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We understood in 2003 that the approach had to be holistic end to end. It was my great privilege to chair the Inter-Ministerial Group on Domestic Violence, which was responsible for putting together that integrated, holistic end-to-end approach. In 1997, we brought the issue of domestic violence right to the forefront, so that it would no longer be the taboo subject that many of us were grappling with. We produced the first cross-government national domestic violence delivery plan. I should make clear that the reason that I made it a delivery plan—I shall come clean—is that we wanted change, we wanted outcomes and we did not want platitudes. That would involve every single government department making a commitment to that change.

Professor Sylvia Walby’s work was instrumental in helping us to identify the contribution that had to be made by each department to reduce that £23 billion cost. We have been able to take a range of actions to reduce domestic violence, including establishing 104 specialist domestic violence courts. The plan is to reach 128 by 2011 and we have provided more than £6 million in this financial year to support the rollout of independent domestic violence advisers. I tend to call them “divas”, because that is what they are and they do fantastic work. They are with the victims from the beginning to the end. They are at the end of a telephone and are present with the victims in court. Just the idea that someone is there to help is a huge support to victims.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked what has happened regarding unsuccessful outcomes. The good thing that has changed is that there is now someone to walk with that person. A domestic violence independent adviser can remain with a victim for up to three months for there to be an opportunity to consolidate on improvements that have been made, because many women feel incredibly vulnerable and go back to their partners because they do not think that they have a choice. Making that change has been important.

Multi-agency risk-assessment conferences across England and Wales have linked into the specialist domestic violence courts. The identification of and dealing with risk, not just for the adult but for the children involved, has been pivotal. We started this work in 1997, and there had been a 58 per cent decline in the incidence of domestic violence by 2007-08. Your Lordships will remember that we made some clear outcome objectives in that delivery plan. We said that we wanted to reduce domestic homicide. We wanted to reduce the level of severe injury caused. We wanted to reduce the damage caused to children, and we accepted very hard targets. I am pleased to say that we have made real improvements in all those areas.

The success rate on prosecutions for domestic violence continues to improve. In December 2003, only 46 per cent of domestic violence prosecutions resulted in convictions. We knew that that did real damage to confidence. By September 2008, that figure had increased

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to 72.1 per cent. That was not just in relation to the figures that we had in 2003; we have almost doubled the number of women who have the confidence to come forward. That is an important achievement.

In 2007, we published a cross-government action plan on sexual violence and abuse and have provided more than £11 million in the past five years to support victims of sexual violence, in addition to the funding that has been provided locally. We have extended the network of SARCs—sexual assault referral centres. There are 26 SARCs, more are in development and further funding will become available in April this year. I very much welcome the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, said that Her Majesty’s loyal Opposition would agree with our commitment and would support our continued investment in this area. I hope that, in time, his party will match the extent of our commitment. I know that as a result of this debate he will make every effort to ensure that it does. We are also piloting independent sexual violence advisers to mirror the work already being carried out by the independent domestic violence advisers.

The reporting of rape has increased since 1997 from 6,628 to 12,654 in 2007-08. I commend all the comments made by my noble friend Lady Gould in relation to this matter, because it is critical. The rise in the number of convictions is slow but it is surely going in the right direction. Now, 37 per cent of all cases prosecuted as rape cases result in a conviction, and 59 per cent of cases prosecuted as rape cases result in a conviction for another offence. This is the highest conviction rate for 10 years and, alongside that, the sentences increased from an average of about 40 months in 1984 to 77.9 months in 2007.

The trafficking of women and children for sexual exploitation and prostitution is another area that we have committed to. I know that we have not concentrated on that in this debate but it is a matter of real importance to our Government. In 2006, the Serious Organised Crime Agency was launched with trafficking as one of its key priorities. Following the first national enforcement campaign, Operation Pentameter, the multi-agency United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre was established.

Therefore, we have, as has been pleasingly acknowledged, been able to make a real difference. How have we done that? The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked about training. Professionals who have contact with domestic violence victims will receive training to address the needs of children who witness domestic violence. The individual domestic violence advisers, whom we have spoken about, receive accredited training. Their course consists of 15 days of modules, and children’s issues are included in almost every one. As well as addressing children exposed to domestic violence, the course also deals with issues such as adolescence domestic violence, forced marriage and so-called honour-based violence. All the modules are delivered by experts in the field and, once the course is completed, there is ongoing development and support to ensure that advisers are updated with new developments.

