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House of Lords

Thursday, 20 November 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

International Development: Agriculture

Lord Judd asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the UK Government remain strongly committed to helping farmers in poor countries to increase their productivity, thereby helping to increase the availability of food to the most vulnerable. As well as continuing to provide substantial support for agriculture through our bilateral aid programme, we have taken the lead in pressing for a comprehensive and co-ordinated international response, with the aim of doubling agricultural productivity in Africa and doubling the rate of agricultural growth in Asia.

Lord Judd: My Lords, I take the opportunity to congratulate the Government once again on their commitment to overseas aid. Does my noble friend agree that in our response to the global economic and financial crisis we must keep the plight of the world’s poorest people constantly in focus? With 75 per cent of the world’s poor still living in rural areas, and with most of them utterly dependent for their livelihood on agriculture, do the Government agree that for appropriate agricultural technology to be sustainable the farmers themselves have to be genuinely involved and that this means ensuring that extension programmes reach the poorest and the most excluded, including pastoral people, women and those living on subsistence farming? Can my noble friend reassure us on that point?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I think, more or less universally, yes; I acknowledge that 75 per cent of the very poor people are in agriculture. We aim to move people away from humanitarian assistance into long-term protection schemes. Those are about involving farmers and causing them to improve their own capability. We have schemes in Ethiopia, Bangladesh and 18 other countries to achieve that aim.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, did the Minister see the report in yesterday’s Financial Times which states that companies in some of the richer countries are now buying up large tracts of land in poorer countries with the intention of growing food there to bring back home? Does he regard this as a worrying development or is it an opportunity for the poor farmers in those poorest countries?

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Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the honest answer to the first question is no, I did not. As a generality, processes that increase trade bring people out of poverty. If the schemes to which the noble Baroness refers increase international trade and involve local communities in that international trade, they are to be welcomed.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, remembering the 25,000 deaths every day in the developing world caused by malnutrition and associated causes, have the Government made any progress with the analysis that we discussed during our Lisbon debates of the contribution made to those deaths by the common agricultural and fisheries policies and by US grain policies?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, the Government are firmly committed to the Doha round and to doing our best to revive it, which will tackle the sorts of issues the noble Lord is talking about. Certainly, import duties into the European Union do stifle trade, and we as a Government are keen to do all that we can to reduce those tariffs.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, I take this welcome opportunity, for what I believe is the first time in 10 years of discussion in this House, to agree entirely with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. Does my noble friend agree that if we are meaningful in what we say about completing the Doha round, then both Europe and the United States have to give further in relation to their commitment on protectionism of European and American agriculture, and that it is only in that way that we will make a meaningful contribution to the eradication of poverty?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, without committing the Government to a particular negotiating position, I agree with the generality of that statement.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for bringing up this issue. He identifies the bottom billion people in developing countries who rely entirely on agriculture at a very primitive level. Part of that reliance depends on the use of draught animals such as oxen, buffalo and others. What are the Government doing, via DfID, to help the rural farmer to keep those animals healthy, productive and profitable in terms of producing food at that basic level?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I know of no specific DfID-wide programmes on that issue. We have committed £400 million over five years to agricultural research and I am sure that some of those programmes will touch on those issues.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, is the Minister aware of the push/pull system in Kenya where crops are grown that, for example, protect maize from the stem borer, the crop that is grown can be fed to livestock and the maize grows productively? What are Her Majesty’s Government doing to promote such small schemes?

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Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am sorry but I cannot respond at that level of detail. Our aid generally goes through country programmes, and if that is in the country programme we will be supporting it.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, the international conference on wheat stem rust Ug99 declared that countries should take strong preventive action against the spread of the new and virulent strain of Ug99, which is puccinia graminis. Does the Minister agree with the estimate that 80 per cent of wheat varieties in Africa and Asia are susceptible to the disease? What action are the Government taking to help to offset this potential food crisis?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, I am constantly amazed at just how wide this brief is and my total lack of the appropriate detail. The only thing I can say is that we have this important agricultural research programme to which we have committed £400 million, £25 million of which is going into UK biotechnical and biological science research. I am sure that this issue is being considered in those programmes.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the report from the All-Party Group on Population, Development and Reproductive Health that world food security will never be achieved unless world population growth is reduced? Will the Government therefore increase their support for family planning and safe abortion in developing countries and, even more importantly, persuade the United States Government to do so?

