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Baroness Deech: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. Given the general tolerance in the population of risk factors in birth, does he agree that it would be wrong to castigate cousin marriages, but
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Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. I would like to put on record the Governments commitment to this. The role of the healthcare professional and of the Government is to provide support and advice to empower people to make informed choices based on clear information and advice. The healthcare professionals role is to allow the individual to assess these risks and to make their own decisions about what to do; it is not to tell them who they should marry. As a result the Government have made a significant investment in this field, not only in the training of genetic counsellors but in changing the curriculum of primary care colleagues with the collaboration of the Royal College of General Practitioners. We will see more and more genetic knowledge being disseminated through postgraduate education.
Baroness Barker: My Lords, is the department acting on the recommendation of the Genetic Interest Group that there should be collaboration between regional genetic centres, services for haemoglobin disorders and paediatricians in order to support, identify and offer appropriate counselling to at-risk couples?
Lord Darzi of Denham: Yes, my Lords, we are. I bring to the Houses attention the review of Our Inheritance, Our Future. Published only last week, it refers to the consultation we have carried out since the White Paper was published with more than 50 different stakeholders, including scientists, professionals and patient groups, who overwhelmingly welcomed the progress and investment that have been made since publication. I will ensure that this document is made available to the House.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, in some parts of the world first-cousin marriages are very common, particularly in the Middle East. On a recent visit to Saudi Arabia I was struck by how much more openly the genetic issues arising from first-cousin marriages are being addressed and discussed. How much interchange is there with countries where this practice is widespread and how much co-operation on research or research projects is under way?
Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, I agree with my noble friends comments. This issue affects more than 1 billion people around the globe, and 20 to 50 per cent of the marriages between them are consanguineous, most commonly between first cousins. There is collaboration in certain fields. It is important to realise that taking peoples history into account is probably the best way to assess the risk of first-cousin marriages. As we know, there are more than 100 different autosomal
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Lord Acton: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that my great-great-great-grandfather, Sir John Acton, the Bourbon Prime Minister of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, married his niece with the benefit of papal dispensation, and that their grandson was the first Lord Acton, who was a Liberal and not a Bourbon, and of whom the noble Lord, Lord McNally, thoroughly approves? From what has been discussed so far, I am not clear that there is a genetic risk. I hastily add that none of my nine brilliant brothers and sisters nor I is as clever as our great-grandfather.
Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, there is a risk but, as my noble friend suggested, it is very small. Communities that practise cousin marriages have twice the risk of having a child affected by inherited genetic disorder. The overall risk is still very low at about 4 per cent, whereas the risk in the general population is 2 per cent. To the list of the noble Lords family I would add Albert Einstein and others, who were probably more mathematically inclined and were aware of the risks.
Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, do the Government have any evidence whether there are any differences as regards the tendency of different ethnic groups to incur the risks of first-cousin marriage? I hope this will be a rather easier question to answer than the previous one.
Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, I am not aware of any differences between ethnic groups but I am aware of certain autosomal recessive disorders that might be higher in some ethnic groups. I will be more than happy to write to the noble Lord on one specific disorder which we see in Ashkenazi Jews and which we screen for quite regularly.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, what is being done on health education in communities where such practices are prevalent? What advice is being offered to entry clearance officers abroad regarding cases where such marriages may be used for the purpose of entry to the United Kingdom?
Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, the department has funded two projects that have looked at ways of raising community awareness of genetic risk. In Blackburn, a genetic counsellor worked with families who already had an affected child in order to raise understanding of future risks for the family and then worked through the family to offer services to other relatives concerned about their own risks. In Leicester, the local genetics service worked with community groups to raise awareness of the possible risks and the availability of a local specialist genetic service to provide advice and information. Local health services in Bradford also have plans to develop community outreach work to raise awareness, particularly in communities at higher risk.
Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, as awareness of the risk is disseminated among communities that are at a slightly higher risk, I am sure that that process of information dissemination will be inherited through the children.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the proposed changes to Parliament Square under the World Squares for All project are the responsibility of the Mayor of London and Westminster City Council, as highway authority. The Government continue to work alongside Transport for London as the proposals for this scheme take shape.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, I suppose that I thank the noble Lord for that reply. Will the relevant authorities continue to make sure that taxis are available for those of us who depend on them to get to Parliament? Also, on parking outside St Margarets Church, will this amenity still be available for brides and mothers-in-law to be picked up and put down, as well as disabled and important mourners following memorial services at the church?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for the questions. Obviously taxi access is essential to the Palace of Westminster. These plans are work in progress. Clearly the concerns of the bereaved going to services will have to be properly considered. I am sure that the scheme, which is being consulted on, will protect the interests of those who need immediate access to all the relevant buildings.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, this is a great opportunity to transform the whole environment around the British Parliament. I assume that not just the Government but Parliament as a whole will have some strong opinions about what is offered. Some of us think that closing two sides of the square rather than one would create an enormous opportunity to have a large public space. Even what was achieved in Trafalgar Square with the closure of one side was rather impressive. Surely the Government have a positive view on this and ought to express it vigorously to Westminster City Council, which appears to regard the interests of the inhabitants of the houses around Smith Square and between Smith Square and here as rather more important than the wider interests of reshaping the environment for the Palace of Westminster.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the success of the Trafalgar Square scheme. The Government are involved in discussions and the Palace of Westminster authorities are represented on the World Squares for All steering group. The views expressed by the noble Lord are very helpful, and I will certainly ensure that they are passed on.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, can the Minister say how long this has been going on? I recall that this discussion started about eight years ago, when some noble Lords and I were shown lovely plans of what might happen in Parliament Square. If the mayor and Westminster City Council have taken eight years not to agree, when will something happen? Will our grandchildren be the first to see a result?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, discussions about Parliament Square have been going on ever since Sir Charles Barry designed the first layout back in 1868. I am sure that there is a great sense of urgency in the mayors office, as noble Lords will understand. This has to be resolved for the Olympics and the Paralympics in 2012.
Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, although the reorganisation of Trafalgar Square, which is a much larger square, has improved public access, it has made things for traffic completely impossible? Also, my noble friend Lady Trumpington asks me to remind him that he did not answer her question about St Margarets Church.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall repeat some of what I said. I am sure that the interests of mourners and visitors to the church will be properly considered and fully taken into account. Public authorities are spending a lot of time working up plans and procedures. All noble Lords should have received information about the proposals on offer. I think that there will be long-term improvements to traffic flow around the square if the plans that I have seen are brought into effect.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, will my noble friend ensure that any changes make it easier for Members of this House who have offices in the buildings on the other side of the road to get here for Divisions? All the changes that have taken place recently, both to traffic control and, above all, to security, have created an obstacle course for Members to get here in time to vote.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, if these plans come to fruition, there should be an 80 per cent reduction in traffic flows in front of the parliamentary buildings, so it should be much easier for those who work in buildings outside the parliamentary estate to make their way into the building for Divisions.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I have tried to give pretty precise answers to questions. I have told the House that there have been discussions since 1868, I have explained the position with the church and I have made it painfully obvious that the parliamentary authorities are involved in detailed discussions. The worst possible thing for London would be the election of Boris Johnson.
Earl Attlee: My Lords, I hope that the Minister thinks that my noble friend Lady Trumpington was right to ask this Question. Can he explain why, over several years, the Government have failed to have Mr Brian Haws rubbish removed while at the same time they have penalised decent and reasonable protesters in Parliament Square?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the presence of protesters on the pavements on the edge of Parliament Square is a matter for Westminster City Council. Mr Haw has a right to protest and that right has been enshrined and protected. While one may disagree with the particular views of an individual, they have a right to make those views known.
Baroness Golding: My Lords, I declare an interest: I live on the corner of Great Peter Street, Great Smith Street and Marsham Street. Last year, when Parliament Square was closed, there was chaos. Does the Minister agree that the problem concerns not only Parliament Square but the surrounding area?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, my noble friend is right to draw attention to traffic problems in the area. We have something like 33 million pedestrian visitors to Parliament Square, of whom fewer than half a million ever make it to the centre. There is a strong view that opening it up and making pedestrian access possible from the south side would greatly improve the environment.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 63 and 64. These amendments would simply leave out Clauses 21 to 23. My noble friend Lord Kingsland spoke to these briefly on one of the latter days in Committee back in February, at some relatively late time of night: I think that it was at 9.25, after dinner. He did not move them on that occasion, but he set out our case. The Minister assured the Committee at that time that the Government were, as he described it,
on an electronically monitored curfew, and to take that against a subsequent sentence. Put very simply, we believe that this is loopy, and I suspect that most of the population would agree that it is mad. The Government are saying, briefly, that while someone is at home on an electronic curfewas long as they are there for more than nine and a half hours, I thinkand sitting or lying in bed there, perhaps watching Match of the Day, or Im a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!, or possibly even a party political broadcast from the party opposite, that time shall be taken into account in any subsequent custodial sentence. As I say, that is loopy and most people would think it mad. It is not the right way to go about it.
We know exactly why the Government are doing this; to reduce artificially the number of people in prison. That is a perfectly laudable ambitionthere is nothing wrong with the idea of trying to reduce that numberbut we do not happen to think this is the right way to go about it. When he responded to this matter back on 26 February, the Minister said that credit is not being given on the basis that defendants have been denied their liberty, but rather that they have complied with their bail condition while on curfew. Well, that is not how most of us see it. We
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