HC Deb 09 May 2002 vol 385 cc402-8

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. Woolas.]

8.24 pm
Mr. Andrew Hunter (Basingstoke)

On 23 April, the Minister for Sport replied to my parliamentary questions about UK Sport, a publicly funded body, and about the case of my constituent Mr. Paul Edwards. That followed an exchange of correspondence between the Minister and me in January and February, and a meeting in March between Sir Rodney Walker, chairman of UK Sport, Michelle Verroken, director of anti-doping, Paul Edwards, his advisers and me.

In one of my questions, I asked the Government to take measures to ensure that UK Sport has sufficient powers to conduct inquiries into previous rulings on the alleged use of performance-enhancing substances. I asked that because of the manifest reluctance of UK Sport, UK Athletics and the testing laboratory to reopen an issue that is convenient for them to keep closed.

The Minister's answer referred to future, not past cases. He replied: UK Sport is the lead agency for the Government's anti-doping programme. The National Anti-Doping Policy, recently launched by UK Sport, sets out standardised procedures to ensure that governing bodies of sport have consistent, transparent and accountable anti-doping procedures. The National Anti-Doping Policy has clearly defined independent review, disciplinary and appeal processes built into it. I sincerely hope that the Minister's faith in UK Sport's ability to preside over consistent, transparent and accountable anti-doping procedures is well founded. My experiences in the past six months suggest that that may not be the case.

In those six months, UK Sport appears to have taken no effective action about Mr. Paul Edwards, and UK Athletics has refused to take any. The way forward that has been offered is, as I understand it, a recipe for even more delay. That does not inspire confidence in anti-doping procedures of the future.

In a reply to another question, the Minister stated: It would not be appropriate for Ministers to intervene in individual doping cases."—[Official Report, 23 April 2002: Vol. 384, c. 153W.] I agree that that would be so in an ideal world. However, in the case of my constituent, UK Sport and UK Athletics appear so far to be institutionally incapable of tackling what has become an issue of morality and justice. We have encountered stonewalling, delaying tactics, wilful prevarication and appalling obfuscation.

There is no need for me to remind the Minister that UK Sport is wholly funded by taxpayers' and lottery money. Ultimate accountability for the use of that money rests with the Minister as a custodian of the public purse. In the case that we are considering, public money is working against individual justice.

Incredible to relate, the testing process in the case of Paul Edwards clearly infringed the code of the International Olympic Committee. UK Sport's requirements and those of the International Amateur Athletics Federation. The tests were therefore invalid and the case against Edwards collapses. UK Sport and UK Athletics have known that for many months.

In testing the samples, the British Athletic Federation infringed the IOC code of testing. Appendix C of article 5:6 demands that, to maintain the integrity of analysis, the two samples must be tested by entirely different personnel. If that is not possible, the B sample must be tested at a different laboratory. That did not happen with my constituent. The same person tested both samples in the same laboratory. The tests were therefore invalid.

The IOC medical code was also infringed. It requires the production of a chain of custody. A form, which accompanies the samples, must be signed by every custodian. In Edwards' case, it was never produced. When the deficiency was discovered, UK Sport tried to recreate one, but it did not account for the first 24 hours of the samples' transit. It is simply not possible to establish that the samples were kept free from contamination.

UK Sport's requirements were not observed. According to its newsletter in December 1996, the pH level of the sample had to be recorded by the sampling officer at the time of collection. In the case of Paul Edwards, the sampling officer did not do that. He thereby failed to follow the procedures required by UK Sport. By its own standards, the tests were invalid.

More than that, IAAF requirements were not observed. It has been accepted that poor storage leading to sample deterioration can distort epitestosterone-to-testosterone ratios. At the time, the IAAF required both pH and specific gravity data to be taken. In Edwards' case, they were not, so the tests also failed to conform to IAAF standards.

The IAAF would have required a second sample to be collected if the first sample had had a pH level in excess of 7—the acceptable range being between 5 and 7. Even if the pH had been measured and accepted at 7, however, the laboratory reading of 7.3 would indicate deterioration in the sample between collection and testing, owing to poor storage after collection and before testing. Moreover, a pH reading of 7.3 exceeds accountability guidelines for the processing of samples. I understand that it was this point that eventually cleared Diane Modahl. In Edwards' case, it has been ignored.

The infringement of IOC, IAAF and UK Sport requirements is not the end of the story, however: it is nothing like it. Just as extraordinary is the fact that the laboratory never produced the calibration data without which the soundness of the testing process cannot be established. It cannot, therefore, be established that the tests were sound. The disciplinary committee chairman confirmed: We observe that it is not possible to make a quantitative assessment of the epitestosterone to testosterone ratios because no calibration data have been provided. We consider that in the future it should be. Amazingly, having admitted this deficiency, the chairman went on to base his ruling on what was an unproven and entirely assumed epitestosterone—testosterone ratio. It beggars belief that an athlete's career has been destroyed on this basis. Moreover, I am told that it was this precise point—the absence of calibration data—which led to the lifting of the ban on Mark Hylton on appeal. What happened with Hylton should have happened with Edwards.

