Service and available resources. We are now confident that the Prison Service has the capacity to cope with the increase in the prison population to which Section 4 will give rise.

Political Donations: Tax Relief

Lord Goodhart asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the statement in paragraph 6.3 of the response of the Home Office to the Fifth Report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life that the tax relief scheme on donations to political parties as proposed by the committee would be expensive for the Inland Revenue to administer, what would be the estimated annual cost to the Inland Revenue of administering such a scheme.[HL4143]

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The reasons given in the White Paper for not allowing tax relief on donations to political parties are that it would amount to general state aid by another route; that it would be expensive for the Inland Revenue and political parties to administer relative to the likely level of take-up; and that the Government have to balance the loss of revenue against other spending priorities.

The administrative costs have not been estimated precisely either in the Neill Committee's report or subsequently. It is, however, clear that they would significantly offset the benefit, particularly in relation to smaller donations. The Neill Committee recognised in paragraph 8.21 of its report that below a certain level it would be uneconomic for a party to claim tax relief on a donation.

Hepatitis C

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What consideration they have given to the implications of the recent disclosure that, while processes to eliminate the hepatitis C virus through heat-treating NHS blood products used by patients

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    with haemophilia were introduced in England in 1985, this did not happen in Scotland until 1987; and whether they will now review their policy in relation to new financial help for patients infected with the virus by NHS treatment and the dependants of those who have since died.[HL4115]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): The blood services in Scotland and England issued heat treated blood products in December 1984 and February 1985 respectively to eliminate HIV transmission. We now know that intensive heat treatment also inactivated hepatitis C, which was not specifically identified until 1989. The heat treatment used in Scotland between 1984 and 1987 was less intensive than that used in England and while it inactivated HIV it did not fully eliminate hepatitis C transmission through blood products. When this became evident the blood service in Scotland increased the level of heat treatment to eliminate hepatitis C transmission as well. Our general policy remains that compensation or other financial help to patients is given only when the National Health Service or individuals working in it have been at fault.

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    In view of the recent disclosure that haemophilia treatment in Scotland was not inactivated against hepatitis C until up to a year after that produced elsewhere in the United Kingdom:

    (a) how many English, Welsh and Northern Irish patients with haemophilia were given clotting factor treatment produced in Scotland between 1985 and 1987;

    (b) what steps the Department of Health is taking to trace and inform such patients that they may have been infected with hepatitis C through clotting factor products made in Scotland after 1985; and

    (c) whether they will reverse their decision not to conduct a full inquiry into the effects of

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    contaminated blood products given to patients with haemophilia, in keeping with the decision of the Scottish Health Minister to order a full investigation into how the haemophilia community in Scotland was infected with hepatitis C.[HL4116]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: One hundred and ninety vials heated at less than the current conditions of 80 per cent centigrade were sent to England and Wales between 1985 and 1987. Northern Ireland was, and continues to be, supplied routinely with clotting factors manufactured in Scotland. Most people with haemophilia requiring treatment visit their haemophilia centre at least once a year for an annual review which includes consideration of possible past hepatitis C infection. However, we are asking UK haemophilia centre directors to ensure that all those who might possibly have been infected with hepatitis C are offered counselling, testing and, where appropriate, treatment. We do not propose a further inquiry.

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will urgently review the treatment for patients with haemophilia who have been infected with hepatitis C by contaminated NHS blood products so that patients are not denied the only available licensed treatment (interferon/ribavirin) on grounds of cost.[HL4117]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: We have made it clear that care is to be provided for all medical conditions on the basis of clinical need and effectiveness. The combination therapy interferon/ribavirin received a marketing authorisation in May 1999. The NHS Health Technology Assessment is funding research to establish the effectiveness of the early treatment of hepatitis C with alpha interferon or with interferon and ribavirin. We are also funding the Royal College of Physicians, the British Society of Gastroenterology and the British Association for the Study of the Liver to develop evidence based clinical guidelines for the management of patients with hepatitis C. The National Institute for Clinical Excellence is likely to consider treatment for hepatitis C in early 2000.

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