Yvette Cooper used the bungling of her opposite number to Labour's political advantage. Photo: Getty
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Labour is the real winner after the European Arrest Warrant vote that wasn't

Labour is set to use an opposition day debate on the eve of the Rochester and Strood by-election to debate and vote on the European Arrest Warrant.

Last night, the House of Commons fell into disarray as furious Tory MPs discovered that they would not be voting on the European Arrest Warrant, accusing the government of misleadingly ducking an issue that would see some backbenchers rebel.

The Labour party jumped on Theresa May's bungling with Yvette Cooper leaping up and proposing her own motion to postpone the vote. This led to some extraordinary filibustering from the Tories as they attempted to buy time for as many of their MPs, including David Cameron hurrying in in white tie having left the Lord Mayor's Banquet early, to turn up and vote.

Labour's motion was defeated by just 43 votes. But such a close vote, with 35 Tories rebelling to vote in favour of the motion, was a sign that the Labour party – which actually supports the government in wanting to opt in to the warrant – was calling the shots as government authority in the Commons dangerously wobbled.

Eventually, the government's original motion, which so controversially did not even mention the European Arrest Warrant, was comfortably passed, by 464 to 38. However, it looks like Labour continues to be the real winner, as it is reported this morning that the party is set to use an opposition day debate on Wednesday next week to discuss and vote on opting in to the warrant.

The date scheduled, 19 November, is on the eve of the Rochester and Strood by-election, which is awkward for the Prime Minister. To see rebellions from his eurosceptic MPs, as well as having to assert a pro-European position, the day preceding a by-election where it looks like the anti-EU Ukip is likely to defeat the Conservatives and take another of their seats is a very difficult situation for the PM.

Having been constantly criticising May in recent weeks for attempting to delay the vote until after the by-election, it looks like Labour is now deciding when and how the vote will play out with maximum damage to the government. The crisis of confidence in its leadership meant last week was one of Labour's very worst. But it has grasped this political opportunity smartly, and it looks like the spotlight will soon be back on Tory tensions.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at 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.