In Edwards' case, credulity is stretched even further. His tests are recorded as having been completed in three minutes. Other sampling officers are prepared to stake their integrity on the assertion that accurate testing cannot possibly take place so quickly. On this, UK Sport's reaction is extraordinary. It hides behind its own regulations and refuses to comment. It has stated: As it is the policy of UK Sport that its sampling officers may not discuss individual cases or comment on procedures followed, comments by sampling officers are not recognised as fact". In other words, UK Sport is prepared to ignore what a sampling officer says if his comments are inconvenient or embarrassing.

This is still not the end of the saga. For five years, my constituent has protested that information essential to his defence was withheld from him. The testing laboratory, UK Athletics and UK Sport denied this, time and again, until 5 February this year, when UK Athletics wrote to him: UKA accepts that certain information requested by you was not provided prior to the hearings As Edwards has always argued, this meant that he could not expose the defects of the testing process during the hearings. Even his many requests for data protection were refused.

The saga continues. The samples provided by Edwards were stored in Versapak containers. Even at the time, it was acknowledged that these were unreliable. In UK Sport's own words, we could not guarantee that it"— the Versapak closure system— reached the standard UK Sport wanted to achieve for the security of its sample collection system", but no reasonable alternative was on the market at that time. In other words, there was no reliable container system at the time. Incredibly, UK Sport and UK Athletics persist in saying that this has no bearing on the case. In fact, this confirms absolutely the unreliability of the testing process in Edwards' case.

It would be hard to compose a saga of greater incompetence than that involved in the circumstances of the testing process and hearings that led to the imposition of Paul Edwards' life ban. There were appalling irregularities and glaring inconsistencies: it was a total shambles. UK Athletics insists that the panels hearing Edwards' case were independent, yet all three were wholly appointed by UK Athletics. Moreover, at one of the hearings there was no one competent or qualified to receive scientific evidence.

Mr. David Moorcroft of UK Athletics is on record as saying that the standard of evidence required in dope-testing cases must be at least as high as the standard required in a criminal court. If only that were true. In a criminal court, the so-called evidence against Paul Edwards would have been thrown out years ago on the basis that it was fundamentally flawed.

The Minister is a fair and reasonable man. He will know, even if is not politic for him to acknowledge it publicly this evening, that any one of the irregularities I have listed would be sufficient for the charges to be dismissed in a criminal court of law. An appalling injustice has been inflicted on my constituent, and I am dismayed that UK Sport and UK Athletics have so far failed to deliver justice.

What confidence can anyone have that UK Sport can be an effective lead agency, and UK Athletics a led agency, in a national anti-doping policy that is consistent, transparent and accountable, when they cannot put right the monstrous injustice to my constituent that is being perpetrated? The time is long overdue for my constituent's life ban to be lifted. That is only right, and I appeal to the Minister.

8.37 pm
The Minister for Sport (Mr. Richard Caborn)

I congratulate the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mr. Hunter) on securing the debate. I know that he supports his constituent passionately, as is absolutely right.

In recent months—indeed, years—this subject has risen on the political agenda. Most people now recognise that the use of drugs in sport constitutes cheating, and undermines the integrity of sport. Indeed, it probably tarnishes sport more than any other problem it encounters. The Government and I are committed to the battle against doping in sport, and I welcome the opportunity to debate it this evening.

In the United Kingdom, we are committed to achieving a partnership between sport and Government to tackle these problems. The Government fund UK Sport to undertake, among other things, the Government's programme of action to combat the use of drugs in sport. UK Sport's anti-drugs programme includes in-competition and out-of-competition testing of athletes, the development of a national policy framework, and the provision of education and information services for athletes and sports governing bodies. The cornerstone of the programme has been the introduction of the anti-doping policy.

Over the last two years UK Sport, in co-operation with sports governing bodies, has made considerable efforts to develop minimum standards for anti-doping procedures in the UK, and has consulted extensively on the proposals. I was pleased and honoured to attend the launch of the national anti-doping policy in January.

The need to respond to major changes in sport, such as the increased availability of supplements, the use of blood testing and concerns about the adequacy and consistency of disciplinary procedures, added a fresh urgency to the need for a strong national policy. That policy provides the framework for a coherent, rigorous and accountable anti-doping system that is based on four key elements. First, it promotes greater consistency in procedures and decision making across governing bodies and sports federations. Secondly, transparency and accountability enable the setting of clear minimum standards that need to be achieved, of clear lines of responsibility for all involved in the process, and the establishment of open accountability in the management of results. Thirdly, an independent review and disciplinary and appeals process sets out a clearly defined timetable for the initiation of each stage of the process. It also establishes standards and procedures for independent decision makers, and clear reinstatement conditions. Fourthly, accountability of funding provides a consistent framework for the investment of public funding in sport, and for the suspension of lottery funding for those who commit doping offences.

