The Damian Green affair has damaged both the police and government. It threatens 700 years of parliamentary tradition
The arrest of Damian Green last Thursday, his subsequent detention and interrogation, together with the police search of his home and his office in the Palace of Westminster, constitute the most serious breach of the privilege of Parliament in modern times. At least eight senior figures in the British Establishment were involved; they either initiated the action, agreed to it, conducted it, or allowed it to continue. Not one of them seems to have understood how serious a "high crime or misdemeanour" they were conspiring to commit.
The police may have thought that they were legitimately investigating a crime; in fact, they were committing one, a much more serious crime than the one they imagined they were investigating. Contempt of the House of Commons can only be defined by the House of Commons itself, but there is little doubt that this was it. All the evidence of history is that Parliament has to protect itself against outside pressure of all kinds, and particularly against coercion by the executive power.
In 1523, Sir Thomas More, as Speaker, had to resist the pressure of Henry VIII's Minister, Cardinal Wolsey; in 1642, Speaker Lenthall frustrated Charles I's attempt to arrest the five Members. The House of Commons needs the protection of privilege to do its job. The liberty of Members is the liberty of the people.
In the present case, had the police waited for 24 hours, they would have learnt of the acquittal of a journalist on the very charge they were investigating. Sally Murrer and her police source, Detective Sergeant Mark Kearney, were both acquitted under article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right of every citizen to receive and impart information without interference by public authority.
It is not clear what legal advice was taken by the police before they decided to arrest Damian Green. Plainly it was inadequate. The leader of the House, Harriet Harman, has said that they did not consult the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General; they certainly did not consult her.
Who played the role of Cardinal Wolsey, and had the arrogance to invade the rights of Parliament? If Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, is to be believed - and her testimony is not entirely convincing - two senior civil servants ordered the police investigation - the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, and the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, Sir David Normington. These civil servants have many questions to answer. What legal advice did they take? When did they consult their own ministers, which would be the Prime Minister in the case of Sir Gus O'Donnell? What steps did they take to supervise so sensitive a police inquiry?
Did they know the police were going to arrest a Member of Parliament? Did they consider whether that might be a contempt of the House of Commons? Did they consider whether a search of Mr Green's office in Parliament would be another contempt? I doubt whether, as Jacqui Smith suggests, these civil servants acted entirely on their own; I think it more likely that they had already discussed the alleged leaks with the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary before they asked the police to intervene.
The higher responsibility belongs to the Prime Minister and Home Secretary. We do not yet know exactly when Gordon Brown or Jacqui Smith knew that the actual arrest had taken place. It seems that Boris Johnson, as Mayor of London, was told before the event; he made a very proper protest. The Speaker and the Leader of the opposition were also informed before the arrest happened. It is quite hard to believe the two ministers were not told at the same time.
What was Gordon Brown supposed to say if he had not been informed but David Cameron or Speaker Martin decided to telephone him and ask him to call off this illegal event? Could Sir Gus O'Donnell have waited to tell Gordon Brown until after the event, when so many other people knew before the event? The story being told does not really hang together.
In any case, Gordon Brown and Jacqui Smith admit that they knew what had happened shortly after the arrest itself. At that time the contempt of Parliament was being continued and extended. Searches were being made, files and laptops were being removed. This essential contempt of Parliament could still have been mitigated by a telephone call from the Prime Minister or the Home Secretary.
The Speaker, Michael Martin, and the Serjeant at Arms, Jill Pay, failed to prevent the police invasion of the Palace of Westminster and may even have approved it. This breaks 700 years of parliamentary tradition. Both of them had the authority to keep the police out of Mr Green's office.
There were two senior policemen who must share part of the blame; it is no excuse that they were obeying orders. The junior of the two, Bob Quick, is an expert on terrorism. He will have to answer for the detailed handling of the operation. The senior was Sir Paul Stephenson, who was widely expected to succeed Sir Ian Blair as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police; that would not now be appropriate or even tolerable.
The damage is strewn all around. Democracy is damaged; the House of Commons is damaged; British liberty is under attack. The police are damaged. The actual operation was a spectacular public disaster; many people now think we are living in a police state. The Government has been damaged. They must now realise how angry the public are. The Labour party has been weakened; this has been a horrifying mixture of ignorance, incompetence and shame.
