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House of Lords

Monday, 10 March 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Rochester.

Death of a Member

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret that I have to inform the House of the death of Lord Pym on 7 March. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to his family and friends.

Crime: Honour-related Violence

2.36 pm

Baroness Cox asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Government do not routinely collect data on the extent of so-called honour-based violence. We are working closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Crown Prosecution Service and others to develop a programme of work on so-called honour-based violence. We also provide a range of help and support to victims of so-called honour-based violence; for example, through the Forced Marriage Unit.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware of the recent report by the Centre for Social Cohesion on honour-related violence in the United Kingdom, documenting widespread forms of such violence, especially against vulnerable women living in communities dominated by traditional religious values, and evidence that police, schools and local authorities often do not take effective action for fear of being accused of racism or Islamophobia? Will Her Majesty’s Government take much more decisive action to ensure that every woman in this land lives free of violence and forced marriage inflicted in the name of “honour”?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the Government welcome that report. We are determined to tackle so-called honour-based violence and to ensure that any gaps in services can be filled. We know that we have to do more. Our task is to take all these issues forward in a more dedicated way in the next few years. Part of that is raising awareness of these issues and ensuring that all the agencies involved understand their duties and take appropriate action to safeguard the victims. That is an essential part of our work programme to address these terrible crimes.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, when I was preparing my Forced Marriage (Civil Protection)

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Bill—the Minister will not be aware of this—I went to Derby. I do not know whether he is aware of the report in Saturday’s Times that indicated that in Derby the local education authority and schoolteachers are reluctant to display information about forced marriage and the need for the Forced Marriage Unit and others to be contacted because they are worried about upsetting the community. Will the Minister make representations to ensure that when the Forced Marriage Unit guidelines are published under the statute, they deal specifically with the need to make sure that education authorities and teachers do not emulate Admiral Nelson at the battle of Copenhagen by turning a blind eye to this problem but, on the contrary, give clear instructions and guidance to teachers and pupils?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I understand exactly what the noble Lord is saying and I have great sympathy with it. I find it difficult to refer to the murder of, generally, young women, even with the proviso that it is a so-called honour crime. Honour has nothing to do with it. How much honour is there in, for example, raping and killing a young woman whose crime was to date someone her family did not approve of? There is no culture or religion that condones that sort of practice and it is wrong to say that there is. Rather, it is an issue of power, domination and control. It is a form of domestic violence that we wholeheartedly condemn, and we are taking steps to get rid of it.

The Lord Bishop of Rochester: My Lords, can the Minister assure us that there is effective policing in all areas of the UK so that women exposed to violence are adequately protected?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises an important point. At times, nervousness has been felt that this behaviour might step across cultural or religious divides, but there are no cultures or religions that condone it. We have not been good at collecting all the required data. Part of the work that we are doing is to establish the number of incidents. We must better compile the data so that we can then take the appropriate action.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords—

Baroness Warsi: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, can we hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer, first?

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the victim of violence is frequently imprisoned in the house and has no way of communicating with anyone outside, and that even if she escapes, she may find no council refuge in her area because government funding for the purpose is inadequate? Is he further aware that, for the first two years of her residence in this country, she will not qualify for government benefits?