The purpose of the national anti-doping policy is to set out clear guidelines and lines of responsibility for all involved in the anti-doping procedures, not just governing bodies. The policy also requires ongoing compliance, so that all concerned are closely monitored to take into account developments in programmes and procedures. Through the development of the national anti-doping policy, the UK has established a rigorous and effective anti-doping programme that is rightly regarded as probably one of the best in the world.

UK Sport has also taken account of significant international developments in anti-doping. The welcome step of setting up the World Anti-Doping Agency in 1999 moved international co-operation against doping to a new level, and gave an added impetus to the development of the national anti-doping policy. WADA's ability to take effective action against doping relies on the existence of national standards that are in line with international agreements. The UK's national anti-doping policy has been developed in accordance with the international standards and procedures that WADA has endorsed and adopted.

We are one of the first countries to produce a national policy that complies fully with the international standard; in doing so, we are helping to maintain our leadership role on the international stage in the fight against doping. We are hopeful that the International Federation for Sport will adopt the standards promoted by WADA to ensure complete consistency worldwide.

UK Sport is subject to scrutiny by bodies such as the British Standards Institution. WADA and the international standards organisation. As we know, they are powerful, transparent and well-respected bodies, and we are scrutinised by them. Achieving certification by those bodies provides an independent assessment of the validity and effectiveness of their anti-doping programme and procedures. In addition, the National Audit Office—another well-respected organisation that does much work for this House, and which applies its principles rigorously—audits UK Sport's anti-doping procedures.

In short, the new policy provides a consistent and transparent system that benefits athletes, governing bodies and sports fans alike. Those key features should reassure the hon. Gentleman that our anti-doping programme has adequate levels of independent scrutiny, and meets the relevant standards currently in place nationally and internationally. I want to put on the record the fact that the staff of UK Sport carry out their work very professionally. The other day, I had a pleasant discussion on anti-doping with the president of the International Olympic Committee, who mentioned the role that UK Sport and the British institutions have played in developing international standards. Indeed, the treasurer of WADA is one of the officers of the British Olympic Association.

The hon. Gentleman expressed a number of concerns about the individual case of an athlete in the UK—Paul Edwards—and it is important to respond to those concerns. It would be helpful to clarify the roles and responsibilities of the different bodies involved in any doping case. As Minister for Sport, my role is to ensure that the UK has in place appropriate policies and procedures to achieve a drug-free environment in sport. To that end, we have put in place an anti-doping agency, UK Sport, to undertake the Government's programme of action.

UK Sport is responsible to the Government and its role is twofold. First, it is responsible for managing the UK's anti-doping testing programme. Secondly, it is responsible for ensuring that the national governing bodies of sport comply with the national anti-doping policy.

Following a positive test, it is the governing body's responsibility to decide what action to take and to ensure that an athlete receives full access to appropriate independent review and appeal procedures to establish the final outcome. That would include an independent review of the evidence in the case; a disciplinary hearing; and an appeal hearing, if requested. It should be made clear that Government have no direct responsibility for the actions taken by governing bodies here. Contravening anti-doping regulations is a matter of professional misconduct in sport, and the decision to ban an athlete as a result of a positive drug test is a matter for the national governing body of any sport and that sport's international federation.

In the Edwards case, the procedures operated by the relevant sports governing body at the time conformed to the national anti-doping policy by including an independent review of the evidence, a disciplinary hearing and an appeal hearing, all of which were conducted before a Queen's Counsel. The procedures and the appeal complied fully with the policy. However, Mr. Edwards has continued to query a number of issues relating to his case, so UK Sport has offered to look into his concerns. If a doping case has been through all the relevant independent review and appeal procedures, UK Sport is not required to do that. It has agreed to do so in Mr. Edwards' case because of his assertion that new evidence has come to light.

UK Sport's investigations will seek responses from the various parties responsible for the stages of the procedures being questioned and will confirm whether the procedures have been appropriately followed or whether new information or evidence is being presented that should be reviewed. UK Sport's investigation is still ongoing and it would not be appropriate for me to comment at this stage.

Apart from the investigation by UK Sport, Mr. Edwards could ask for his case to be referred to an independent sports tribunal such as the sports dispute resolution panel or the court of arbitration for sport. All the relevant parties involved in the case would have to agree to that course of action. If Mr. Edwards has concerns specifically about the role of UK Sport, it would be possible, within the constraints of the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967, for the hon. Gentleman, on behalf of his constituent, to ask the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration, the ombudsman, to look into its actions.

I would, therefore, like to reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Government are committed to ensuring that the UK has in place strong, robust procedures for tackling the problem of doping in sport. An essential component of such procedures must, of course, be the facility for athletes to have the opportunity to clear their names. As I have explained, there are clear and well-defined avenues to address complaints that arise from cases such as this one. As a result, I can also assure the hon. Gentleman that he can have confidence in UK Sport as the lead agency for anti-doping in the UK and in the national anti-doping policy as an effective instrument to combat the problem of doping in sport. That is the right way forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at eleven minutes to Nine o'clock.