I also reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, that we have probably one of the most comprehensive legislative programmes for the protection of children

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in the world. All that legislation is there to help professionals to exercise their judgment so as to better protect the children about whom we care so much.

The European Union has developed a set of guidelines on combating domestic violence against women. The guidelines mean that from now on the European Union will conduct systematic lobbying and reporting on this issue, as well as using funding to tackle it. The United Kingdom is actively contributing to current Council of Europe debates on violence against women. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s annual contribution to the Commonwealth Secretariat is about £4.2 million, and the gender section is developing a programme of work that spans gender-based violence, trafficking of women, children’s human rights and other issues. We are committed to looking at whether it would be appropriate to sign the convention.

The implementation of that programme is important, and it has to be seen alongside the work that DfID is doing with its international partners to tackle violence against women in 20 countries worldwide. We recognise that women are particularly vulnerable in conflict situations, but we also recognise that they should be seen not only as victims but as having an important role to play in peace-building and reconstruction efforts. The United Kingdom has been one of the principal supporters of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, which calls on the UN and member states to ensure equal participation in peace-building and reconstruction efforts, women’s empowerment, and the protection of women and girls in conflict.

More recently, in June last year, we were active in lobbying for agreement to UN Security Council resolution 1820 on sexual violence in conflict. I was very proud to represent our country at that time and, indeed, to attend the informal meeting of female Ministers put together by Condoleezza Rice. There, we discussed how better to address these issues and how to ensure that women’s issues are at the top of the agenda. We also discussed how to ensure that good practice is shared, perhaps through toolkits, and what works right around the world. There were some very impressive contributions from the different countries and that work will continue.

DfID is also supporting measures to eliminate female genital mutilation through its support of organisations such as UNICEF, as well as by being a member of the FGM donor working group. I was warmed to hear my noble friend Lady Rendell rise again on this issue. She has a made a real contribution to making sure that this unpalatable, distasteful issue is understood by those who are obliged to deal with it. We know that there is no quick fix to the problem of female genital mutilation and that legislation alone cannot eliminate the practice. It is a matter of comment that there have been no prosecutions so far. However, I agree with my noble friend when she says that prosecution alone is not enough. The fact that this practice has been made illegal has materially advantaged the community. Educating the practising communities to abandon the practice is the best way to break the cycle of mutilation, and the 2003 Act is being widely used to help to further that. I am pleased that my noble friend mentioned

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Project Azure within the Metropolitan Police child abuse investigation command unit, which specifically deals with this potentially fatal child abuse practice. We have released a DVD for health professionals to enable them to provide effective and sensitive care for women who have undergone FGM.

I commend my health colleagues for the work that they have done not just on FGM but on domestic violence in general. We know from the World Health Organisation that domestic violence is the greatest cause of morbidity in women worldwide. The fact that we now have health professionals screening for domestic violence during pregnancy is making a huge difference. One in three of the women who come forward has indications of domestic violence. That is huge. The fact that we are now dealing with this aggressively is a huge contribution.

We recognise that there is a strong link between child protection concerns and domestic violence and we stress the need for awareness of those links in the interagency guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children.There is much that I would like to say, because the DCSF is providing real support to the NSPCC—£30 million between last year and 2011—to support the expansion and integration of the NSPCC’s listening services. This money will allow the NSPCC to expand its services significantly so that more children can be given the advice and help that can be so important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, spoke about forced marriage. I am very pleased with and proud of the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act. As she knows, the Act is materially different from the Bill that was proposed by the noble Lord. I was pleased to be able to help to reshape it so that it was in a form that would have utility and application and that would be welcomed. It was a great pleasure when the Bill went through this House. It was something that I could wholeheartedly endorse, and I feel proud of having shaped it.

That is a specialised area. All these issues integrated together cause us real pride, but also real concern. There is strong benefit from having a clearly recognisable leading service for supporting children and reporting suspected abuse. During 2007-08, the number of volunteers increased by 222, or 20 per cent, which enabled them to counsel 37,000 more calls. Over the same period, they made 9,500 referrals to social services and the police. Through feedback, it was found that 40 per cent of them were previously unknown to the authorities.

