We store cookies on your device to make sure we give you the best experience on this website. I'm fine with this - Turn cookies off
Switch to an accessible version of this website which is easier to read. (requires cookies)
  • Mar 25, 2021:
    • Covid-19: One Year Report - Motion to Take Note | Lords debates

      My Lords, I support the regret Motion from my noble friend Lady Brinton and echo the thanks that she gave. She highlighted how the Government have failed, which is why we should not trust them by giving them a blank cheque on our civil liberties. I also agree with points made in the Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton.

      The issue underlying both regret Motions is the incompetence of this Government in their handling of the pandemic. That is why it is the Government themselves who should be amending this Act, since we are unable to do so. There has been a failure to plan and prepare, decisions have been taken at the wrong level, there has been an overreliance on private sector providers at enormous cost and there have been failures of transparency and providing for democratic scrutiny.

      It is incompetent for Governments not to plan properly. This involves horizon scanning and putting measures in place to adequately respond to identified risks. The horizon scanning by the national security risk assessment happened and still does, but a recent study by the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk made several criticisms and recommendations. One criticism was that there is no process, body of expertise or oversight mechanism in place to ensure that departments' risk plans are adequate. That had fatal results in the case of this pandemic.

      The study also concluded that the UK's pandemic influenza strategy, which was fairly detailed, did not make any plans for a lockdown, despite this being one of the dominant response strategies for Covid-19. Can the Minister give the Government's response to this serious analysis and say how they plan to learn lessons about planning our risk identification and response in future? Simple mistakes were made, such as failing to ensure that stocks of PPE were in date and fit for purpose.

      It is incompetent not to provide adequate basic resources for worst-case scenarios. We started this pandemic with 11,000 too few hospital beds, 5,000 too few doctors and 40,000 too few nurses. We had a fraction of the number of ICU beds and ventilators of other European countries, which is probably why our death rate is one of the highest in the world. Do the Government plan to provide the resources to correct this?

      It is incompetent not to care for the most vulnerable in society, for whom the consequences are most serious. For example, it is extraordinary that the DHSC did not realise that sending older people back to care homes to clear hospital beds without first testing them for the virus was catastrophically dangerous. Many deaths occurred in the closed environments of care homes at the beginning of the pandemic that have never even been recorded as Covid deaths-people did not have a test, even when they fell ill. The death rate in care homes was double the rate in the wider community. It was incompetent not to provide care homes with PPE at the start and it was not true to say that care homes were safe-they were not.

      The so-called NHS app was incompetent from start to finish. The first system did not work and was replaced. The second system did not pass on information about Covid hotspots to the authorities. People were advised by the app to isolate because of contact with a positive case, but they were not entitled to the £500 support at first, unless they also had a call from another authority -people did not know that because of incompetent communication.

      Then there is test and trace-an exemplar of the biggest incompetence of all, which is making decisions at the wrong level. The Government relied on central decision-making and provision, aided by expensive management consultants and private companies, instead of devolving responsibility and decision authority to local government, where the skills and experience could do the job better. Indeed, in the end, when they started to get the necessary information, resources and authority, local authorities proved this very decisively. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, mentioned, management consultants have been marking their own homework and are being paid to do tasks that should be undertaken by civil servants as part of their job. We need answers about this. It was incompetent to delay taking action when advised to do so by scientific advisers. That was probably the most fatal incompetence of all.

      Finally, it is incompetent not to understand your own Act of Parliament. It is not true that failure to renew this Act would remove good things such as the furlough scheme and measures to keep us safe, as some government spokesmen have suggested. That is not what this is about. It is about a blank cheque to control our civil liberties and reduce democratic scrutiny. We will not give that to anyone, especially not this incompetent Government.