Lord Tunnicliffe: My Lords, DfID’s position is a great deal less prescriptive than the noble Baroness is inviting it to be. We are in the business of reducing poverty and working with Governments of poor nations to develop and help them in the programmes. Yes, there is frequently a dimension to do with helping women’s reproductive health and education, but we are not in the business of telling countries what to do; we are in the business of helping countries to solve their poverty problems.

Health: Diabetes

11.15 am

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Darzi of Denham): My Lords, we know that the number of children developing diabetes is increasing. There are an estimated 20,000 children with type 1 diabetes in England, and some experts suggest that there may also be up to 1,000 children with type 2 diabetes. The close link between diabetes and obesity means that it is vital that we reduce the number of children becoming overweight and obese. Our strategy Healthy Weight, Healthy Livesfocuses on children and aims to reduce the proportion of overweight and obese children in the population.

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Lord Harrison: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. My noble friend Lady Thornton and I met this week in Westminster brave and inspiring children who suffer discrimination at school because of prejudice and misunderstanding. This treatment may be due to having to test blood in front of other children in the classroom, being locked in a store cupboard to take their insulin injection or being banned from school because the school nurse is not there. Will my noble friend work with Diabetes UK, the EarlyBird Diabetes Trust and the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families to eliminate the causes for a mother ever again having to hear from her child, “Mummy, please take away my diabetes. I want to be like everyone else”?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s leadership in championing the cause of diabetes in children. I am also grateful to Diabetes UK, which produced this fantastic evidence-based document on the state of diabetic care for children in England. All schools have a legal duty under Part 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to make responsible adjustments to help ensure that disabled children and young people are not in any way disadvantaged compared with their peers. That includes patients and children with type 1 diabetes and covers all extra-curricular activities such as school trips. As for working with DCSF, a cross-government publication entitled Managing Medicines in Schools and Early Years Settings, published in 2005, highlights the importance of schools working in partnership with parents and PCTs to ensure that all the resources are available in schools to manage children with type 1 diabetes.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, will the Minister strengthen the guidelines in schools? Some parents have to give up their jobs so that they can help their children in school, and some schools are so much more helpful than others.

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, in April 2007 a group published Making Every Young Person with Diabetes Matter. Those recommendations are now being taken forward and implemented by our national clinical director for children and by other stakeholders and professional bodies, including Diabetes UK. I have no doubt that, as these recommendations are implemented, we will see significant improvement in the support that children get in schools.

Earl Howe: My Lords, we read and hear a great deal about the diet of school-age children, but does the Minister share my concern that we read and hear very little about the diet of young babies and toddlers and the impact that diet in the early months of life may have on health in later years? What research is being done into this particular aspect of the issue?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, I think that I would go even further than that: diet during pregnancy is as important as diet in the early months, or even years, of life. I do not have the full details of the research in this field but would be more than happy to get the references on what has been done.

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Baroness Tonge: My Lords, perhaps I may further press the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. Surely the Minister must realise that only 16 per cent of schools that have children with type 1 diabetes have a proper medications policy. Combined with the demise of community clinics up and down the country, with mothers no longer able to access advice so easily from health visitors and district and specialist nurses, there has been a great fall in the resources available to mothers of young children. How will the Minister address that problem?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, we have clear guidance, Making Every Young Person with Diabetes Matter, to which I referred earlier. School boards, through local authorities and PCTs, should ensure that all the resources are available in all schools so that young patients are cared for. A significant number of schools across the country provide high-quality support and we need to learn from their example. There has to be partnership not just with the schools but with local authorities, the PCTs and the parents themselves in finding the right pathways and resources for kids in school.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, what are the Government doing to ensure that the NICE guidance, which recommends that all children under the age of 12 with type 1 diabetes have access to insulin pumps and specialist paediatric diabetic nurses, is adhered to?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, the NICE guidance, which was recently looked at again, recognises the importance of insulin-pump therapy and its advantages in glycaemic control. Since the updating of the guidance the pump therapy is, as the noble Baroness suggested, now recommended for children under 12 where MDI is impractical or inappropriate. For children over 12, it is recommended if the MDI result is disabling hypoglycaemia. As with any of the other NICE guidelines, we need to encourage PCTs to implement them. One important study currently being carried out in Cambridge, the adolescent diabetes intervention trial, includes hundreds of kids, not just from the UK but also from Australia and Canada. I have no doubt that it will show even more promising results in this field.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the incidence of diabetes is incredibly high in the Middle East, but they have enormous resources which they are ploughing into research in this subject. Can my noble friend tell us anything about international co-operation on research?

