12 Mar 2007 : Column 441

House of Lords

Monday, 12 March 2007.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

Lord Hathersley made the solemn affirmation.

Crime: Rape

Lord Campbell-Savours asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Attorney-General (Lord Goldsmith): My Lords, the Government believe that the law already provides robust criminal penalties for those who make false allegations of rape, as this case demonstrates. However, as my noble friend and the House know, we are reviewing certain aspects in relation to the anonymity of complainants and in response to the recent consultation on the law of rape more generally.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, is there not a huge injustice to the accused in this case? A woman rifles through the dustbin of a reputable consultant, finds a used condom, smears the contents on herself and makes a false allegation of rape. Because the accused has no right to anonymity, he is suspended as a consultant psychiatrist, hauled before the GMC, shunned by his friends, attacked on the internet, loses £100,000—part of which was income—and is then discredited in his own community. Should we not be looking at the law on anonymity for men, as there are many cases of destroyed reputations?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I cannot confirm the details that my noble friend has given about what happened. This was plainly a dreadful case in which a very determined woman went to extraordinary lengths to manufacture an allegation of rape against this man. It was discovered; she was prosecuted; for this and for the harassment of the man and his former girlfriend, she received nine years in prison. That is a robust response to this exceptional case. As to the general question of anonymity for defendants, we have debated it before and the Government’s view is that defendants generally should not have anonymity.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, at 5.3 per cent, conviction for rape is the lowest in Europe, while Home Office figures show that at least 47,000 women are victims of rape. What is being done to improve the rate of conviction?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the problem, which I have referred to before, of low reporting and conviction rates. The Government are consulting on possible changes to the law. They are following the recent inspectorate report on rape and are looking to the police and the prosecution service to improve their responses.

Baroness Gale: My Lords, can my noble and learned friend say when the consultation on rape will be published? Will he give a commitment that, when it is, we can debate the whole range of issues surrounding rape, including the low conviction rate and how to help women to come forward in much greater numbers to report rape cases? As the figures stand, thousands of men in this country have raped women and remained free.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give a precise commitment as to when the Government will respond. I am sorry about that, but consideration on the response to the consultation continues. However, my noble friend’s suggestion of an opportunity to debate all these issues in this House seems very admirable. I do not know whether I am in a position to commit to it, but it certainly has my support.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, might not the noble and learned Lord have offered some word of thanks and congratulation to the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, for the amount that he has done to bring out some of the facts about rape and allegations of rape? Does he not agree that the conviction rate, although it is extraordinarily low, is measured against the allegations of rape, not against the number of cases of rape that are established to have occurred?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, I am very happy to commend my noble friend for the diligence and tenacity with which he has pursued this issue. It has had the result that we are considering one aspect of the law. On the latter part of the noble Lord’s question, the concern is that a lot of rapes are not reported. Figures suggest that a greater proportion of rapes are not reported than are reported, so one has to be careful with the figures to which he referred.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, my noble and learned friend referred to the imprisonment of Marchese as if that were the application of justice in this case. What about justice for Falkowski? He has been the subject of a huge injustice, because he lost friends, income and reputation. What are we going to do about people such as that, who believe that they should be entitled to anonymity in exactly the same way as women are? Their anonymity was lost as a result of legislation introduced in the late 1980s.

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, the thrust of my noble friend’s question is exactly the same as the point that he made earlier. I have indicated what the Government’s view is and has been for a long time. I do not know what the implications have been for Dr Falkowski; I hear what my noble friend says. I very much hope that the fact that in a trial the jury found that the allegations were wholly false means that people around him will have accepted his innocence and welcomed him back within their community.

Lord Elton: My Lords, does the noble and learned Lord think that the outcome of the case would have been different if anonymity had been granted? If not, what is the argument against the anonymity for which his noble friend is arguing?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, this is a well travelled route and different committees have looked at it. We do not generally permit anonymity for defendants, whether it is an allegation of rape, murder, bank robbery or whatever it may be—one sees that all the time in the newspapers. There is a special case in relation to complainants of sexual assault because of the well founded belief that, unless there is anonymity, they will simply not come forward and make their allegations, which is a greater evil.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, why should not this question be left to the discretion of the judge at the end of the trial after acquittal?

Lord Goldsmith: My Lords, if the noble Lord is referring to anonymity for the complainant, it is one of the questions that the present review needs to look at; namely, whether women—and it normally is women—simply will not be prepared to come forward if they think that there is a chance that the allegation and their identity may be revealed after the trial just because there is an acquittal.