  • Mar 22, 2021:
    • Health Protection (Coronavirus, International Travel) (England) (Amendment) (No. 7) Regulations 2021 - Motion to Regret | Lords debates

      My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, raises several serious issues. She is right to criticise the delay in acting following scientific advice. Sadly, slowness to react has been a feature of this Government's handling of the pandemic and has probably contributed to the fact that we have almost the highest death rate of any country in the world. The fact that the regulations failed to prevent the Brazilian variant coming in indicates that they are ineffective, unmonitored and not supported.

      It is illogical to force travellers coming directly from red-list countries to isolate in a hotel while allowing those from the same countries, via a short stop in a third country, to isolate at home. I have to accept that the only way to ensure that people do isolate is to ensure that they go into suitable accommodation, with proper support. Since the Government have not provided that, the very least that they should be doing is monitoring that those who are supposed to isolate at home are doing so-but microscopically little of that has been done. Why?

      There is also the issue of support. No amount of pre-travel testing will get over the fact that many travellers, like others who are asked to self-isolate for other reasons, are not able to do so. The reasons are usually financial but may be caring responsibilities. These Benches have been calling for many months for paying people their wages to enable them to isolate, but our appeals have fallen on deaf ears. To get the benefit of the NHS vaccination programme, we must do more to prevent variants coming in. Will the Government now look carefully at the evidence from other countries that have put all travellers from abroad into isolation accommodation? It worked at the beginning of the pandemic, when passengers from a cruise ship with an outbreak were isolated in vacant nurses' accommodation on the Wirral. It could work now.

  • Mar 15, 2021:
    • Amendment 82 | Domestic Abuse Bill - Report (3rd Day) (Continued) | Lords debates

      My Lords, I am sorry; I had not realised I had been called and did not hear the Deputy Speaker.

      I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, for seeing the opportunity to bring this really important issue before your Lordships again. As she said, now is a very good time to return to a subject I first raised in your Lordships' House 20 years ago, soon after I was introduced as a Peer. The time was right then, and it was also right when a group of us tried unsuccessfully to completely remove the reasonable punishment defence during the passage of the Children Act 2004. It is even more right now, as violence against children has increased during the Covid-19 pandemic. Any time is a good time to stop violence against children.

      The fact is that if this country cannot give its children equal protection under the laws of assault, such as their parents enjoy, it cannot say that it values its children and protects their rights. The committee on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child agrees and has been very critical of the UK. Public opinion also agrees: 20 years ago, 80% of the public thought it should be illegal for anyone to hit a child. Indeed, many thought it already was. I suspect it is even higher now. Most people think violence against a child is a particularly egregious act, especially when it happens in a child's own home, from which she cannot escape, and is done by someone she should be able to trust to protect her.

      Of course parents have a right to bring up their children to behave well, but there are many more effective ways of demonstrating right and wrong. In the 58 countries where the law bans parental violence against children, parents have been helped to learn better ways of carrying out their duty to discipline their child. It is often called "positive parenting". Violence against a child is definitely negative parenting, and most young parents today agree and would not dream of hitting their child.

      As the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has said, children learn by example. Parents who beat their child cannot be surprised if the child copies that behaviour and hits other children in the playground and, because violence begets violence, they may also grow up to beat their own children. Violence is also detrimental to the development of the child and should be regarded as an adverse childhood event-an ACE-deserving of intervention.

      Recent research supports a ban on hitting children. A large long-term longitudinal study by Ma, Lee and Grogan-Kaylor, published in the Journal of Pediatrics in February, of a range of adverse child experiences with particular focus on violence against children, reached the following conclusion:

      "ACEs and spanking have similar associations in predicting child externalizing behavior. Results support calls to consider physical punishment as a form of ACE. Our findings also underscore the importance of assessing exposure to ACEs and physical punishment among young children and providing appropriate intervention to children at risk."

      In other words, they found that hitting children does not stop them misbehaving; indeed it can make it worse and has an adverse effect on their development, so services with a duty to protect the child should intervene to stop it. That starts with the law of the land. In the UK, we have already acknowledged that a child who watches violence against its mother in the home is at risk of mental and emotional trauma. How much more trauma will a child suffer who is treated to the same violence himself or herself?