Of course, Jacqui Smith should resign like other Labour home secretaries. She has been responsible for a major political disaster. I do not expect that Gordon Brown will resign, unless it proves that he did indeed have prior knowledge. Yet he bears the ultimate responsibility. The House of Commons remains the centre of our democracy. The freedom of Britain cannot survive if the centre does not hold.
The British Gestapo knew that they would not get a conviction but still went ahead with their raid on a Member of Parliament
It was clearly just an exercise to intimidate whistleblowers and those who listen to them
The most puzzling thing about the decision to arrest Damian Green is why anyone in the Metropolitan Police thought the inquiry would lead to a successful prosecution. The bitter end to the cash-for-peerages inquiry is still fresh in the force's memory. Then, Scotland Yard was arresting senior Labour Party people in dawn raids on suspicion of committing much more serious offences and enduring a barrage of political criticism for its actions. But the Yard was pretty confident of its case and ploughed on stubbornly only, in its view, to be let down when the Crown Prosecution Service refused to press charges.
The Green affair is nothing like as serious as alleged cash- for-peerages. And worse, even as the Met was planning the arrest, the offence it was relying on was being systematically demolished in the courts.
On Tuesday last week a judge at Kingston-upon-Thames Crown Court threw out a case against Sally Murrer, a journalist charged with aiding and abetting misconduct in a public office - the same charge that the Met wants to pursue against Mr Green. The Murrer case turned on Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the right to freedom of expression. The court ruled, as courts across Europe have ruled, that leaks to journalists are not criminal unless they involve matters of national security or impair the investigation of serious crime. The evidence against her - gained by planting bugging devices and raiding her home and her office (sound familiar?) - was ruled to have been obtained unlawfully.
It is not hard to imagine how a reasonably competent lawyer, citing the Murrer case, could put the case against Mr Green through the shredder. What is troubling, however, is that the Met knew about the Murrer case and its significance because it had advised Thames Valley officers on how to proceed with the investigation.
Also in the loop was the CPS, which decided on Friday to drop charges against Murrer and the policeman who leaked the stories to her. The Home Office, which began the leak inquiry that netted Mr Green, also knew about Murrer. In the light of all that recent experience, one is left wondering why anyone in their right mind thought that it was sensible to arrest Mr Green.
The Quivering Upper Lip
The British character: from self-restraint to self-indulgence. The article below by Theodore Dalrymple is rather long but I am putting most of it up because I too am staggered and appalled by what has been lost in Britain. The recent survey finding that Britons are now the most sexually promiscuous people in the world could be added to what is mentioned below
When my mother arrived in England as a refugee from Nazi Germany, shortly before the outbreak of World War II, she found the people admirable, though not without the defects that corresponded to their virtues. By the time she died, two-thirds of a century later, she found them rude, dishonest, and charmless. They did not seem to her, moreover, to have any virtues to compensate for their unpleasant qualities. I occasionally asked her to think of some, but she couldn't; and neither, frankly, could I.
It wasn't simply that she had been robbed twice during her last five years, having never been the victim of a crime before-experiences that, at so advanced an age, would surely change anyone's opinion of one's fellow citizens. Few things are more despicable, after all, or more indicative of moral nihilism, than a willingness to prey upon the old and frail. No, even before she was robbed she had noticed that a transvaluation of all values seemed to have taken place in her adopted land. The human qualities that people valued and inculcated when she arrived had become mocked, despised, and repudiated by the time she died. The past really was a foreign country; and they did do things differently there.
What, exactly, were the qualities that my mother had so admired? Above all, there was the people's manner. The British seemed to her self-contained, self-controlled, law-abiding yet tolerant of others no matter how eccentric, and with a deeply ironic view of life that encouraged them to laugh at themselves and to appreciate their own unimportance in the scheme of things. If Horace Walpole was right-that the world is a comedy to those who think and a tragedy to those who feel-the English were the most thoughtful people in the world. They were polite and considerate, not pushy or boastful; the self-confident took care not to humiliate the shy or timid; and even the most accomplished was aware that his achievements were a drop in the ocean of possibility, and might have been much greater if he had tried harder or been more talented.
