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House of Lords

Tuesday, 22 July 2008.

The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Leave of Absence: The Lord Speaker

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, this year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, falls on a sitting day, Thursday 9 October. Accordingly, I seek leave of absence from your Lordships’ House on that day.

Health: Dementia

11.07 am

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I must declare an interest as a patron of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and as the wife of an Alzheimer's sufferer.

The Question was as follows:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, in recent years, the Government have invested significant sums in dementia research and will continue to do so. We believe that more could and should be done. That is why consultation on a national dementia strategy that we published last month includes a recommendation and plans for building on the existing UK research base.

Baroness Perry of Southwark: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that positive reply, but is there not a serious mismatch between the size of the problem and the Government's response? Do not 700,000 people already suffer from this terrible disease? That number is forecast to double in the next 20 years, at a cost to the Exchequer of about £34 billion. Many leading scientists have warned that that could destroy the National Health Service. Does not that make the Government’s investment of a mere £25 million, only 3 per cent of the Department of Health’s research budget, look totally inadequate?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, we face a very serious problem; the Government are well aware of that. We are committed to supporting and enabling more research on dementia. A significant amount of money, £29 million, is being invested today. In addition, the department is investing £20 million over five years for the national research network on dementia and neurodegenerative diseases, DeNDRoN, plus several new initiatives involving amounts of £6 million to £8 million. Since 1997, the increase is from £5.9 million to £29 million in the past

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year. That shows that we are committed to that research. In the next years, we are attempting to use the model of the way that cancer research was built so successfully in the UK. That means investing in relevant research networks and centres but, as the noble Baroness will be only too well aware, it is extremely important that only science that achieves the highest quality assessment should receive funding.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that research into Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia has made remarkable progress in the past two years? A number of drugs have been introduced that are simply symptomatic treatments, such as Donepezil, but work that is now being done in many centres, not least on the superb new campus for ageing and health on the Newcastle General Hospital site where major research is being undertaken, shows great promise of developing drugs that strike at the cause of the disease. Does not this development justify significantly greater investment in this important field?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely correct. Part of the Government’s drive to ensure that NICE processes the findings and implications of new treatments as rapidly as possible includes NICE issuing guidance on drugs to treat Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases as quickly as it can.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I am astounded that my noble friend should say that the amount of funds devoted to research into this terrible disease is significant. It is insignificant by any standards, and I am astonished that she should make that claim in this House. No Government have a good record on dementia. I welcome their recent announcement that they are developing a national dementia strategy. Nevertheless, the real requirement now is for a massive injection of funds, because with them, anything is possible. Without them, dementia will remain for ever the pathetic orphan of medicine. That simply will not do in this House.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the point that I was making to my noble friend was that the increase from £5.9 million to £29 million in 10 years is significant. There is absolutely no doubt that more funding needs to be found and will be found. The other point that I was making is that there is no point putting in extra money if the research base does not provide the highest quality science that we need to deal with this dreadful condition.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is that not the problem? Although the money that we are putting in seems a lot, the Americans are putting in £64 million for the equivalent of our population. We are putting in £29 million. Is it not essential to see that young scientists are encouraged to enter this field? Unless we can get young scientists interested in this, we will not have a succession of people who can do the necessary research.

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right, as she often is. That is part of why the national strategy is so important. One of its key aims is to raise awareness in the medical professions of the importance of this disease and the importance of combating it.

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Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I declare an interest similar to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, in that I am also a patron of the national advisory group on Alzheimer’s—the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. Is my noble friend aware that that trust, which does not receive public money, is forced to turn away about two out of three of the research applications that are put to it because of lack of resources? Drawing on her point about making the case for doing something on the basis of cancer research, is it not unfortunate that an organisation of that kind is so economically disadvantaged?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, that is very unfortunate. As part of the strategy that was announced by my honourable friend the Minister last month, a dementia research summit will be held in the autumn to bring together the key stakeholders, particularly the relevant charities and voluntary organisations, so that they can take an active part in developing the future research agenda. I am absolutely certain that they will make that point very clearly indeed.

Baroness Barker: My Lords, what resources do the Government give to research into early onset dementia?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I do not have a detailed figure for that. I will find out and write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, roughly what is spent on research per patient in this country compared, for example, with the United States or Australia?

Baroness Thornton: Again, my Lords, I do not have that detail. The London School of Economics and the National Audit Office recently produced a report on international comparisons in dementia, but I received it only this morning. The amount of money that is being put into the care of people with long-term illnesses such as dementia means that we are about average. I will find out how our research base fares, let the noble Baroness have that and put it in the Library.

Earl Ferrers: My Lords, does the noble Baroness concur with the statistic that the number of people over the age of 65 is likely to increase by 60 per cent before 2025, in which I suppose I declare a rather miserable interest?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, all I can say is that the noble Earl becomes more distinguished the older he gets. He is right that, because of the increase in the number of elderly people, the number of people with dementia will double to 1.4 million in the next 30 years. That is why this is an important issue and why we must have a strategy for dealing with it.

Russia: Human Rights

11.15 am

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty’s Government:

22 July 2008 : Column 1646

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, human rights are a central part of the EU’s relations with Russia. Consultations take place between the EU and Russia on human rights every six months. This April, the EU raised a number of concerns related to human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia. The EU-Russia human rights dialogue should form an important part of the successor to the EU-Russia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement, negotiations on which began earlier this month.