      We all want to help parents with the hardest of tasks-bringing up a child healthy and happy-but the current law does not do that. It is discriminatory to children and unhelpful to parents. Hitting a child hard enough to cause a bruise is illegal, but some children do not bruise easily, so could be hit harder without the parents breaking the law. How does a parent know how hard they can hit a child before overstepping that limit? Of course, the answer is not to do it at all and find a better way that does not damage the child you love. The law is nonsense and must be changed.

      People have realised this in other countries, including the other three in our own union. Scotland has banned and Wales is about to ban violence against children, and Northern Ireland is looking at it. It is instructive to look at how other countries did it; there is a common approach. When I was in New Zealand, I heard directly from the Minister there about how a lot of help was put in place for parents to learn better ways of disciplining children before removing the very damaging option that we are discussing today. Help with positive parenting and someone to turn to for advice-we need to do that too. It is not that difficult or expensive, but the benefits are enormous for families.

      I have a final point. Sweden was the first country to ban parents from hitting children, over 40 years ago, yet Swedish prisons are not and were not full of caring parents who occasionally lost their temper and gave their child a trivial smack. By the way, most parents who do that regret it very much afterwards. Those who fear criminalising otherwise caring parents should remember that the CPS will charge someone with a criminal offence only if the situation meets two tests: first, there is a good chance of obtaining a conviction and, secondly, it is in the public interest. The situation I have just described would not fulfil those tests. However, the law on assault should be clear, helpful to parents and fair to children.

      The Government need to show leadership here. When Sweden banned hitting children in 1979, there was not a majority of public opinion in favour of the change, as there is here, but its Government went ahead and did the right thing anyway. Now, Sweden could not get away with legalising hitting children as, I am pleased to say, strong public opinion would prevent such a move. I beg the Government to show similar leadership and accept this amendment, or do I have to spend another 20 years campaigning for it?

  • Mar 11, 2021:
    • Offshore Gas Rigs - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, I declare that a family member works in the oil and gas industry. The Oil and Gas Authority's policy on flaring is to ensure that the flare and vent volume requested for permission is at a level where it is "technically and economically justified". Why is the word "environment" not included in this policy?

  • Mar 8, 2021:
    • Covid-19: Care System - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, teenagers with learning disabilities in residential care homes have not had as much focus as older people. It was months before these homes received enough PPE, and testing was very slow. There was no comprehensive programme for their care and education. What measures are now in place to ensure equality of care and resources between younger people and older people in care homes?

  • Mar 4, 2021:
    • COVID-19 Vaccine Certification - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, in considering whether to introduce vaccine certification, will the Government consult organisations representing patients who have been advised by their clinician that it would not be in their interest to take the vaccine? How would such patients be able to navigate a world in which vaccine certification was widely used?

  • Feb 24, 2021:
    • Covid-19: Vaccination Programme - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, the vaccine programme certainly is going well, but there is evidence that some groups are being left behind. One such group is housebound people. Although they cannot leave their homes, carers and family come in, which opens them up to infection. Why does NHS England not record the number of housebound patients who have received the vaccination? What is being done to speed up their vaccination? The other group is people in poor areas and demographics. What is being done to correct this?

    • Covid-19: Vaccination Programme - Question | Lords debates

      To ask Her Majesty's Government what assessment they have made of the progress of the COVID-19 vaccination programme towards meeting its (1) delivery targets, and (2) objectives.

  • Feb 16, 2021:
  • Feb 11, 2021:
    • Dentists: Covid-19 - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, do the Government plan to continue to enforce activity targets in the next financial year? The new contract is only seven weeks away, and those in the profession has heard nothing about the basis on which they will be paid next year. When do the Government plan, at last, to deliver wider NHS dental contract reform, which they committed to in 2010? The issue keeps being kicked into the long grass.