Those characteristics had undoubted drawbacks. They could lead to complacency and philistinism, for if the world was a comedy, nothing was serious. They could easily slide into arrogance: the rest of the world can teach us nothing. The literary archetype of such arrogance was Mr. Podsnap in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, a man convinced that all that was British was best, and who "had even acquired a peculiar flourish of his right arm in often clearing the world of its most difficult problems, by sweeping them behind him." Still, taken all in all, my mother found the British culture of the day possessed of a deep and seductive, if subtle and by no means transparent or obvious, charm.
My mother was not alone. Andre Maurois, the great French Anglophile, for example, wrote a classic text about British character, Les silences du Colonel Bramble. Maurois was a translator and liaison officer between the French and British armies during World War I and lived closely for many months with British officers and their men. Les silences was the fruit of his observations. Maurois found the British combination of social self-confidence and existential modesty attractive. It was then a common French opinion that the British were less intelligent than the French; and in the book, Maurois' fictional alter ego, Aurelle, discusses the matter with one of the British officers. " `Don't you yourself find, said Major Parker, that intelligence is valued by you at more than its worth? We are like the young Persians of whom Herodotus speaks, and who, until the age of twenty, learnt only three things: how to ride, archery and not to lie.' "
Aurelle spots the paradox: "You despise the academic," he replies, "and you quote Herodotus. Even better, I caught you the other day in flagrante, reading Xenophon. . . . Very few French, I assure you . . ."
Parker quickly disavows any intellectual virtue in his choice of citations or reading matter. "That's very different," he says. "The Greeks and Romans interest us, not as an object of enquiry, but as our ancestors and as sportsmen. I like Xenophon-he is the perfect example of a British gentleman."
Forty years later, in 1959, another French writer, Tony Mayer, in his short book La vie anglaise, noticed the reluctance of the English to draw attention to their accomplishments, to blow their own trumpets: "Conversation still plays an important role in England. They speak a lot, but in general they say nothing. As it is bad form to mention personal or professional matters which could lead to discussion, they prefer to speak in generalities." The Franco-Romanian playwright Eugene Ionesco brilliantly parodied this tendency in his La cantatrice chauve (The Bald Soprano), in which a respectable English couple has a long conversation at a dinner party. At the end, after many pages of utter banalities, they realize that they are actually married, and have been for a long time.
Appearances in Britain could deceive. The British, after all, despised intellectuals, but were long at the forefront of intellectual inquiry; they were philistines, yet created a way of life in the countryside as graceful as any that has ever existed; they had a state religion, but came to find religious enthusiasm bad form. Mayer comments:
Even in the most ordinary places and circumstances, an accident happens. You hit by chance upon a subject that you have long studied; you go as far as allowing your interest in it to show. And suddenly you realize that your interlocutor-so reserved, so polite-not only knows a hundred times more about this subject than you, but about an infinite number of other subjects as well.
This attractive modesty mixed also with a mild perfidy (this is la perfide Albion we are talking of, after all): irony, understatement, and double meaning were everywhere, waiting to trap the unwary foreigner. The British lived as if they had taken to heart the lines of America's greatest poet (who, not coincidentally, lived her whole life in New England):
Tell all the Truth but tell it slant. Success in Circuit lies . . .
The habit of indirection in speech, combined with probity of action, gave English life its savor and its interest. Mayer provided a brief interpretive key for the unwary:
I may be wrong-I am absolutely sure. I don't know much about-I am a specialist in. No trouble at all-What a burden! We must keep in touch-Good-bye forever. Must you go?-At last! Not too bad-Absolutely wonderful.
The orderliness and restraint of political life in Britain also struck my refugee mother. The British leaders were not giants among men but-much more important for someone fleeing Nazi Germany-they were not brutes, either. They were civilized men; the nearest they came to the exercise of arbitrary power was a sense of noblesse oblige, and the human breast is capable of far worse sentiments. Politics was, to them and the voters, only part of life, and by no means the most important.
