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House of Lords

Wednesday, 11 November 2009.

3 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Winchester.



3.07 pm

Asked By Baroness Deech

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead): My Lords, we discuss policy frequently with a wide range of stakeholders, including the TUC. I chair a regular meeting with TUC leaders as part of this dialogue. We agree on a great many issues, especially the need to achieve a just, two-state solution. As part of this dialogue, we have made very clear the Government's stance on boycotts.

Baroness Deech: I thank the Minister for her response and welcome her views. Does she agree that British unions display an unbalanced fixation in calling for boycotts of Israel in the light of extensive human rights violations and occupations, including security fences, in other countries, such as Sri Lanka, Saudi Arabia, Morocco in relation to Western Sahara, Iran and northern Cyprus, which do not elicit such calls?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Baroness. I reiterate that the United Kingdom believes that disinvestment, sanctions and boycotts directed at Israel would be counterproductive. Isolation of Israel would advance neither Britain's influence nor, most important, the prospects of peace in the Middle East. We continue to focus on the wider perspective, which is to continue to strive towards a comprehensive peace process in the Middle East. That includes supporting the United States in its efforts now to launch that process.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords-

Lord Lea of Crondall: Would my noble friend take note of the fact that the TUC, in pursuing the difficult issue of goods produced in what we all know to be-

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Lea of Crondall: It is not mandatory to give way to a privy counsellor. The TUC, in pursuing the difficult issue of goods produced in what we all know to be illegal settlements, which is what the boycott demand is all about, has begun holding informal talks-

Noble Lords: Reading!

Lord Lea of Crondall: It is important that I am accurate.

Noble Lords: Oh!

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Lord Lea of Crondall: I wish noble Lords opposite would be more civilised and listen for a minute. The boycott demand is all about goods produced in illegal settlements. The TUC has begun holding informal talks, both with Histadrut, the Israeli trade union centre, and with the PGFTU, which is its rough parallel in Palestine. These talks cover, inter alia, the interests of the Palestinian workers in the area of the illegal settlements.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: As the noble Lord is aware, the Prime Minister and the British Government have been very clear at all times on the issue of illegal settlements, which we see as an obstacle to peace. The Government are exploring the possibility of improving the labelling of produce from the West Bank. We are also working with the European Union to ensure that goods from settlements do not benefit from the EU trading agreements with Israel. We believe that this is an issue of individual choice and that all retailers and consumers should have the information that they need to decide what produce they wish to buy. I say to my noble friend that we have worked very well with the TUC on this initiative in the past and hope to continue to do so in the future.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, does the Minister accept that many, if not all, calls for boycotts of Israel reflect genuine and justifiable concern about the constant erosion of Palestinian rights in the Occupied Territories, not least the continuing expansion of illegal settlements in both the West Bank and Jerusalem in spite of President Obama's demands that there should be an immediate and total freezing of all settlement activity?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, settlement activity is illegal. It prejudges peace talks and must be halted immediately. This includes, of course, in east Jerusalem, to which the noble Lord alluded. Israel is committed through the road map and the Annapolis conference to freeze all settlement activity, as the noble Lord suggests, and immediately to dismantle settlement outposts erected since March 2001. We raise this issue consistently with the Israeli Government. The Prime Minister stressed it during his meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu in August and several times in further conversations.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the sympathy and support that many of us have for the security of the state of Israel rest on our understanding that Israel is a democracy with a deep commitment to the rule of law? If we are asked, as the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, suggested, to judge Israel by the standard only of Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Morocco, Israel is in severe danger of losing that moral advantage.

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord and, of course, accept that many standards will be mentioned and judgments made about Israel and other countries with which we deal in this House.

Lord Clinton-Davis: At a time when joint training between Israeli and Palestinian trade unions is being fostered, is it not damaging in the extreme to engage in diatribes about boycotts?

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Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: I thank the noble Lord. It is the view of the British Government that trade unions and others are free to talk about boycotts; they are very keen to engage with us on this issue. However, we still believe that we should not focus on sanctions and boycotts at this critical time. As noble Lords are well aware, President Obama has reconfirmed his commitment to the peace process. We have hoped for many years to have a US President prepared from day one to devote himself and his Administration to the creation of a Palestinian state living peacefully alongside Israel.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, mention has been made of the rule of law.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords-

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Baroness Royall of Blaisdon): We should hear from the Conservatives.

Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, is it really the business of this House to inquire why the TUC should take account of the protests with regard to Israel or any other member state other than our own?

Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead: My Lords, I think that we should always be willing and anxious to listen and respond to issues raised by the TUC. These issues are raised by many trade union organisations across Europe and, indeed, in the UK-by the Scottish TUC, for example. That is why we think it important to make this response.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords-

Lord Turnberg: My Lords-

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Davies of Oldham): This side.

Noble Lords: Next Question.

Crime: Domestic Violence


3.15 pm

Asked By Lord Sheikh

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Government are committed to reducing the impact of domestic violence on victims and their families. The Government's programme for tackling domestic violence can be found in the National Domestic Violence Delivery Plan, which was published as part of the fourth national domestic violence annual report on 21 August 2009. I have arranged for a copy to be placed in the House Library.

Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. Does he support the view that a greater focus on educating perpetrators of domestic violence

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is necessary to reduce the domestic violence problem? Can the Government provide additional help for setting up and supporting such initiatives?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, we take this matter extremely seriously. One of the biggest studies of violence against women and girls, following the violence against women and girls consultation, was published earlier this year. As a result, we are working with private groups, local councils and the police in a raft of areas to make progress with what is a most horrible crime. Some of the statistics in this area are quite awful.