  • Feb 10, 2021:
    • Covid-19: Self-Isolation - Question | Lords debates

      Does the noble Lord the Minister dispute the figure quoted by my noble friend Lord Scriven about the number cutting short their isolation, or is he just planning to ignore it? Does he accept the figure from local authorities that two-thirds of applicants for the £500 do not receive it? Does he therefore agree with me that most of those who apply for it actually need it to help them do the right thing?

  • Feb 3, 2021:
    • National Risk Register - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, Professor Dame Sally Davies, the UK envoy on anti-microbial resistance, is calling on academics, Governments and not-for-profit organisations to work together to tackle this global health risk, which is a threat to both lives and economies. What action have the Government taken and what are their plans, following the recent update of the noble Lord, Lord O'Neill, on his 2016 review on this issue?

  • Jan 27, 2021:
    • No-fault Evictions - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, campaigners have asked for a coronavirus home retention scheme of £750 million in support to be made available to help renters in arrears, recover loss of income and avoid rent debt. Have the Government conducted a cost-benefit analysis comparing such a fund with the potential cost of making many families homeless because of rent arrears?

  • Jan 25, 2021:
    • Trees - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, the Corporation of London has warned against focusing just on increasing numbers of trees and thereby ignoring the role of wood pasture and slow-growing, long-lived landscape trees, which sequester more carbon than equivalent areas of woods plus pasture. Is this fact being taken into account as well as the amenity value of such areas?

  • Jan 20, 2021:
    • Covid-19: Early Years Sector - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, even before the pandemic, 65% of children in some areas were not receiving the mandated two-and-a-half-year health visitor check because of cuts to the workforce. Will there be any additional resources for the health visitor workforce to help them to catch up with missed visits to vulnerable young families during the pandemic?

  • Jan 19, 2021:
    • Health: Eating Disorders - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, the eating disorder faculty at the Royal College of Psychiatrists has recently reported that eating disorder teams are being asked to ignore the NICE guidelines for treatment as being unrealistic and too expensive. Will the Minister either justify this or condemn it?

  • Jan 12, 2021:
    • Amendment 15 | Medicines and Medical Devices Bill - Report (1st Day) | Lords debates

      My Lords, I am honoured to follow the noble Lord, Lord Field, and the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. I too have put my name to Amendment 15.

      Before I specifically address the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Field, I would like to acknowledge the Minister's reply to my Oral Question earlier today about the negative effect of Brexit on the legal supply of Bedrocan, and probably other cannabis medicines, to patients in the UK. He knows that this is a life-changing and life-saving medicine, so he will understand that patients and their families are very anxious. Can he assure me that they will be kept informed about progress on sorting this out? They and their clinicians were very worried by his suggestion that there needs to be compromise on both sides. There can be no question of compromise; it would be dangerous to try to substitute this medicine for a different formulation, extracted from a different strain of cannabis.

      In response to the DHSC's suggestion to pharmacists that one cannabis medicine can easily be replaced by another, I will quote from evidence that I have received from Evan Lewis, director of the Neurology Centre of Toronto. He is a clinician with extensive experience of medicinal cannabis for adults and children, and has said:

      "It is imperative that children who are benefiting from a particular medical cannabis product are not changed to another product. There is significant variation from one product to the next, and many unknowns as to how all the cannabinoids interact with each other to treat seizures".

      He goes on to say that swapping backwards and forwards between products can be extremely dangerous and is often ineffective. This misunderstanding nicely illustrates some of the problems we face in our campaign to make the benefits of cannabis medicines more widely available to UK patients on the NHS.

