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29 Nov 2007 : Column 1300

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, is the Minister aware that yesterday the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said that churches need to be brave, imaginative and honest in the fight against the spread of HIV/AIDS? Does she agree with the most reverend Primate that Governments need to be challenged to work effectively with faith-based organisations on this issue?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, I completely agree with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. I am pleased to say that DfID in particular is focusing on working with faith groups, which are, especially in Africa, one of the best delivery mechanisms for HIV/AIDS treatment.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, would the Minister agree that the virus in question is called the immunodeficiency virus and attacks the body’s immune system, and that because it does so it makes the development of a vaccine more difficult than in the case of many other infections? Nevertheless, what progress is being made in the development of a vaccine against this particular virus?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, no communicable disease has been eradicated without a vaccine, so we are completely aware of the need to focus on a vaccine. Unfortunately, I can say only that it remains a long-term goal; currently, 30 candidates are being trialled for vaccination and none of them looks immediately viable. We had a disappointment earlier in the year with the vaccine that was the most advanced. Nevertheless, DfID continues to fund and was the first government donor of the international AIDS vaccine initiative. Approximately $900 million are going into vaccine research this year.

Earl Howe: My Lords—

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, it is the turn of the noble Earl, Lord Howe. Indeed, I think that it might have been last time.

Earl Howe: My Lords, what progress has there been on research into microbicides that have been shown to be a barrier to the virus?

Baroness Vadera: My Lords, microbicides are very important because of the feminisation of the virus. They could empower women and lead to a female-led solution, which may not be comprehensive but is part of a solution. Three first-generation products are currently on trial and we expect the results in 2009. There are two second-generation trials from which we shall receive data later, perhaps in 2010-11. However, we do not expect any products to be available on the market before 2010-11, if we are lucky.

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11.29 am

Lord Maclennan of Rogart asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, in recent meetings of the EU there has been strong recognition that the status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable and that an early settlement is vital. All within the EU recognise that Kosovo provides an important test of the credibility of the EU’s common foreign and security policy. At the General Affairs and External Relations Council on 19 November, the EU reiterated the necessity of rapidly finding a solution to the Kosovo status issue.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, in light of the withdrawal of the UN mediators yesterday and the dangerous probability of Hashim Tha├ži, the Kosovo Prime Minister in waiting, making a unilateral declaration of independence, do the Government accept that the European Union should seek to engage with the Russian Government to promote further peaceful dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, which, while recognising the internal autonomy of Kosovo, strives for a confederal solution that recognises the economic interdependence of those countries in the Balkans and the need to end ethnic conflict?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, noble Lords will know that the timing of this Question is very appropriate given that yesterday the troika, which included a Russian representative, announced that:

Kosovo’s future “status”.

Every effort has been made to involve Russia in an agreed decision and to make the two communities agree a common way forward.

Unfortunately, it looks as though we are at the end of the road and I am not sure that it is possible again to try to find a common way forward with Russia. The place to test that will be if this is brought back to the Security Council to approve the next steps.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the great majority of the Albanian Kosovan community want an independent Kosovo? Should we not be supporting the right to self-determination of the Kosovan people and supporting their basic right of independence if the great majority—90 per cent—want that?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord points to the strong ambition for independence among the Kosovar community. However, it is precisely the need to find a solution to the problems of the Balkans that respects not only majority but minority rights that has led to this extended negotiation, and why we still have to find a political solution to this situation.