My noble friend Lady Massey rightly asked, “What can we do to help parents? Are we getting in early? Is early intervention right?”. The answer is yes, yes and yes. We are investing £102.5 million in 2008-11 in the deployment of parent support advisers, with more than 1,500 parent support advisers and similar professionals currently working in schools. We want to provide support for families to improve relationships, prevent problem behaviour and break the intergenerational cycles of violence and abuse.

There are so many things that I would like to say about the issue. I know that I am over time, but I wonder whether I can touch on the funding issue raised by my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The

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Shaws. The Supporting People programme allows local government to determine the focus of funding and to support the most vulnerable. Evidence shows that funding of domestic violence services has risen from £59.3 million in 2005-06 to £61.6 million in 2006-07. That programme provides flexibility.

I know that it is said that there is a lottery and that we want consistency. I endorse that, but the figures demonstrate that 73.5 per cent of local authorities now have specialised services to address violence against women. That is markedly different from the previous situation. Too many local authorities are still not providing support, but that is changing. Local area agreements give us light that can be used to ensure that funding provided to local authorities is used for that purpose, and authorities can be interrogated. The Government have invested about £11 million during the past five years in specialist services for victims of sexual violence. Improvements have been made, but there is much, much more to do.

I would have liked to spend more time talking about some of the international dimensions and answering many questions about them. I assure noble Lords that I have answers for all of them; I wish that I had the time to give them. On behalf of the Government, perhaps I may say how proud we are of how much has been done not just by us but by all those who have contributed to this agenda. I thank each and every Member who has participated in the debate. We are old friends. I hope that as we continue to have these debates there will be less for us to be concerned about. I will write to Members on all the matters on which, regrettably, I have not had the opportunity to reply in full to the House.

4.47 pm

Baroness Gale: My Lords, I begin by thanking my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland for her response. She has given us positive things to think about. I started by saying how depressing are the figures for violence against women and children, but things are happening and we are making progress. We still want much more to be done. I thank all the other speakers as well, because we have had a wide-ranging debate geographically—internationally, across Europe, Wales and the United Kingdom. I thank them very much.

The outcome has been that this is not a party-political matter. We can all agree on many things about how we tackle violence against women. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, as the only male Peer speaking today, will now be an ambassador among all the male Peers to encourage them to take part in debates on what is, as we have said, not just a women’s issue but an issue for women and men.

I hope that one day the preventive actions that we are taking will greatly reduce the number of acts of violence against women and children. Once again, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate and I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

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Gulf War Illnesses

Question for Short Debate

4.49 pm

Tabled By Lord Morris of Manchester

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, we are met to debate a report which, exhaustively researched and of excelling integrity, is one also of humane concern for the many thousands of men and women, now in broken health, who were prepared to give their lives in the service of this country in the most toxic war in western military history.

I will of course speak in detail about the report as I proceed, but I must first welcome my noble friend to the Dispatch Box. Before she became my noble friend here in 2005, I was for many years her right honourable friend in another place; but we were friends long before then, having first met when, in 1974, at the suggestion of a dear friend of ours, Lily Howe, I went as a Labour Front-Bencher to support her parliamentary candidature in Bolton. Yet, sadly, there is one irreconcilable difference between us: she is an ardent supporter of Bolton Wanderers and never more delighted than when they humble one or other of the Manchester teams.

I am grateful also to the other noble Lords who will follow me in the debate, and the House will understand why I am specially glad to see among them the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd of Berwick, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley. Had the findings of the independent public inquiry into Gulf War illnesses, headed by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, been acted upon, the controversy it addressed could have been settled years ago; while the abiding devotion of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig, to helping those afflicted and bereaved by the Gulf War is held in high admiration in all parts of this House. All of us deeply regret that, for medical reasons, the noble Countess, Lady Mar, cannot be with us. She is warmly regarded by Gulf veterans and much missed here this afternoon.