      On the wider issues in Amendment 15, the key issue is how evidence is obtained about the safety and efficacy of these medicines. I see the Government's fixation with random-controlled clinical trials as a real barrier to progress in the field of cannabis medicine. When scientists are trying to investigate any issue, they always use procedures that are appropriate to the material being investigated and to answering the question asked. When you have a very small patient cohort, such as the cohort of children with drug-resistant epilepsy, it is impossible to have a meaningful clinical trial. Besides, when giving a placebo to half the sample could be life-threatening, it could be unethical.

      As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said, many drugs and medical devices are already used on an anecdotal basis. For example, as she said, 78 drugs are available and in use in the NHS that have no random control trial. The vagal nerve stimulator, which is successfully used to prevent seizures in some epileptic patients, also has no RCT in relation to it. There are many drugs used on children that have not been tested in clinical trials for use in children. Indeed, some of them were used on Alfie Dingley and the other children who now receive cannabis medicines before they fortunately discovered the benefits of the latter.

      These drugs are used off-label. This is a well-used way of prescribing in the NHS. Unfortunately, clinicians are being deterred from prescribing cannabis medicines in this way by very negative government messaging, and are even threatened with sacking by their health trust. They also need more information on these matters.

      It would be appropriate to set up a formal system of observation, recording and clinical evaluation of these products in use in the UK, alongside accepting the mass of evidence from other developed countries. Such observational studies are not the same as anecdote and would most certainly result in the acceptance of the safety and efficacy of these products for certain indications. Such evidence should then be included in medical education, particularly for neurologists and general practitioners, so that they can have the confidence to write free NHS prescriptions for patients who could benefit from cannabis medicines that have been used safely for years elsewhere.

      I hope the Minister is able to tell us in response what appropriate system the Government are prepared to put in place as an alternative to clinical trials, so that UK patients can have the benefits that patients in the Netherlands, Canada, the United States and many other countries have had for years.

    • Amendment 10 | Medicines and Medical Devices Bill - Report (1st Day) | Lords debates

      My Lords, I support this amendment. When we discussed this issue in Committee, I raised the matter of Section 57A of the Patents Act 1977 and the Minister pointed out that compensation needs to be awarded to a patent holder for any loss of profits as a result of the use of a Crown use licence and argued that this should be set against the potential savings that purchasing more affordable generic alternatives enabled by a Crown use licence could bring about. Tonight, I repeat that this has never been tested in court.

      The noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned Orkambi. The fact is that if the Government had issued a Crown licence and Vertex had decided to take the Government to court for compensation, the Government would probably have won the case, because they had a very strong case. Any reasonable person would have concluded that three years of failed negotiations showed that Vertex could not make the case that the NHS would definitely have bought the product from them had a Crown use licence not been issued. Had they taken the thing to court, the Government would probably have won the case, and the fact that they did not means that they really missed an opportunity to set a useful new precedent by fighting an interpretation that would render the entire Crown use provision next to useless.

      I shall add just a few words about the Covid-19 pandemic. Many countries, such as Germany, Hungary, Canada and Australia, have made alterations to their patent laws to make issuing a compulsory licence easier, in the interests of public health. That is because, in those countries, it is accepted as a valuable tool that can help overcome pricing and manufacturing barriers to accessing crucial vaccines, medicines and diagnostics which could help save millions of lives. Will the UK Government follow this example, set a precedent, next time the opportunity presents itself, and make the necessary changes to our law to make it easier, not more complex, to use our legal right of issuing a Crown use licence to protect public health?

    • Cannabis Oil - Question | Lords debates

      My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very encouraging response. He will know that time is of the essence because these medicines prevent children having severe fits, some of which are life-threatening. Can he go back to his department and educate some of his officials? Unfortunately, a lot of the families are very upset at being told that they can safely be switched to an alternative formulation. That is both ignorant and dangerous. All the expert clinicians who know about these issues say that that cannot be done safely. Even if it could, eventually putting these children back on to the original formulation sometimes does not work. Will he make sure that his officials listen to the clinicians who are expert in prescribing and in following the progress of people on these formulations?