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Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, are we not reaping the whirlwind of a decision far too long delayed, which should have been taken much earlier—preferably in 1999? Does the Minister recognise that in consequence the potential crisis in the Balkans extends way beyond Kosovo and includes now Bosnia and Herzegovina where the Serb authorities and Republika Srpska intend to hold a referendum preparatory to a unilateral declaration of independence and the break up of the Bosnian state? Does the Minister agree that that will initiate a crisis of far greater proportions even than that in Kosovo? Will he therefore assure the House that NATO is prepared, willing and able to take whatever steps are necessary to assure the internal security of Kosovo and the territorial integrity of Bosnia?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I imagine that the noble Lord knows more about the situation than any of us in this House. Therefore his concern is one that we should all take enormously seriously. First, we should be encouraged by the fact that none of the parties to this conflict has suggested a reversion to violence: despite the very serious disagreements, all sides are still pursuing a political solution to this. In terms of the readiness of NATO, as I am sure the noble Lord is aware, there is actually a UK responsibility in the first part of next year to be the battalion ready for immediate deployment if extra needs occur. We are already heavily committed to that mission and I have no doubt that NATO and our allies will be able to call on us if the need for extra forces, which I devoutly hope does not occur, does arise.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, is completely right that this could all spark a much wider conflict and a split yet again in Bosnia-Herzegovina, which would be a tragedy. We are all for concerting our views with the EU and other countries but I urge the Minister to accept that, before we tick the box marked “independence”, which our American colleagues seem to be keen on, we should realise that Russia and Serbia want to go on talking, and that, for all its prickliness, Russia has sensitivities. They are that if countries start breaking up, even in the name of self-determination, other bits of Russia might fall off as well. If we understand that, we may just avoid having to be reinvolved with the troops—if we have the troops, of course—in another conflict in this area.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to emphasise the need to keep talking and that is why I say that there must be a political approach. However, every opportunity has been given to Serbia and to Russia to provide a way forward. There have been endless negotiations, the Ahtisaari proposals and those of the troika and Ambassador Ischinger. We have to be realistic and accept that you cannot talk for ever. People must put proposals on the table or one must assume that talk has become a substitute for finding a solution.

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Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, in the unfortunate event that UK forces have to be committed to this area, can the Minister assure the House that an exit strategy for those forces will be worked out before they are committed on the ground?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord makes an important point; I very much hope that that will be the case. I stress again that at the moment there is no indication by any party of a reversion to violence. We very much hope that we will find a political, not a military, solution to this situation.


11.37 am

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with permission, my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton will repeat a Statement on Remploy modernisation. We shall take it after the first debate—between the two debates.

Business of the House: Debates Today

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the debates on the Motions in the names of Baroness Gale and Lord Berkeley set down for today shall each be limited to two and a half hours.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Financial Assistance Scheme (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2007

Legislative Reform (Local Authority Consent Requirements) (England and Wales) Order 2007

European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Agreement on Enlargement of the European Economic Area) Order 2007

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I beg to move the remaining three Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the draft regulations and orders be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

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Climate Change Bill [HL]

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Climate Change Bill [HL] has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 26

Schedule 1Clauses 27 to 38Schedule 2Clauses 39 to 41Schedule 3Clause 42Schedule 4Clauses 43 to 51Schedule 5Clauses 52 to 55Schedule 6Clauses 56 to 73.—(Lord Rooker.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Crime: Sexual Offences

11.38 am

Baroness Gale rose to call attention to the Government’s record on the management and prosecution of sexual offences; and to move for Papers.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity of holding this debate today, especially during White Ribbon Week and following the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women on 25 November. Yesterday the Map of Gaps document was launched by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the End Violence Against Women coalition. It sets out geographical maps showing support services for women throughout the UK, or the lack of them. In addition, yesterday the Government issued their response to the consultation document, Convicting Rapists and Protecting VictimsJustice for Victims of Rape. It outlines the measures that the Government will take to further assist victims of rape and that we hope will result in a rise in the conviction rate. I am sure that my noble and learned friend will say a lot more about that later.

The UN definition of violence against women is:

It includes rape and sexual violence, domestic violence, forced marriage, stalking, trafficking and sexual exploitation, forced prostitution, crimes in the name of honour, female genital mutilation and sexual harassment. Violence against women is endemic in every country in the world; women can go nowhere to escape it. It acts as a weapon to control women and as a punishment. Rape is used as a weapon of war in many conflicts in the world today.

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The figures of violence against women make depressing reading. Three million women across the UK experience violence each year. Many more women cope with the legacies of abuse experienced in the past as children or adults. Almost half of women in England and Wales experience domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking in their lifetime. Convictions for rape are falling—just 5.3 per cent of rapes reported to the police result in a conviction—but I will say more about that later. Women represent around 85 per cent of victims of forced marriage. It is estimated that 33,000 young women and girls are at risk of female genital mutilation. Other noble Lords will speak about those matters today.

The effects of violence against women include physical injury, gynaecological disorders, long-term mental health issues, self-harm and suicide. This violence is also connected with women’s social exclusion—for example, that of women offenders. Histories of violence and abuse often form a pathway into their offending behaviour. Research for the Government estimates that, in England and Wales in one year, domestic violence alone cost £23 billion—£17 billion is a human and emotional cost and £6 billion is a direct cost to the state.