Pakistan: Treatment of Women

2.43 pm

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, DfID’s programme in Pakistan supports women’s empowerment and gender equalities in a number of ways; for example, it has just approved a £90 million programme to support Pakistan’s ability to deliver improved maternal and new-born healthcare. We have also committed up to £18.5 million in support of initiatives that seek to improve women’s economic and political empowerment, protection against violence and, in the case of girls, improved access to education. In addition, we naturally support the UNDP’s gender support programme.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. It is very close to International Women’s Day. A month ago, a woman Minister in Pakistan was shot dead by someone who said that he was opposed to women in politics and to their refusing to wear a veil. The UK’s development partnership with Pakistan includes a commitment to respect human rights. How does the Department for International Development satisfy itself that this is being observed?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, DfID at the moment agrees with the Government of Pakistan indicators of progress covering the 10-year lifespan of the DPA as well as annual benchmarks of progress. Once those have been agreed, they and other DPA indicators will form the basis of annual aid talks, when the UK and Pakistan will review jointly progress against those commitments. When DfID has concerns that the commitments are being breached, the UK will invite Pakistan to explain its position. Our response to any breach will be determined by the conditions or circumstances that led to any specific breach.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister noted that since the women’s protection Bill came into force in December the number of allegations of honour killings, suicides and mass rapes has not diminished. I wonder if DfID will single out women’s organisations which are campaigning for reforms in the law and administrative practice, such as the Pakistan Human Rights Commission, the ORAP Foundation, Women’s Action Forum and War Against Rape. Will the department also ascertain whether Pakistan has issued an invitation to the UN rapporteur on violence against women, who might have some useful advice to offer on administrative reforms at grassroots level?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, naturally we deplore the fact that honour killings, rape and violence are still taking place at such a rate in Pakistan. We recently approved a Gender, Justice and Protection Fund, which is part of the UNDP’s gender support programme. The fund will help civil society to deal with these very difficult questions. Of course, we also believe that all the work that we are doing to empower women economically and to improve their education in Pakistan will help them to become stronger and to hold out against the violence, so that they will not be subjected to it.

In respect of the UN rapporteur, I do not know what the answer is but I shall certainly find out and inform the noble Lord.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, can the Minister say what the Government of Pakistan are doing to repeal the notorious Hudood laws affecting women and many others which their own Council of Islamic Ideology has declared unislamic?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, in November 2006 President Musharraf pushed through the women’s protection Bill, which reformed part of the controversial Hudood ordinances dealing with rape and adultery, despite significant opposition from religious parties. We welcome this as an important step in the enlightened moderation agenda. I am sure that it does not go far enough, but it is a step in the right direction.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, what plans do Her Majesty's Government have to co-ordinate with international partners to encourage Pakistan to undertake wide-ranging public awareness programmes through the media, the education system and public announcements to inform both men and women of women's equal rights?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, much of the work that the UK Government are doing in Pakistan is focused on advocacy and enabling women to know more about what is happening as well as educating men so that they better understand the need for women’s economic and political empowerment. We are also working with UN organisations such as the World Bank, which has recently introduced a new gender action plan.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend was quite right to mention the importance of economic empowerment of women in this respect. What is the Department for International Development doing in respect of microfinancing for women who are trying to get into if not the labour market necessarily, as we would understand it at least some sort of means to support themselves and their families?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am very proud to say that DfID has provided more than £12 million to the Kashf Foundation, which is one of the largest NGOs providing microfinance services in Pakistan. Between 1999 and 2003, we helped that organisation to increase its client base from 3,800 to 63,000. We are continuing with that programme to improve the livelihood of 300,000 poor women and their families through small business development. Moving on from that, we also recognise that once women have received microfinance they have to leap forward to grow their businesses, and we are working with the World Bank and other organisations to see how best we can help them in that matter also.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, is the Minister aware that a third of local government councillors in Pakistan are women, as are 72 of Pakistan’s 342 Members of Parliament? Should we not congratulate them on passing the women protection laws and encourage them rather than always criticise them?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Indeed, my Lords; we certainly congratulate the Government of Pakistan on the steps they have already taken and welcome the fact that 33 per cent of all councillors, 22 per cent of the National Assembly and 17 per cent of the Senate are women. We and a lot of other countries have much to learn from that. However, that does not mean that there is not an awful lot more to do to ensure that women in Pakistan are properly empowered and properly educated and have proper access to healthcare. We congratulate them and want to work with them in doing more.

