HC Deb 27 March 1987 vol 113 cc699-702

Amendment made, in line 2, at end insert 'and Human Immunodeficiency Virus.'.—[Mr. Newton.]

Bill reported, with Amendments.

Order for Third Reading read.

12 noon

Mr. Strang

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I preface my remarks by thanking everyone who has been involved in helping to reach this stage of the Bill. I pay tribute to the commitment of the Minister for Health. He has done a great deal of work. To a large extent, it is as a consequence of his interest in the matter and the fact that he has followed the request by the Secretary of State that we should seek to approach this issue on an all-party basis that the Bill has reached this stage. I thank the officials in the DHSS AIDS unit for their work. I also thank Howard Fidderman, who has done a large amount of work on my behalf. The British Medical Association has been most helpful. Many other organisations have contributed to the consultation and dialogue that have preceded this stage of the Bill.

I shall make a special reference to the people in Edinburgh. Tragically, as all hon. Members know, Edinburgh is experiencing the lull before the storm in relation to the disease. Over 50 per cent of injecting drug misusers are known to be infected with HIV. In a short time, we shall have hundreds of AIDS cases. I pay tribute to officials of the Lothian health board— I shall not name them— and in Edinburgh district council and Lothian regional council. I also pay tribute to the councils. They are controlled by my party, but I make the point in a non-political way that both councils are adopting a responsible approach to working with the health board in the area in relation to the crisis in Edinburgh.

On HIV, clearly we agree that a new paragraph will be inserted into the schedule. It is important that we complement the schedule in plenty of time to enable us to have the best HIV estimates available for the first reports. The debate on AIDS last November was valuable. It was a credit to the House. In the debate on 21 November the Secretary of State referred to the delay between infection and the development of AIDS symptoms. He said that the average period was about five years. At that time, he reckoned that about 25 to 30 per cent. of carriers develop AIDS. Of course, if one develops AIDS, one dies. I wonder whether the Minister will state whether— perhaps it is too early to do so, following the conference that took place last Monday— the Government are thinking of revising their view of what proportion of people who become infected are likely to develop AIDS. The period of time between infection and AIDS manifesting itself may be five years or more. Therefore, it is important to discover whether this percentage is still the most reliable estimate.

The Bill is now much more comprehensive and practical. This is largely because the Government have been very helpful. The Bill, especially in the schedule, also provides for flexibility. This legislation represents the first long-term means of dealing with AIDS and it will be helpful until the end of the century. Its flexibility is important. With the consent of Parliament, the Secretary of State will be able to adjust and alter the schedule. Professionals throughout the country have given their overwhelming support to the Bill. Our debates show that there is overwhelming support for it, too, in the House.

I hope that Parliament will enact the Bill in the next few months. We are anxious that the reporting period provision should be implemented as early as possible so that, if reports are to be published in 1988, the first reporting period can end on 31 March 1988.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. I have a duty to protect the rights of other hon. Members whose Bills appear on the Order Paper. I remind the House that the debate on Third Reading should he confined to comment on the contents of the Bill.

12.1 pm

Mr. Rhodes James

I congratulate the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang) and my hon. Friend the Minister for Health on the work that they have done on the Bill. It has been so refreshing to be able to work in an entirely non-political way. Unlike the hon. Member for East Kilbride (Dr. Miller), most Members of Parliament are laymen, and they have had to deal with a new and ghastly problem. We are moving into uncharted waters. As laymen, our difficulty is that the expert advice is divided. That has increased our problems. The experts disagree on the key dilemma of how many carriers of HIV will contract AIDS.

Although we may not in the Bill be moving strictly in the direction of making AIDS a notifiable disease, that is nevertheless the direction in which we are moving. We are not, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mid- Worcestershire (Mr. Forth) claims, spreading alarm. The problem is different. Today the newspapers report that British business men are ignoring the warnings about their conduct when they visit foreign countries, in particular Africa.

The hon. Member for East Kilbride referred to smallpox. This disease was eradicated. That was one of the greatest achievements of the United Nations. It was eradicated because there was the political will to do so. Polio could be eradicated, too. Global problems—and this is a global problem— can be met only by a global response. The Bill provides a further step towards the dissemination of information nationally, regionally and internationally.