Violence against women is both a cause and consequence of women’s inequality. Under some measures men are more likely to be victims of violence, but it is not usually part of an ongoing or repeated pattern of behaviour as violence against women is. Violence that women experience is usually committed by men they know—partners, family members, friends or work colleagues. In addition, sexual harassment in public is widespread and contributes to women’s fear of crime and whether they feel safe in public places at night. Women are twice as likely as men to be worried about violent crime.

Violence against women is an issue that cuts through all walks of life. Girls and young women are more likely to experience sexual violence. Older women are more likely to be abused by carers than are older men. Women with mental health problems and learning disabilities are particularly vulnerable to sexual violence. Ethnic-minority women face additional barriers to access and support, and experience particular forms of violence such as forced marriage, female genital mutilation and crimes in the name of honour.

Violence against women is a violation of women’s fundamental human rights—the right not to be treated in an inhumane and degrading way, the right for respect for private and family life, and the right to life. There have been many good initiatives by our Labour Government over the last 10 years, and I feel proud of the measures carried out and the laws put in place. Much of that drive has been made by my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General, and I congratulate her on and thank her for all her efforts.

The acceptance of violence against women needs to be tackled. An ICM poll commissioned by End Violence Against Women showed that 42 per cent of young people knew girls whose boyfriends had hit them, and that 40 per cent knew girls whose boyfriends had coerced or pressurised them into having sex—yet there is minimal work with children and young people to challenge attitudes that tolerate violence against women.

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Map of Gaps, the document that was published jointly yesterday of which I spoke earlier, has for the first time mapped specialist violence-against-women services across the UK. It shows that for the 3 million women across the UK who experience violence each year and for the many more coping with legacies of abuse, specialist services are essential for their access to safety and justice and their ability to move on with their lives. The document is a useful tool for determining where and what services are required and where more funding and support are needed.

Most women across the UK have no access to rape crisis centres; and less than one-third of local authorities have any sexual violence service at all. A very small proportion of the UK is currently covered by the existing sexual assault referral centres, though the Government are extending the network. These centres are a place where victims can receive medical care and counselling and assist the police investigation through a forensic examination. There were five centres in 2001, but today there are 19. By the end of financial year 2008-09, there will be at least 36 centres.

Fewer than one in 10 local authorities have specialist services for ethnic-minority women, services which could address forced marriage, female genital mutilation and crimes of honour as well as other forms of violence, or services for women in prostitution. The End Violence Against Women coalition and the Equality and Human Rights Commission yesterday called on national government and local authorities to take urgent action to ensure that there is consistent national coverage and funding of specialised third-sector support services for all women.

Rape is one of the worst offences against women. It is estimated that a minimum of 47,000 women in England and Wales are raped each year. Most rapes are committed by someone the victim knows, often a partner or ex-partner. Up to 95 per cent of rapes are never reported to the police. The number of rape convictions has remained relatively stable, but the number of rapes reported to the police has been increasing year on year. The result has been that the number of rapes resulting in conviction has declined from 33 per cent in 1977 to 7.5 per cent in 1999 and to 5.29 per cent in 2004. Although there is a steady increase in the number of reported incidents, there has not been an increase in the number of convictions. Overall, less than 6 per cent of cases reported to the police in England and Wales result in a conviction, though the figures vary across England and Wales.

I shall take the rape conviction rates for 2004 as an example. The overall figure for all police forces in England and Wales was 5.29 per cent, but in Northamptonshire it was 13.79 per cent; in Cumbria, 12.7 per cent; and in south Wales, 12.18 per cent. Those are the three highest. The lowest three were Cambridgeshire, at 1.75 per cent; Suffolk, 1.6 per cent; and Gloucestershire, amazingly, at 0.86 per cent. The consequence is that men who commit rape in those police force areas know that they will never have to worry too much about being convicted. I do not know why some police areas have a better conviction rate than others, but it would be good to discover why. Perhaps their methods could be used in other parts of

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the country. The chief constable in south Wales, with one of the three highest conviction rates, is Barbara Wilding, a wonderful woman who works very hard on these issues.

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