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Does my noble friend accept that all other steps taken, such as amending the criminal law, are pointless unless the victims can avail themselves of those?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble and learned friend raises some very important points. It is clearly an extremely difficult matter. These things take place within a family. When we looked at whether we should make it a crime, we were advised by the people we talked to that that would drive it underground, because even the people involved in these dreadful things do not wish to get their family involved in criminal proceedings. On escape and ability to report, we have made provisions and are looking at third parties reporting these events, but there is no easy silver bullet to achieve it. We are looking at and will produce proposals to ensure that victims can get some government benefits during the period before these matters are resolved.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, the Minister said how horrific the offence of forced marriage is. The same arguments as those advanced today were used for not making domestic violence a crime. We did make it a crime and we put down a benchmark to say that it was intolerable. Is it not time now to make forced marriages a criminal offence and to say very clearly that this will not be tolerated and people will be prosecuted for committing this offence?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very good point. It is interesting to note that, as a result of domestic violence being made a crime, the number of cases in 1997, 814,000, was almost halved to 407,000 in 2006-07. As I said, the difficulty is that these things happen within families. We have taken a lot of advice and talked to many people. There is a feeling that the crime would go even further underground, because people generally do not want to put their families through it. It is an interesting debate which we will have to consider further as we enter more dialogue on this issue.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, the Minister has been very clear in indicating that the softly-softly approach no longer works. Will he back that up with some measures to give teeth to what the solution is? I do not believe that he answered the question of my noble Lord, Lord Lester, about the guidance he is about to issue. Will he also tell the House about attempts to tighten extradition arrangements whereby the people who commit these crimes escape to Pakistan, Iraqi Kurdistan and other countries mentioned in the report and cannot be brought back to justice?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a number of points. I am aware that I did not specifically answer the question about schools. We have been encouraging them, through guidance, to make available information about helplines—helplines are available—and access to support for victims and people in fear of forced marriages. We have a criminal law on female genital mutilation. There are real difficulties in chasing down people in

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Pakistan or whatever country might be involved. I would not call how we are going about this too softly softly; this is very much a crime. It is domestic violence and we want to bear down on it. It is right that we should try to do that by making sure that all the agencies are aware and by talking to everyone involved. We can then move forward and stop this appalling crime.

Lord Wedderburn of Charlton: My Lords, may I ask my noble friend—

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we must move on to the next Question. We are well into the eighth minute.

Climate Change: South-east Africa

2.46 pm

Baroness Rawlings asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, south-east Africa is vulnerable to impacts of climate variability. As of mid-February, nearly half a million people in southern Africa were affected by heavy flooding, which started in December 2007. The UK Government have committed more than £1.45 million in response. The Department for International Development is currently designing a £5 million regional climate change programme to help countries and communities to adapt to climate change in southern Africa.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Answer. Does she remember that in September 2007 the Government announced that Africa was, or is, the region most affected by climate change and that in November of that year they produced a document establishing the strong link between climate change and the devastating Zambezi floods? How do the Government intend to combat the devastating effects of climate change in south-east Africa? For example, how will they deal with the secondary consequences of the flooding—as noted today in the press by EU senior foreign policy officials—which is the vast increase in human migration due to climate change?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises important points about the impact of climate change on this region of Africa. She is right that further climate change will affect countries of this region in sustaining progress towards meeting the millennium development goals. In addition to the immediate humanitarian response that has been made, not only via DfID and in the figures that I gave in my original Answer, we want to implement measures to respond more broadly to climate change, including a disaster risk reduction policy that addresses climate-related hazards in Africa and a £24 million research programme into climate adaptation in Africa.

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Lord Avebury: My Lords, looking at the situation in Africa over the longer term, does the noble Baroness agree with the estimate made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that as many as 250 million people will be affected by increased water stress by 2020 and that the yields from rain-fed agriculture will be compromised by that? What are we doing to help to adapt and mitigate these changes, particularly through the Environmental Transformation Fund?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we have to look at both mitigation and adaptation when considering the long-term impacts of climate change on Africa. We need to look at, for instance, how DfID’s Africa division is building capacity to support actions in key countries in Africa. We are looking at climate change research. We need to have the right research and the right information and knowledge, not only to talk to African Governments but to talk at communities level about information on climate change and to sign up African communities in relation to the devastation that could be coming down the track. We are also looking at a £50 million allocation of resources to the Congo basin to counter the effects of deforestation. Those are some of the ways in which we are looking at this problem in the longer term, but large-scale, multilateral financing mechanisms are the way forward.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, what do Her Majesty’s Government say to the large and growing body of respectable scientists who believe that the planet is no longer warming but has started to cool down, as it has done for millions of years, and that human CO2 emissions really will not make much difference one way or the other?