I urge a great degree of honesty about educating the public. When the Earl of Avon died 18 months ago the press contacted me, as his father's biographer and as a friend of his, about the disease from which he died. I decided to tell the press the truth, but I asked them to remember that he had a family and friends and to handle the matter with sensitivity. The appeal worked. The press handled it with sensitivity. Honesty would lead to a real break through in public understanding and would help us to face what could be one of the gravest scourges of the century.

12.9 pm

Mr. Simon Hughes

I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Dr. Strang), who worked so hard to make sure that the Bill reached this stage. I echo his thanks to the Minister and the officials.

The whole nature of the way in which we as representatives of the people have been challenged to face a new threat that has reached every part of the country has been to react by making sure that ignorance is broken down and that information and education are increased. The great thing about this short Bill is that if we can speed its way on to the statute book people will have reports containing accurate information that can be used to deal with the speculation and misinformation that lead to so many unhelpful suggestions, comments and reactions.

We have a joint responsibility to make sure that we work together as a community for two ultimate objectives. First, we must achieve as soon as possible a cure for the disease. Secondly, we must make sure that as long as people are afflicted by AIDS, either as carriers of the virus or as contractors of the disease, they will have available to them their Health Service and the talents of our people so that we can give those who may have many more years to live the opportunity to live a full life without discrimination or prejudice, and give them help and support during the most crucial period of their lives.

The Bill gives us the opportunity to be a more responsible community, and that will enable us to see the AIDS threat, not in the way that it has been seen up to now, as a threat to people's dignity, but as a challenge to us as a caring nation and respond to a new problem that has come our way so dramatically in recent years.

12.11 pm
Dr. Marek

The House still has a lot of business before it, so I shall not repeat the points that I made in Committee. The points have been made by the hon.

Members for Cambridge (Mr. Rhodes James) and for Southwark and Bermondsey (Mr. Hughes). This is a good Bill, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) on presenting it and hope that it is successful in the other place. I am sure that Britain will benefit from the Bill.

12.12 pm
Mr. Newton

I join in the congratulations to the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) on introducing the Bill and on the vast amount of work that he and his assistant have put into getting it right. The hon. Gentleman kindly said that I and my officials had done a lot of work as well. I hope that that is true. Certainly I feel that I have reached the stage of taking almost as fatherly an interest in the Bill as has the hon. Gentleman.

Although the Bill is deliberately limited in its scope, it is a helpful step in the fight against this disease. The information that will be contained in the annual reports from health authorities and boards will paint a valuable picture of the situation across the country. It will help to fill in some gaps in our knowledge and may be of special value in those areas that have yet to experience the full brunt of the disease.

In addition, the essential work of local and national planning that will have to go on will be assisted by having this information produced on a regular basis and in a format that will enable useful comparisons to be made. I confirm our intention that the reporting period will be the same throughout the United Kingdom. We are still considering the precise period, but it will probably be related to the financial year rather than to the calendar year, in order to tie it in with other statistical returns that are used for planning purposes. That covers a point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East.

The details are not included in the Bill, because it is sensible to keep an element of flexibility to avoid the need for primary legislation if changes in the reporting year become desirable. As the Bill now stands, The Secretary of State is able to prescribe appropriate reporting periods in secondary legislation. I underline the commitment in the Bill that the first reports will be published before the end of next year. That again relates to a point made by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East.

Northern Ireland has not been mentioned today, but preparation of the Northern Ireland legislation is in hand. The Order in Council relating to Northern Ireland will be made as soon as possible after the Bill receives Royal Assent.

It is clear from our proceedings this morning that, with some reservations about wider matters, the Bill has the full support of the House, and certainly that of the Government. A number of helpful amendments have been made, which will increase its value. I hope that the Bill will enable all of us who have been concerned in its proceedings to feel that we have at least made some contribution to one of the most important tasks facing this Parliament and anyone who is concerned with health in this country. We must do all that we can to prevent the spread of the disease. If we have taken even a small step in that direction this morning, it has been a morning well spent. I commend the Bill and advise the House to agree to its Third Reading.

Question put and agreed to,

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.