Maurois' Dr. O'Grady describes to Aurelle what he calls "the safety-valve of parliament": "From now on, elected champions have our riots and coups d'etat for us in the chamber, which leaves the rest of the nation the leisure to play cricket." Major Parker takes up the theme, also addressing Aurelle: "What good has it done you French to change government eight times in a century? The riot for you has become a national institution. In England it would be impossible to make a revolution. If people gathered near Westminster shouting slogans, a policeman would tell them to go away and they would go."
Many remarked upon the gentleness of British behavior in public. Homicidal violence and street robberies were vanishingly rare. But it wasn't only in the absence of crime that the gentleness made itself felt. British pastimes were peaceful and reflective: gardening and the keeping of pigeons, for example. Vast sporting crowds would gather in such good order that sporting events resembled church meetings, as both George Orwell and anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer (writing in 1955) noted.
Newsreels of the time reinforce the point. The faces of people in sports crowds did not contort in hatred, snarling and screaming, but were peaceful and good-humored, if a little pinched and obviously impoverished. The crowds were almost self-regulating; as late as the early sixties, the British read with incredulity reports that, on the Continent, wire barriers, police baton charges, and tear gas were often necessary to control crowds. Incidents of crowd misbehavior in Britain were so unusual that when one did happen, it caused a sensation.
The English must have been the only people in the world for whom a typical response to someone who accidentally stepped on one's toes was to apologize oneself. British behavior when ill or injured was stoic. Aurelle recounts in Les silences du Colonel Bramble seeing an officer he knew on a stretcher, obviously near death from a terrible abdominal injury. The officer says to him: "Please say good-bye to the colonel for me and ask him to write home that I didn't suffer too much. I hope this is not too much trouble for you. Thanks very much indeed." Tony Mayer, too, says of the English that when they were ill they usually apologized: "I'm sorry to bother you, Doctor."
No culture changes sud-denly, and the elderly often retained the attitudes of their youth. I remember working for a short time in a general practice in a small country town where an old man called me to his house. I found him very weak from chronic blood loss, unable to rise from his bed, and asked him why he had not called me earlier. "I didn't like to disturb you, Doctor," he said. "I know you are a very busy man."
From a rational point of view, this was absurd. What could I possibly need to do that was more important than attending to such an ill man? But I found his self-effacement deeply moving. It was not the product of a lack of self-esteem, that psychological notion used to justify rampant egotism; nor was it the result of having been downtrodden by a tyrannical government that accorded no worth to its citizens. It was instead an existential, almost religious, modesty, an awareness that he was far from being all-important.
I experienced other instances of this modesty. I used to pass the time of day with the husband of an elderly patient of mine who would accompany her to the hospital. One day, I found him so jaundiced that he was almost orange. At his age, it was overwhelmingly likely to mean one thing: inoperable cancer. He was dying. He knew it and I knew it; he knew that I knew it. I asked him how he was. "Not very well," he said. "I'm very sorry to hear that," I replied. "Well," he said quietly, and with a slight smile, "we shall just have to do the best we can, won't we?" Two weeks later, he was dead.
I often remember the nobility of this quite ordinary man's conduct and words. He wanted an appropriate, but only an appropriate, degree of commiseration from me; in his view, which was that of his generation and culture, it was a moral requirement that emotion and sentiment should be expressed proportionately, and not in an exaggerated or self-absorbed way. My acquaintance with him was slight; therefore my regret, while genuine, should be slight. (Oddly enough, my regret has grown over the years, with the memory.) Further, he considered it important that he should not embarrass me with any displays of emotion that might discomfit me. A man has to think of others, even when he is dying.
My wife, also a doctor, worked solely among the old, and found them, as I did, considerate even when suffering, as well as humorous and lacking in self-importance. Her patients were largely working-class-a refutation of the idea, commonly expressed, that the cultural ideal that I have described characterized only the upper echelons of society.
Gradually, but overwhelmingly, the culture and character of British restraint have changed into the exact opposite. Extravagance of gesture, vehemence of expression, vainglorious boastfulness, self-exposure, and absence of inhibition are what we tend to admire now-and the old modesty is scorned. It is as if the population became convinced of Blake's fatuous dictum that it is better to strangle a baby in the cradle than to let a desire remain unacted upon.