Lord Soley: My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the example of the charity Standing Together Against Domestic Violence? Part of its aim is to help organisations in this area to integrate and co-ordinate their work, and it has been a model for other parts of the country. Could we do more to advertise what it does to other local authorities, courts and police services? It is a very good model to follow.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, it is a very good model to follow and it is part of the package of work that is going on in this area. I think that we can advertise the charity's work more, as there are whole areas, such as refuges, where we deal with local area agreements. For example, the amount of money funding the Supporting People scheme has gone up from £61.6 million to about £65 million over the past two years. Therefore, we are putting money into these areas but I do not think that we can be complacent. We have to do more because, as I said, domestic violence accounts for something like 14 per cent of all serious violent incidents that come into our courts. It is a very serious issue.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the police have recently been criticised across the board for issuing too many cautions. One of the main recommendations from the Home Affairs Select Committee was that the police should not issue cautions for breaches of injunctions relating to domestic violence. Have they been so instructed and what has been the result?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not believe that they have been told specifically that they are not to do that. It is very interesting that in 2003 only 46 per cent of domestic violence cases brought to court resulted in a conviction, whereas now the figure is 72 per cent. Therefore, I think that we are focusing on and pushing down into these areas. However, the noble Baroness makes a very valid point and I shall take it away and ask whether the police have specifically been told to do that. It is important that we move in that direction.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, given the important role of social workers in supporting these families and, in particular, protecting the children in them, does the Minister share my deep concern at reports today in the media that six out of 10 local authorities are having difficulty retaining their social workers-a 50 per cent increase-since the death of Baby Peter? Will he communicate to his colleagues the deep concern that social work must be prioritised still further if we are to resolve these issues?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I can assure the noble Earl that the Government take this very seriously indeed. It is, of course, an extremely difficult area to work in, so I can understand why there is a shortage of people going into it. We are pursuing this issue, but it is worth looking at the good news and what we have achieved. We now have in place 127 specialist domestic violence courts. We were aiming for a total of 128 and we are about eight months earlier than we thought we would be. We have provided £7.8 million to roll out independent domestic violence advisers and the multi-agency risk assessment conferences. We now have 700 advisers and 200 advisory conferences. This is a huge step forward. In the past 12 months we have been able to protect 29,000 victims of domestic abuse. It is a horrible number but the fact that we are doing that is quite an achievement by the Government.

Baroness Corston: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that one woman a week in the United Kingdom is murdered as a result of domestic violence? Will he accept that in my work as the chair of the Fawcett Commission on Women and the Criminal Justice System it has been evident that the Government's initiative on domestic violence courts, independent domestic violence advisers and sexual assault referral centres has gone a long way towards addressing the seriousness of this crime and its designation and treatment as a crime throughout our statutory services, including the police in many constabularies?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I thank my noble friend who has put it much more succinctly than I have in my previous answers. We have achieved a great deal but that does not mean that we are complacent. There is more to do but her question shows that we are pushing in a huge number of areas. It is important that we keep doing that.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: Does the Minister have details of how much domestic violence is fuelled by alcohol or drugs and whether any special response is provided for such cases?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not know the specific answer to that but I would guess on my feet that it is dramatically fuelled by alcohol and drugs. We know that they have a huge impact on violence generally. I do not know the exact percentages but I shall get back to the noble Baroness in writing.

The Lord Bishop of Chichester: My Lords, is the Minister aware that alongside the very important work done by statutory agencies a huge amount of work on domestic violence is done by local community groups, many of which find survival difficult because of inconsistency of funding?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. Indeed, a couple of those groups have been unable to get over the bar for funding in the past year. We have not reduced the amount of funding; it is just that the demands for it are that much greater. It is an issue that we must look at as it is important to keep them fully involved.

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Terrorism Act 2006


3.23 pm

Asked By Lord Naseby

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the police's preferred route for removing potentially unlawful terrorist content is through informal contact with the internet service provider. They are happy with the impact of this approach to date. As a result, it has not yet been necessary for them to use the formal powers given under the Terrorism Act 2006 to close any websites.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, is it not extraordinary that-after an Act was passed following the 7/7 bombings, in response particularly to pressure from Prime Minister Blair; and in view of the emphasis that the current Prime Minister puts on terrorism-according to the Answer that the noble Lord has just given, we are still allowing these websites to exist and to be the lungs of publicity for the terrorists, modified only by the judgment of someone in the police force?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my Answer did not say that we are allowing those things to happen; we have a whole raft of measures. We are removing websites on a voluntary basis with the ISPs. We are countering them by putting our own stuff on them. We are talking to local community activists, who put stuff on the websites. We are looking at how we can filter them. We have talked to all the various providers to ensure that we do that filtering, and we have looked at reducing access in areas of search engines and in things like Facebook. We are doing a huge raft of work. Indeed, I would be embarrassed to stand here, having been doing this for two years and pushing it, to find that we had not done that. We are out there in amongst it really trading blows toe-to-toe. We are doing that and we are actually getting somewhere on this. Now, that does not mean that we do not have to keep working-it is very difficult. As we know-and this is part of the Cyber Security Strategy-a lot of this is international. A lot of this is abroad-it is carried on by ISPs abroad. We have to deal with them internationally. However, I can assure this House that we are really working hard in this area. We will jolly well get there, and we will jolly well knock them for six finally.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, can Minister say a little more about how his department co-operates with other countries which are hosting websites of this nature?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness touches on something that is very difficult. We are in negotiation with a number of countries about this; as I said, the issue impinges on our whole Cyber Security Strategy. Cyberspace is global-that is one of the problems with it-and many of these actors are acting

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elsewhere. Finding out who has done something, finding out which server the information is on and where it has come from, is very difficult. It takes very detailed and hard work. I am glad to say that we have some of the best people in the world doing this work, but it is highly complicated.

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