David Cameron outside 10 Downing Street on the day the Leveson report was published. Photograph: Getty Images.
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PMQs review: the shield of Leveson saves Cameron

The media inquiry and Miliband's pose with the Sun gifted victory to the PM.

If David Cameron regretted setting up the Leveson inquiry before today, he certainly doesn't now. Bombarded with a volley of questions on Andy Coulson by Ed Miliband, the PM deployed the judge's report as a shield (even wielding a physical copy), insisting that every concern raised by Miliband had already been addressed.

It was one of Cameron's most disingenuous moments. The inquiry took place while Coulson's case and others were ongoing, and so was strictly limited in the questions it could pursue. More to the point, it would never have even been established had Miliband not had Cameron "on the run" (in the words of the latter). But this did not stop it providing the PM with a means of deflecting every one of Miliband's questions.

The Labour leader reminded Cameron that he ignored successive warnings from the Guardian, Nick Clegg (sat awkwardly next to Cameron) and the New York Times over Coulson's involvement in phone-hacking. But Cameron dismissively replied that all of these issues had already been examined by Leveson - and resolved in his favour. It was a crude line of defence, but it was enough for him to hold his own in the chamber. 

Matters did not improve for Miliband when he turned to the issue of vetting. Cameron falsely claimed that Gus O'Donnell, the former cabinet secretary, was asked at the Leveson inquiry whether he raised concerns with him over Coulson's appointment, an error that Miliband was quick to pounce on. But Cameron had one trump card left to play. "I'll tell you what's weak," he declared, "Posing with a copy of the Sun only to apologise for it a few hours later." As the Tory benches cheered and their Labour counterparts grimaced, the wind left Miliband's sails. After this right hook, Miliband's technical queries on the civil service could not help sounding flat. Against expectations, Cameron ended the session on top.

The PM had had years to prepare for this moment - and it showed. It was a fluent and unwavering performance. Miliband will be widely accused of missing an "open goal", but his failure to land any memorable blows on Cameron today had more to do with the reality that much of the damage from the scandal has already been done. The line from No. 10 yesterday was that the affair has already been factored into the PM's share price. Nothing that occurred today suggests that they are wrong. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Testing migrant children’s teeth for their age is not only immoral – it doesn’t work

Ministers have flirted with this idea for over a decade. It’s bad policy, as well as poor ethics.

This week, the Home Office finally ruled out the use of x-rays to establish the age of childhood migrants.

It’s welcome news, but this story predates the dispersal of the Calais “Jungle” camp. 

For over ten years, ministers in Conservative and Labour governments have flirted with these tests. And it’s been up to us – the practitioners who’d be expected to administer them – to pick holes in a policy that’s a great way of securing headlines, but simply cannot deliver on the claims made by its cheerleaders.

It goes without saying dentists are health professionals, not border guards. But our objections run deeper than that. And it’s worth revisiting the arguments, just in case future governments start grasping for silver bullets.

It’s ineffective

We can talk about philosophy later, but let’s start with a pretty fundamental objection: dental x-rays are simply not a reliable way of establishing age.

No two mouths are alike. I’ll add my own to that list, as I still sport two of my baby teeth.

Children and young people mature at different rates, so the level of accuracy in these tests changes with time. And these x-rays can estimate age in younger children much more accurately than in adolescents. So as children mature at different rates, the potential margin of error gets ever larger with age.

For example, the third molars, commonly known as wisdom teeth – the last permanent teeth to develop – can form any time between the ages of 16 and 23, and a small proportion of individuals never develop third molars at all (I’ll have to pop my name to that list too).

A 2010 study of 300 young people aged between 11 and 25, whose age was determined based on dental x-rays, showed this method of testing consistently over- or under-estimated age, with a two-year average difference between dental and known age.

So if you are searching for a litmus test that will tell you whether a subject is 17 or 19 years old you won’t find it here.

It’s inappropriate

A few MPs and pundits have found it hard to acknowledge the codes health practitioners sign up to, which make this test a no go.

We must always act in the best interest of our patients when providing a medical procedure. And it is beyond question that the process of radiography is a medical procedure that should be carried out only for medical purposes, and where the patient stands to benefit.

Now many people might not consider this test an invasive procedure. However, x-rays do carry a small risk of possible long-term physical impact, and current best practice in this area dictates that exposure to radiation should be kept as low as reasonably possible over a lifetime. They should be carried out sparingly and where there is a well-defined potential clinical benefit, which must always outweigh the potential clinical harm.

As taking x-rays to determine the age of an individual carries no clinical benefit, it frankly isn’t appropriate to expose a patient to the potential clinical harm it can cause.

It’s unethical

Our lawmakers cannot simply dispense with fundamentals like consent to show they are “taking action”.

It is a legal principle that before practitioners carry out any medical procedure, the recipient – or someone who can consent on their behalf – must be given a full understanding of the nature of the procedure, its significance, impact and potential consequences before signing up to it.

For the children arriving from Calais, this would be a difficult task without English as a first language. Consent may also be required from a suitable adult. Yes, these children may be unaccompanied, but it does not mean the need for valid consent and protecting the child’s best interests can simply be ignored.

The letter of the law might be inconvenient, but it is a requirement that can only be compromised where the urgency and necessity of the circumstances demand rapid action in a patient’s best interests. And even in these circumstances the validity of treatment has sometimes ended up being challenged in the courts.

Given that taking x-rays in order to determine age is not medically justifiable in the first place, the urgency justification really doesn’t come into play. And that means dental colleagues – in the absence of valid consent – could find themselves performing an act that constitutes a criminal battery.


In the past, ministers have debated whether there is a credible “public interest” case that might override these little legal or philosophical objections. But these practical and ethical concerns can’t really be separated.

But why bother constructing a case for a test that frankly isn’t much cop? Dentists can only hope the latest message from the Home Office marks the beginning of a consensus, which draws a line under a decade of wishful thinking.

Judith Husband, Chair of the British Dental Association’s Education, Ethics and the Dental Team Working Group.