Certainly, many Britons under the age of 30 or even 40 now embrace a kind of sub-psychotherapeutic theory that desires, if not unleashed, will fester within and eventually manifest themselves in dangerous ways. To control oneself for the sake of the social order, let alone for dignity or decorum (a word that would either mean nothing to the British these days, or provoke peals of laughter), is thus both personally and socially harmful.
I have spoken with young British people who regularly drink themselves into oblivion, passing first through a prolonged phase of public nuisance. To a man (and woman), they believe that by doing so, they are getting rid of inhibitions that might otherwise do them psychological and even physical harm. The same belief seems universal among those who spend hours at soccer games screaming abuse and making threatening gestures (whose meaning many would put into practice, were those events not policed in military fashion).
Lack of self-control is just as character-forming as self-control: but it forms a different, and much worse and shallower, character. Further, once self-control becomes neither second nature nor a desired goal, but rather a vice to avoid at all costs, there is no plumbing the depths to which people will sink. The little town where I now live when in England transforms by night. By day, it is delightful; I live in a Queen Anne house that abuts a charming Elizabethan cottage near church grounds that look as if they materialized from an Anthony Trollope novel. By night, however, the average age of the person on the street drops from 60 to 20, with few older people venturing out. Charm and delight vanish. Not long ago, the neighborhood awoke to the sound of a young man nearly kicked to death by other young men, all of whom had spilled forth from a pub at 2 am. The driver of a local car service, who does only prearranged pickups, tells me that it is now normal (in the statistical sense) for young women to emerge from the bars and try to entice him to drive them home by baring their breasts, even pushing them against his windows if for some reason he has to stop in town.
I laughed when hearing this, but in essence it is not funny. The driver was talking not about an isolated transgressor of customs but about a whole manner of cultural comportment. By no means coincidentally, the young British find themselves hated, feared, and despised throughout Europe, wherever they gather to have what they call "a good time." They turn entire Greek, Spanish, and Turkish resorts into B-movie Sodoms and Gomorrahs. They cover sidewalks with vomit, rape one another, and indulge in casual drunken violence. In one Greek resort, 12 young British women were arrested recently after indulging in "an outdoor oral sex competition." ....
'Killjoy' British council bosses blasted for threatening children's pantomime with police raids
With violent street crime out of control, this is a total loss of perspective
The amateur players in a village Christmas panto had no difficulty identifying the villains of this year's show - and they aren't even in the script. For 17 years, the ladies and gentlemen and boys and girls of Peterculter, Aberdeenshire, have staged a show in the village hall - starring themselves. Now killjoy council bosses have threatened them with a police raid on the first night of their Christmas `run' - because their show contravenes health and safety laws. City licensing officials at crisis-hit Aberdeen City Council apparently spotted an advert in a local paper for Aladdin and ordered the city's lawyers to write to the organisers telling them to cancel. Council lawyers wrote to the hall committee saying they were required to notify police when it appeared unlicensed activities were taking place.
A breakthrough was finally reached late today after emergency talks between the organisers and council officials. The council confirmed authorities were content for the show to go ahead if the fire and rescue services found no problems during a hall inspection on Monday. Defiant villagers had earlier vowed the show would go on - and were warned that police could close down the Aladdin production when it opens next week for a five-night run.
The council had claimed the show did not have a `proper licence' under rules laid down in 1968. Peterculter Theatre Club has a public entertainment licence for the show - but not a theatre licence. Organiser Susan Chappell-Smith said: `We've discovered that a public entertainment licence means you can stage fetes, circus acts and variety shows - but not stage plays. `The law has apparently been in place since 1968 - so why are we only being told about it now after 17 years of putting on pantos? `We can't understand why the council is being so heavy-handed. `The last thing we want to do is break the law, but we had no idea we were doing anything wrong and it's too late to stop the show.'
The Christmas panto is a village tradition which features the local residents. Rehearsals began three months ago and a `small fortune' has been spent on costumes and a band for the five performances. Council solicitors had told the amateurs the show could ahead if they applied for a theatre licence but that could take more than three weeks. Miss Chappell-Smith said: `We've spent so much money it would be disastrous if we had to cancel. We could go bankrupt. 'It would also be heartbreaking for the cast, who have put in so much time and effort.