Lord Judd: My Lords, while I am sure that I share with others a sense of encouragement from what my noble friend has said, does he not agree that, faced with the grave threats that confront us all, human rights and justice are not optional extras but fundamental to holding secure our own societies? In this context, are the Government able to concentrate with the Russians on the dumbing down of the media, the harassment and, indeed, murder of journalists, the curbing of NGO activity, manipulation of the law and, whatever the propaganda by the Russians in this respect, the continued sinister oppression in Chechnya? Do these not play into the hands of extremism and militancy?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I certainly concur with my noble friend’s concern about the direction of human rights in Russia and his observation that human rights are central to stability between nations and to our global society as a whole. I should like to assure him that the Government last year spent some £700,000 on human rights projects in Russia. This year we will support projects such as human rights training for prison officers in southern Russia and give support to state and civil society to tackle xenophobia and extremism and to combat religious and ethnic discrimination, while at the same time maintaining our dialogue with the Government.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while the EU is striving for and issues papers about the need for strategic partnership and dialogue on human rights, as he mentioned, the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, reminds us that things are not going very well between the EU and Russia? In fact, between this country and Russia, they have been going very badly. Is he aware that we are getting reports now of bogus court procedures, false evidence being organised against innocent citizens and corruption in the police and tax authorities, quite aside from the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has mentioned? What steps are we taking to get a more successful message to the Russian people, with whom, basically, we want good relations, that if they do not correct some of those things urgently they will not only cut themselves off from global development but damage their own people and their own interests considerably in the future?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that things are not going well in Russia in terms of human rights and that we, as the EU, have considerable leverage, which we must apply. On the one hand, we have an energy dependence; Russia is our biggest source of energy supply. On the other

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hand, we are Russia’s main trading partner as a region, so we share a neighbourhood and commercial links, which we must use to ensure that respect for human rights is strengthened in Russia. I think that we all agree with the noble Lord that the trend at the moment is not a happy one.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Britain is pushing hard for a common EU approach to Russia, which is clearly what we need? Will he also confirm that we are making strong representations to some other Governments, for example the current Government of Italy, that bilateral relations with Russia of the sort that Mr Berlusconi wants to pursue are not helpful to an effective dialogue? Lastly, can he confirm once again that, in the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement that we are negotiating, we must insist on the rule of law to underpin not only human rights but also economic relations and foreign investment? This has to be something that the Russians can demonstrate runs properly inside their economy, society and courts.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. If the EU stands together in its relationship with Russia, we are much more powerful than if we develop singular and different approaches to dealing with these issues. On human rights inside Russia, there is no doubt that the EU benefits not just at the human level but at the commercial level from the maintenance of the rule of law and an end to its erosion in both commercial and human rights areas. We will press strongly on this agenda, as the noble Lord suggests.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, have not the Russians made it clear that their restrictions on the British Council, which has made a signal contribution in the fields mentioned by my noble friend, have been entirely for political reasons? Is it not therefore all the more important that the European Union should continue to show solidarity with us in this respect?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, that is certainly the case. Russia, if I may say, is the great loser from the non-presence of the British Council and the extraordinary programmes that it runs, including English language training. However, we must make sure that this is a dispute not just with Britain but with the EU.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, might it not be simpler and more productive if we started a discussion with Russia to see whether it has a long-term wish to join the European Union?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, Russia has joined the G8 and other international groupings with somewhat mixed results. I think that I will leave it to others to comment on what would happen to the EU if we were to welcome Russia into its midst. Some might welcome it strongly, if not for the best of motives.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, while I welcome the arrest last night of the former Bosnian Serb leader, does my noble friend agree that there might be a case for the ICC to indict some Russian generals for crimes committed against humanity in Chechnya?

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Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the great glory of the ICC is that it is an independent prosecutorial system. It does not behove me as a politician standing at the Dispatch Box to suggest whom the court should or should not prosecute.

Nuclear Weapons

11.23 am

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, the most appropriate way to provide treaty-based security assurances is through the relevant protocols to nuclear weapons-free zones. These provide credible, regional, internationally binding legal instruments. The UK remains fully committed to the negative security assurance we gave to the non-nuclear weapons states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in our 1995 letter to the UN Secretary-General, subsequently noted in Security Council Resolution 984.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can I persuade him and your Lordships, first, that a treaty of the kind suggested would draw attention to the need to eliminate completely all nuclear weapons? Secondly, would it not dissuade those powers which do not have such weapons from acquiring them? Finally, would it not make it easier for the smaller states that possess nuclear weapons to destroy them? Would that not improve the situation quite a lot?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s sentiment, and we want to do everything that we can to push forward the case that nuclear weapons are not a safe and sensible form of armament in today’s world. But we believe that through both the assurances given to NPT signatory states that they would not face nuclear attack unless they attacked in alliance with other nuclear weapon states, and through the regional agreements which have allowed us to give 100 countries further such assurances, we will achieve the purpose he wants. The actions of others, such as a number of noble Lords and Baronesses in this House who have signed up to different initiatives leading towards a nuclear-free zone like their counterparts in the US, provide the goal that the noble Lord wants to see of attention being given to the objective of a nuclear-free world.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, has any progress been made on the idea of the International Atomic Energy Agency being a resource for enriched uranium on which countries can draw for the civil aspects of nuclear development while, at the same time, guarding against diversification into nuclear weapons?

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