Lord Darzi of Denham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. As I am sure many of us are fully aware, World Diabetes Day was observed in the past week. It is extremely important occasion to remind everyone of the impact of this condition. I am particularly pleased that the emphasis this year was on children and young people. My noble friend is right that the incidence of diabetes worldwide is increasing. There are 250 million diabetics worldwide. I have no doubt that this global campaign will increase not only awareness

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but, more important, collaboration between different countries so that some of the innovation on which we lead in this country can be translated to some of the countries in need.

Visas: Watoto Children’s Choir

11.23 am

Lord Roberts of Llandudno asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, it is difficult to discuss individual cases, especially those where no formal application has been submitted. That said, the UK Border Agency works closely with charitable organisations to make sure that they fully understand what is required of them and that those who meet the Immigration Rules can prove it.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I expected a fuller Answer from the Minister, because the British high commission in Kampala announced at 7.45 this morning that these visas had been granted to the children.

A noble Lord: All because of your Question.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, these Benches really do contribute tremendously to the House. Will the Minister get in touch with the high commission in Kampala to verify that? Will he also meet other organisations involved with young people about meeting the new Criminal Records Bureau and visa criteria for these visits?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the Answer crafted by the Box was, I thought, a marvellous piece of not saying anything. I am, of course, absolutely aware of this situation, as I have been working on it for the past few days and we have discussed where we have got to on it. It is now clear that the group involved—a marvellous choir, which helps the orphans of those with AIDS and has visited before—has provided the right data. We have to be absolutely sure that young people are protected in this country. There was confusion because the choir had not provided those data, so we could not process the visas. The data have now been provided and the visas will be being processed now. I was aware of that. My speaking note said “cannot”, but I changed that to “it is difficult to” discuss individual cases. That is where it stands. Of course, it is incumbent on the Government always to protect youngsters. We know that from awful cases in this country. We have to put things in place and nothing had been provided to show that this was being looked after. It is now, so we can move forward.

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Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, I am sure that the whole House is grateful for the work that the Minister has been doing on this, but I wonder whether he would take time to see what lessons might be learnt from this incident. I am one of the Members of this House who have heard the choir. To the best of my failing memory, it has made at least two prior visits to this country, because it has sung in the churches in which I worship on both occasions. The choir is an embodiment of the effectiveness of the work of NGOs and Christian missions. It embodies hope, which is a virtue in short supply these days. It would be helpful if, in future, these ambiguities did not have to arise, thus raising questions about future visits.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. I did not answer fully the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, on this point. I am very happy to say that officials will meet these groups, because things need to be made clearer. I think that there was confusion that an extended CRB check was required in these cases, but that is not the case; a full CRB check is not required. What we need is evidence to show that someone has looked into the safety of the young people while they are here. We have no desire to stop them coming over on the ground that some might be left here. It is not like the Moscow Philharmonic, which used to come here during the Cold War and go back as a string quartet. We do not think that that is going to happen. We think that they will go back to their own country.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, it is obviously important that visits such as this are facilitated and, indeed, welcomed. Can the Minister reassure me that charges are not made for visas on this kind of visit, which would prohibit a considerable number of people from coming to this country?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot say that. They are charged the normal rate of £65 a visa, but I am sure that that is all taken account of in terms of the total visit and the money that goes to the charity. We firmly support these things. The choir does marvellous work. As the noble Lord mentioned, it is inspiring. What it is doing is wonderful and makes a considerable amount of money for this worthwhile charity.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I wonder whether the Minister saw the inspiring programme about the work that the Venezuelan youth orchestra has been doing in difficult areas in Venezuela. Scotland is now taking a leaf out of that orchestra’s book and learning from its methods. The orchestra is visiting in April. May I ask the Minister not only about the CRB check issue but whether he will ensure that a positive line is taken on visas? At the moment the line seems to be rather negative. Will he ensure that guidelines look positively on these cultural exchanges?

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