The theatre group renamed the panto as a `Christmas entertainment show based around the theme of Aladdin', to try to circumvent the rules. Miss Chappell-Smith added: `The whole thing is ridiculous. We have an incredible health and safety record when you consider we've been running pantos for 17 years without incident. `I find it hard to accept this is in the council's best interests.'
The female lead in the show is 14-year-old schoolgirl Lauren McPhail, who has spent months preparing for her role as Too-Shy in the pantomime. Her father Steve, a business consultant, has also played a part in the production, helping to build and paint sets. He said: 'It's very disappointing that it's come to this. The pantomime is very important to Lauren and she's determined to go ahead with it. 'I don't know why the council have reacted in this way after everyone's worked so hard. They need to come up with a solution because they've caused the problem.'
A spokesman for the Council said it had a duty to report licensing breaches to the police. He added: `We have no discretion in this matter. There is a minimum 14-day notice period for application for a theatre licence, which is laid down by statute and cannot be waived. `The legislation is in place to ensure the safety of people attending public buildings. In respect of a theatre licence, this includes checks on technical issues such as moving parts on stage, lighting safety curtains etc. `All of these have the potential to go wrong with serious implications for public safety.'
Grampian Police said it was not aware of the situation until this morning, after which it began discussions with the council. Superintendent Adrian Watson said it was "not the intention of Grampian Police to spoil the enjoyment of those taking part". The council was criticised by John Midgely, of the Campaign against Political Correctness, who said: `This is all down to over-the-top and over-zealous council killjoys. `I don't think it's a matter of importance to get the police to shut down something which brings joy.'
Every panto needs a 'baddie' and, in this case, it is Kate Dean, the leader of Aberdeen City Council, who finds herself cast in the role of the person we all love to hate. Councillor Dean has presided over the authority's disastrous financial record and that should be her priority, according to Peterculter councillor Alan Milne. He said: `There are much more pressing things for the council to be worrying about at the moment. It needs to be sorting out its finances rather than closing down pantos.'
GOVERNMENT PLANS TO PRIVATISE MET OFFICE
And the Greenies are squawking. They know it is much more comfortable sucking on the government teat
PLANS to privatise the Exeter-based Met Office will short-change the taxpayer by millions of pounds, the union representing more than 1,250 scientists and other staff at the UK forecaster said yesterday.
The union Prospect was responding to the announcement in yesterday's pre-budget report that the Met Office is to be examined with a view to privatisation. Negotiations Officer Philippa Childs said: "It is incredible that the government would even consider selling off its main centre of climate change expertise, not only after numerous previous investigations into the merits of privatisation have concluded it should be left as a public service, but at a time when the general economic climate will fail to provide an adequate return.
"As well as providing the National Meteorological Service for the UK, its combined weather and climate change research and expertise is relied on by MOD, the Department of Energy and Climate Change and Defra. "Privatisation would denude the government of this intelligence. How can an agency that is a key contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change be privatised and still be expected to provide objective information?"
NICE to rethink its ban on life-extending kidney cancer drugs
Great to have bureaucrats deciding whether you will live or die!
The NHS rationing watchdog could be forced into a humiliating U-turn over its ban on life-extending kidney cancer drugs within weeks, it emerged yesterday. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence is expected to give the green light to at least two medicines previously rated as "too expensive" early in the New Year. The climb down will be a major victory for patients and cancer doctors and could extend the lives of up to 3,600 people with advanced kidney cancer.
Nice provoked a massive row in August when it unveiled plans to ban four drugs for advanced kidney cancer on the NHS - Sutent, Nexavar, Avastin and Torisel. Although the drugs are widely available in other countries including France, Germany, Spain, Mexico, Argentina and South Korea, Nice ruled that their cost - around 70,000 pounds a year per patient - made them too expensive for the NHS.
