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House of Lords

Monday, 1st December 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Portsmouth.


Lord Fowler asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What action they are taking to combat the world-wide spread of HIV/AIDS.

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, today the Government have published the UK's Call for Action on HIV/AIDS and announced that next year we shall double our commitment to the UN AIDS organisation to 6 million.

In 2002–03 the UK spent more than 270 million on funding activities to tackle HIV/AIDS in over 40 countries. We also support the work of multilateral organisations, including a commitment of 280 million dollars over seven years to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria. We have invested 1.5 billion dollars since 1997 to strengthen the health systems of developing countries and have secured agreement in the World Trade Organisation to give the poorest countries access to cheaper medicines.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for that reply. Clearly, I welcome the new effort that has been announced today. However, we should remember that that occurs against a background of 3 million deaths from HIV world-wide last year, of 5 million people newly infected last year and of an overall total of 20 million people who have died since the pandemic began. Does the Leader of the House agree with me that the resources so far made available by the developed nations of the world have not really matched the scale of this world-wide crisis, and that if we are to make better progress in future, support—in particular for the global fund that she mentioned to fight AIDS—is absolutely crucial to success in this battle?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord that the AIDS pandemic is such that we need concerted and united action to tackle it. The global health fund is only one mechanism among a number of mechanisms that we are implementing to try to tackle global HIV/AIDS and the spread of the problem. That is why we are working through multilateral organisations such as the global fund. However, we are also working with developing countries to strengthen their own health systems because there is no point putting money into treatment if there is no system to support that treatment. We need to put money into prevention, which is what we are doing through the bilateral work that we are doing

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with individual countries. We are allocating money to developing a vaccine for HIV/AIDS and considering awareness raising programmes. Call for Action, copies of which have been put in the Library of the House, contains four areas on which we are focusing: the need for stronger political direction; the need for better funding, which is the purpose of the noble Lord's Question; better donor co-ordination, and, of course, better HIV/AIDS programmes.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, the spread of AIDS is set to become the bubonic plague of our time. Do the Government agree that in addition to the measures outlined just now, with 40 million people infected with the disease public awareness needs to be heightened with better education and research?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I entirely agree with the right reverend Prelate. We need to do two things. First, we need to have greater awareness-raising in the UK, which we are tackling as part of the national sexual health strategy. Secondly, we need to raise awareness in our development work of the dire impact that HIV/AIDS is having in developing countries across the world, and in particular the fact that the disease is being spread at such a rate that its economic impact in developing countries is devastating.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, what steps are the Government taking to encourage single sex faithful partnerships as a means of combating AIDS?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, as part of the awareness raising programme in the UK within the overall sexual health strategy, material is being developed, a website has been put together and, of course, schools provide education on this matter within personal and social education. The impact of sexual activity on the spread of HIV/AIDS is one of the areas that is covered.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, does the Minister agree with many, including Mary Robinson, who say that the WHO target of 3 million being treated for HIV/AIDS by 2005 is too little, too late? I very much welcome what the Minister said regarding today's announcement, but will she expand on what the Government are doing to inject further urgency into the fight against this catastrophe?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have worked with over 40 individual countries in a range of different areas. Earlier this year I visited some of the programmes that we are funding in Kenya and in Uganda. We are indeed working with governments in developing countries so that they understand that leadership has to be taken on this issue as well as working to build the health sectors in those countries. We are also working through multilateral organisations because it is important that we consider prevention as well as treatment. Some of the treatments will not work if the systems are not in place in those developing countries to help them to work.

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Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, last night a most impressive BBC World Service phone-in programme on HIV/AIDS was broadcast in which the president of Botswana took part. What pressure are HMG putting on our friends in the US Congress to pass the relevant legislation authorising the allocation of funds promised by President Bush to countries such as Botswana in which a high percentage of the population suffer from HIV/AIDS?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I very much hope that parliamentarians in the UK will work with their colleagues in the United States Senate and Congress as part of the process of raising awareness. Of course, we have very good links with the US Government on these issues. Today my right honourable friend Hilary Benn met representatives of over 50 NGOs to discuss this topic. We hope that the NGOs will put pressure on fellow organisations in the United States. We have made it absolutely clear that when we chair the G8 in 2005 Africa and HIV/AIDs will be at the top of our agenda.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, would the Government consider legalising brothels, as suggested by the WI some time ago?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, that is a novel suggestion. It is not one of which I was aware and I shall pass it on. Thankfully, it is not my area of responsibility.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, what can Her Majesty's Government do to persuade the governments of India and China that, based on experience in Africa, there is a disproportionate return from an early—rather than a belated—response to the problem of AIDS?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have been trying very hard with the governments of countries which have a view that perhaps HIV/AIDS would not spread as rapidly in those countries. We have worked hard to take the lessons learnt, in particular from Africa and from sub-Saharan Africa, to other parts of the world. The noble Lord may be aware that it is not just in the sub-continent and China but also in the Caribbean that we are seeing a huge rise in the number of people infected. We have to work very hard to tackle this issue as quickly as possible.

Smoking in Public Places

2.44 p.m.

Lord Janner of Braunstone asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether, in light of the recent recommendations by the leaders of the 13 royal colleges of medicine, they will introduce legislation to impose a complete ban on smoking in public places.

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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, the Government welcome the royal colleges' contribution to the debate on the dangers of second-hand smoke. We have said consistently that smoke-free indoor public places are the ideal. We want to see better progress in extending the number of smoke-free public places on a voluntary basis. The question for public debate is whether local authorities should have new powers to introduce smoking bans at work and in public places.

Lord Janner of Braunstone: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Does he accept that in this country some 120,000 people per year die of smoking-related diseases? More than 1,000 of those deaths are caused by passive inhalation of other people's smoke? Is it not right to say that each year a quarter of a million people are treated in hospital for smoking-related diseases; and that the cost to the National Health Service is some 1.5 billion? In those circumstances, surely it is not enough simply to say, "Well, we will encourage the voluntary stopping of smoking in public places"; people should be helped to give up the habit, as many noble Lords have done, including myself and the mighty noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington—

Noble Lords: Oh!

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