Baroness Crawley: Well, my Lords, that is a point of view, but it is not that of the majority of experts or of the public on the future of climate change. We believe that natural disasters in Africa will be exacerbated through either floods or drought due to climate change.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the millennium development goals. Does she agree that overpopulation as well as climate change will be a huge factor in whether we reach them? Will she therefore ensure that reproductive health supplies and contraceptives are made available to those women in south-east Africa and all over the developing world who truly want to limit their family size, as there is proof that such women exist?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, DfID has, and will continue to have, a strong and robust policy on this.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, one of the benefits of Mozambique’s membership of the Commonwealth is that it can expect assistance from the richer member countries, yet it has been devastated twice by floods and is not getting enough help. Cholera has been reported by ActionAid and UNICEF. Are we redoubling our efforts to help Mozambique?

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Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we are making contributions totalling £900,000 to Mozambique. We are also the largest donor to the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, with £4.2 million. People in Mozambique have had a very difficult time with the flooding. We have done all that we can to co-ordinate with government and communities to ensure that the flooding and the overspill from the dam have not had the disastrous effect that they could have had, as the noble Earl will know.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, I hesitate to intervene on a subject dominated by alarmist hysteria on all sides, but the Minister told my noble friend that it was a matter of opinion whether there had been any warming this century. It is not a matter of opinion; it is a matter of fact. If she cares to look at the temperature series produced by the Hadley Centre in this country and NASA in the United States, she will see that there has been no global warming this century at all.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I think that I was referring to the noble Lord’s opinion, which I said was a minority opinion.

Food: Regulations

2.54 pm

Earl Howe asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the UK Government are committed to reducing the burden of regulation on all business, including the health food sector. The Food Standards Agency actively consults with stakeholders to ensure that any intervention it or Europe undertakes is flexible, risk-based and balances consumer protection with the impact on UK business.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is she aware that it is the smaller, specialist manufacturers and retailers of food supplements who feel the weight of regulation the hardest and whose livelihoods are most at risk on that account? What will Ministers personally do to ensure that the regulatory burden of the EU food supplements directive is not disproportionate, bearing in mind that we are dealing here with products that have been marketed safely in the UK for many years?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Earl’s interest in this issue is well known, and he has done a great job championing particularly the smaller manufacturers and retailers. The Government have taken a strong position throughout negotiations on this directive to protect and encourage the liberal food supplements market that the UK has in comparison with other member states. Indeed, we want to see a level playing field, so that UK health food businesses can trade across Europe as well as thrive in the UK.

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The most important thing to say—I know that the noble Earl will agree—is that all products sold in this market have to be safe for consumption. Therefore, all these businesses, both large and small, should already have information that they need to provide to the European Food Safety Authority to comply with this directive. The UK Food Standards Agency has successfully argued in Europe for a safety-based approach, for a longer transition period, for positive lists to remain open for the addition of new products and for products to remain on the market pending a positive opinion. Those measures will all help smaller manufacturers.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the noble Baroness stressed the safety aspect, which is the reason for regulations being brought in, but does she appreciate the fact that very few people are made ill or poisoned by health food products? When you compare them with the drugs provided on the National Health Service, and note that something like 5,000 people die every year from adverse drug reactions, why is it necessary to impose on firms which cannot produce the necessary research because they have not got the funding requirement to prove that their products are safe when they have been used over 20, 30 or 40 years very safely?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I thank the noble Countess for her question. As 90 per cent of the legislation covering food standards in the UK comes from the European Union, we have to engage with this in a very robust manner to make sure that the UK negotiates flexibilities into the European legislation that will benefit UK businesses, for precisely the reasons that the noble Countess has mentioned.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords—

Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, someone has to give way. We will hear from the noble Baroness; there is plenty of time for other questions.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we had better science and nutritional education in this country people would not be taken in by the advertising and spend their hard-earned money on totally unnecessary so-called health products?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the Food Standards Agency is extremely active in trying to ensure that people have balanced diets and the information that they need. However, the Government consider that so long as the maximum levels of supplements are safety-based, consumers have the right to make informed choices unless their safety is actually compromised.

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