Cancer specialists say Sutent is the most important breakthrough in kidney cancer in the last three decades and can extend patient's lives by up to two years. They described Nice's previous decision to ban the drugs on cost grounds as "unfair and inhumane" and warned that patients would be condemned to an early death.
Yesterday Nice confirmed that it was looking again at the drugs in the light of new evidence about their effectiveness. A meeting in January will draw up new guidance on all four treatments. Nice is also under pressure to be more flexible in weighing up the cost effectiveness of drugs that don't cure patients - but which can give extend their life. A meeting in January will draw up new guidance on all four treatments. The final decision is likely to hinge on whether the price of one or more of the drugs can be reduced - or on drugs companies comping up with a "risk sharing" scheme in which they partly subsidise the final.
However there is growing optimism among senior cancer specialists and charities that at least two of the four drugs could get a reprieve. Pat Hanlon of the charity Kidney Cancer UK, said: "No decision has been made by Nice and we are still campaigning for the ban to be lifted, but we have reason to be hopeful."
Since Nice banned the drugs in August, research from America found that Sutent was more effective than previously thought. The reappraisal was also prompoted by a Government review into the way drugs for terminally ill patients are assessed by Nice. Under its current rules, Nice rarely approves drugs that cost more than 30,000 per patient per year even if they extend lives. The review will look at raising this figure - which many doctors claim has been plucked out of thin air. "These drugs are available all over the world and the UK is lagging behind other countries," said Mr Hanlon.
The drugs are expensive because advanced kidney cancer is not a common disease. That means the huge cost of researching and developing the drugs has to be covered by a relatively low level of sales. Over the last few weeks Pfizer and Roche, which make Sutent and Avastin, have been in talks with the Department of Health about the cost of the drugs. Pfizer is understood to have offered to cut its price by five per cent.
Nice said its appraisals committee was looking again at its draft guidance for kidney cancer drugs because new evidence had emerged - but that the decision had not been made. "We will publish a next draft within four weeks of the committee's meeting in January and issue final guidance in March 2009," a spokesman said.
Around 7,000 people are diagnosed with kidney cancer in Britain each year. The disease progresses to the advanced stage in around 1,700 cases annually. Around 3,600 patients in Britain would benefit from Sutent. Without the new drugs, patients are left with one other medicine on the NHS - Interferon. The drug does not work for all patients.
"Dangerous" chemical found in three leading brands of bottled water
This is just the old Greenie pthalate scare again. Too bad that it has been thoroughly debunked. Greenies work on emotion, not reason. See a previous post here on January 16, 2008
Chemicals linked to genital abnormalities in babies have been found in three of Britain's leading bottled water brands. Scientists tested the 10 best-selling types of mineral water that use plastic seals inside aluminium caps on glass bottles. Six were revealed to contain PVC and of those, three - Highland Spring, Hildon and Strathmore - had leached chemicals in PVC known as phthalates into the water.
Phthalates, which are used to soften plastics to make them bendy, have been banned in the EU for toys that children can put in their mouths. Studies have shown a strong correlation between mothers exposed to high levels of phthalates during pregnancy and genital abnormalities known as hypospadias in young boys.
However, there is no legislation in Britain banning the use of phthalates in food or drink packaging. In America the Toy Manufacturers Association has voluntarily stopped the use of phthalates in toys for children under three.
David Santillo, senior scientist at the Greenpeace Research Laboratory [Is that a joke?], said: 'On its own you are not going to get a serious dose from bottled water but it is part of the drip, drip of exposure. 'The fact that it can be detected in water at all is remarkable and suggests that very high levels of phthalates are being used in the caps.'
A spokesman for the Food Standards Agency said the levels of phthalates found did not exceed EU safety levels. Brands such as San Pellegrino and Evian do not use PVC in packaging.
A Highland Spring spokesperson said water quality was the company's top priority and all their water was 'perfectly safe to drink'. The company said the caps tested were manufactured under the previous industry standard, but it no longer used PVC.
'Phthalates occur naturally in the environment and are commonly found in food and drink products, household items, medical devices and tap water,' the spokesperson said. 'Trace elements were found in Highland Spring but the miniscule 0.005 mg/l sample was 99.7 per cent lower than the EU safe limit of 1.5 mg/l.'