I have a non-pecuniary interest to declare. In January 2002, the United States Congress co-opted me, uniquely for a non-American, to serve from the dais on its committee of inquiry into Gulf War illnesses, from whose deliberations federal funding of the Congressionally-mandated Research Advisory Committee ensued. That is why I was asked to speak at the launch of its historic report in Washington last November.

Appropriately, one of the first voices to be heard on the report in this country came from the medical community. The Lancet, in an editorial, called urgently for,

which it described as,

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The editorial pointed to the RAC's repudiation of claims that what veterans and the media have called Gulf War syndrome—GWS—is a psychiatric disorder or stress-related whereas in truth, reported the Lancet, Gulf War veterans,

Readers were also told of cognitive problems, complained of by British and American veterans alike:

and of their having been found by successive scientific studies to have,

Readers were further informed that Gulf War illness, which for its greater precision the RAC prefers to Gulf War syndrome, had now been attributed to two neurotoxic exposures to which virtually all British veterans were subjected; namely, organophosphates and pyridostigmine bromide, a drug never tested on human beings and designed to protect against nerve agents.

The RAC's report has been backed by many distinguished doctors and scientists, including Dr Norman Jones, formerly emeritus consultant physician at St Thomas's Hospital, who sat with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, as medical assessor throughout his inquiry; Dr Malcolm Hooper, an emeritus professor of medicinal chemistry, who presides over the Gulf Veterans and Families Association; Professor Christopher Foster, professor of pathology at the University of Liverpool and author of a masterly assessment of the report; and crucially, Dr Jack Melling, formerly executive director at Porton Down. They point out that the RAC was,

What emerges from all that has been said and written about the report both here and in the United States is a clear consensus now of informed opinion that Gulf War illness—GWI—is real, serious and potentially deadly; that at least two neurotoxic exposures were causal factors; that GWI relates only to Gulf War deployment and differs from illnesses experienced by veterans of other conflicts; that attempts to pass off GWI as primarily a psychiatric condition are not supported by the evidence; and that any delay now in addressing the implications for British veterans of the RAC’s findings would be inexcusable.

Two points sometimes made for the MoD are that it never doubted that some veterans were ill due to the conflict and that its spending of some £8.5 million—$12 million—on researching the scientific background to the illnesses was to be welcomed and by implication applauded. This is said despite US spending on research totalling $380 million.

The MoD’s spending did not impress Flight Lieutenant John Nichol, whose bravery under torture in Iraq in 1991 was seen on TV screens across the world. He told the Lloyd inquiry:

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“The MoD says it has spent £8.5 million pounds on research in the years since the conflict. That compares with the nearly £8 million they spent in a single year on entertainment”.

He added:

“We weren’t the enemy, but that’s exactly how Gulf veterans have been made to feel by the MoD”.

Samantha Thompson, the widow of a Gulf veteran, was no less pointed in telling the inquiry that she and her seven year-old daughter would have been better treated if her husband had served in the armed forces of the United States. Yet in saying that she was literally correct because her husband Nigel, decorated by Tony Blair in Downing Street for “conspicuous gallantry”, died of motor neurone disease which in the United States, such is the prevalence of the disease among veterans there, is treated as a Gulf War-related affliction.

Research showed the statistics here make the case even more strongly, but the MoD’s response was to tell Samantha that:

“Research must be peer-reviewed”.

As of now, five years on, motor neurone disease is still not accepted as Gulf War-related in the UK.

Further to the reply of my noble friend Lord Drayson of 17 December at col. WA 43of the Official Report on the Medical Research Council’s much criticised involvement, can my noble friend Lady Taylor say what peer review there has been of the MRC’s work for the MoD on Gulf War illnesses, and its findings, and also how the department reacts to Dr Norman Jones’s comment on my noble friend Lord Drayson’s reply that:

“The RAC’s report reviewed hundreds of studies published after the MRC’s report to the MoD of 2003 which must therefore now be regarded as left far behind”?

And why do we now need a peer review of an RAC report that is itself a peer review of already published scientific work that was peer reviewed before publication?

Before my noble friend replies, it might be helpful for me to give her my understanding of the constitutionalities vis- -vis the peer reviewing of RAC reports, which is that Congress by law has designated the RAC itself as the body responsible for,

She might like to check this, and in doing so read what the RAC says on its legal status at page 20 and elsewhere in the report.

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