Mental Health: Funding

2.51 pm

Baroness Murphy asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, returning the NHS overall to net financial balance is a key priority for financial year 2006-07. We have not expected any one NHS sector, including mental health services, to contribute more in financial savings than any other part of the local health economy except where that sector has specifically contributed to an organisation’s deficit.

Baroness Murphy: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but it is not entirely consistent with information made available to me by local services directly. This year, about £30 million is being transferred directly from mental health; next year, about £60 million will be. Does the Minister agree that that, at a time when mental health services are meant to be a priority, is not helpful to developing and modernising mental health services? Does he not also agree that if acute hospitals balance their budgets by raiding easy targets such as education, mental health and services for older people, it militates against developing a sound and responsible financial regime in NHS acute hospitals? Is this just NHS business as usual?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords; it is the NHS sorting out its finances and making sure that the deficit is cleared by the end of the financial year.

My department has looked into six cases where it has been alleged that reductions have been unduly imposed on mental health services compared with other parts of the local health economy, but our investigation did not find that to be the case. If there are other instances, I would be very glad to look into them. I remind the noble Baroness that in 2001-02 to 2005-06 there was a 25 per cent real-terms increase in resources for mental health services. I accept that there is more to do but there has been a big increase in investment.

Baroness Verma: My Lords, where will trusts place those who are most vulnerable when mental health hospitals are closed down due to cost-cutting exercises, especially as, with an ageing population, there is widely predicted to be an increase in the number of Alzheimer’s sufferers?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the health service clearly has to take tough decisions this year to ensure that it gets back into balance, and I am sure that that is the right approach. Local primary care trusts have to make difficult decisions and ensure that the decisions they make will have the least effect possible on the kind of people whom the noble Baroness mentioned, who need the services. As I said, we do not have evidence that mental health services have been unduly affected. Indeed, we have seen a big expansion in those services in the past few years.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, what observations does the Minister have on reports this weekend about the war veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq—I think the quotation was more than 20,000 of them—who were suffering from various mental health illnesses and were having to wait up to four years for treatment?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Defence commented on this matter this morning. The case that was mentioned over the weekend is being investigated. Officials from my department and the Ministry of Defence have worked together to improve the provision of psychological therapies for war veterans. We are committed to improving mental health services generally. We shall continue those discussions.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, given that this year primary care trusts such as that in Hillingdon have announced cuts of £1 million from April 2007 to community mental health services provided by the voluntary sector—Rethink, Mind and Alzheimer’s groups—does the Minister anticipate that the level of community services will drop next year? Is his department making any provision for increased acute services as a result?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I shall not comment specifically on Hillingdon because that is not appropriate. These are matters for the local health service to decide. It is clear that a large amount of the deficit in the NHS is caused by a small number of organisations. We cannot run away from the fact that those organisations have to turn that situation around. Of course, we shall wish to see patient services protected in any moves they make, but in the end they must bring those organisations back into a balance.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe: My Lords, will my noble friend confirm or deny that the £4 million national young people’s substance misuse partnership grant, which hitherto has been ring-fenced specifically for preventive work with youths with drug, personality and mental problems, is being diverted to offset deficiencies elsewhere in the NHS?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I can neither confirm nor deny the specific point that my noble friend raises but I shall certainly investigate it. Part of the strategy adopted by strategic health authorities in particular is to look at ways in which contingencies can be raised through the central budgets they are responsible for. We very much see this as an initiative that has to be taken this year to get the health service back in balance. I assure my noble friend that I shall look into the specifics of the case that he raised.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, if the Government have ring-fenced an amount for a particular service, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, surely that has to be maintained. For the requirements and specialties to be affected at this stage means that there was no point ring-fencing them in the first place.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, if a sum has been ring-fenced, clearly that money should be spent on the service for which it has been ring-fenced. I have undertaken to investigate this matter. As I said to my noble friend, part of the strategy of strategic health authorities is to use non-ring-fenced central budgetary programmes to create a contingency fund. I shall certainly look into the specifics of that case and write to my noble friend.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, as part of their financial balancing exercise, are the Government looking at the cost incurred due to delayed or unobtained treatments and the cost incurred by other parts of society when health service funding is cut?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we should recognise that in the past few years the NHS has seen a huge increase in resources—the largest increase it has ever had—which has resulted in hugely enhanced services and a drastic reduction in waiting times. Of course, it is important that the health service gets back into balance—it will do so by the end of the year—but that has to be seen in the context of a hugely expanding health service which, since 1997, has seen the number of staff employed rise from 1 million to 1.3 million. We should applaud that.

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