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House of Lords

Monday, 15 March 2010.

2.30 pm

Prayers-read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

EU: Financial Assistance to Member States


2.37 pm

Asked By Lord Pearson of Rannoch

The Financial Services Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Myners):Any request for financial support in accordance with Article 122.2 would need to satisfy the specific criteria set out in the treaty and would be considered on its individual merits by the ECOFIN Council, where it would be voted on by qualified majority.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. I hope that he will forgive me if I say that illegality under the treaties has never bothered the Eurocrats. Will he give a clear guarantee that the United Kingdom will not, willingly or unwillingly, contribute to any bail-out of the member states, including the proposed European monetary fund? Will he also confirm whether any such initiative would require a treaty change or whether it could be done by majority voting?

Lord Myners: I do not propose to comment on market speculation about the possibility of a European monetary fund. This is being discussed by the eurozone nations, but the UK is not part of those discussions. However, Article 125 of the treaty is very clear in stating:

"The Union shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of ... governments ... A Member State shall not be liable for or assume the commitments of governments ... of another Member State".

Lord Waddington: Does the Minister agree that it would be grossly unjust if Britain finished up having to pay for the follies not only of those who joined the monetary union but of those who urged Greece's membership by bending the rules? Will he give a guarantee that we will not finish up paying for these follies?

Lord Myners: I think that the House would join me in encouraging Greece in the actions that it is taking to make the necessary fiscal adjustments to ensure that it

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is in a position to sustain the credibility of its borrowing and, importantly, to comply with the European growth and stability pact.

Lord Dykes: Did the Minister notice the defection on Friday of Edward McMillan-Scott, who joined the Liberal Democrats, emphasising over the weekend that there is no difference between the Conservative Benches and UKIP on European matters? Does he agree that the treaty and the ECOFIN mechanism provide a number of interesting options to help countries-Greece has a tiny GNP-for the whole Union? Above all, is he not perturbed and disturbed that the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, has not dealt with the priority in his party, which is to make sure-

A noble Lord: Too long!

Lord Dykes: The Conservatives should listen just occasionally to these points. Should the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, not make sure that Nigel Farage apologises for his unseemly outburst recently and-

Noble Lords: Too long!

Lord Dykes: Was he not described by another MEP as a lout?

Lord Myners: It really is not necessary for me to comment on the statements made by Mr Farage or another member of UKIP in the European Parliament. I do not think that it made any of us feel very proud to be British to hear that sort of language being used in the European Chamber. We know that there are differences between UKIP and the Conservative Party on matters of Europe, but they are no wider than the differences within the Conservative Party. There will be plenty of opportunities in the remaining four and a half minutes for Members on the Conservative Benches to evidence their support for the European Union.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, given that the Government are borrowing £1 in every £4 that they spend, would it not be better to take a leaf out of Greece's book rather than to give it advice?

Lord Myners: Rather than giving advice, I said that we were pleased to see the steps that Greece is taking. We have already set out clearly in the Fiscal Responsibility Bill the actions necessary to reduce government spending and the deficit as a percentage of PBR to a sustainable level by halving it in less than four years once economic recovery is established. We are committed to waiting until recovery is firmly established, rather than snuffing it out as the Tories would do by premature cutting of public expenditure at a time when the economy cannot bear that cost.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords-

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords-

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I think that we should hear from the noble Lord in the corner.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: I am sorry to cross the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit-we are great friends normally. Does the Minister recall that, when he answered a

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Written Question from me on this subject, the Answer was an unequivocal no? However, this afternoon he appears to be equivocating about whether we would be required to bail out Greece in any way. Does he agree that, if Greece had not joined the eurozone, it would have been able to tackle the financial problems in the same way as Britain has?

Lord Myners: My Lords, I do not think that I equivocated at all. I do not think that I in any way deviated from the Answer that I gave to my noble friend in reply to his Written Question. I am sure that a careful reading of Hansard would prove that to be the case. As far as a hypothetical question is concerned, I do not propose to answer it.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords-

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords-

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I think that we have had two from the Benches opposite and I do not think that we have had one from this side.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My noble friend gave a challenge to the Conservative Party a few moments ago. A substantial part of the four and a half minutes has elapsed and no one from the Conservative Benches has risen to say anything positive about the European Union. Does my noble friend draw any conclusions from that?

Lord Myners: I would like to allow the full seven and a half minutes. I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that I acquit him of equivocation? Can he confirm that in his earlier answers he made a statement that would cause us to believe that, should any costs fall on the British taxpayer in respect of the bail-out of Greece, he would forthwith resign?

Lord Myners: We are talking about European Union support and I have been very clear in my response about that; I have been very clear in my response about what the treaty says.

Domestic Violence


2.44 pm

Tabled by Lord Morris of Handsworth

Lord Dubs: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

The Attorney-General (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, we continue to make significant progress in addressing domestic violence, including expansion of specialist domestic violence courts, multi-agency risk assessment conferences and independent domestic violence

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advisers. The British Crime Survey indicates a 64 per cent decrease in the number of incidents of domestic violence between 1997 and 2008-09. Domestic violence is a volume crime accounting for one in seven-14 per cent-of violent incidents in 2008-09. This represents a 9 percentage point decrease from 1997. Prosecution rates have nearly doubled since the introduction of specialist domestic violence courts, to an average of 72.5 per cent, and continue to rise. I am not aware of any other country achieving such significant outcomes.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble and learned friend for her Answer and congratulate the Government on the enormous progress that they have made in this very difficult area. I put to her one specific and detailed point. Can she confirm that the new domestic violence protection notices, which I believe will be very helpful in this area, will be introduced quickly, at the very least on a pilot basis?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, efforts are being made to introduce these orders as quickly as possible. I assure my noble friend that every opportunity will be made to introduce them quickly.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: The Home Office statistical bulletin published last year showed that, in the 10 years from 1997 to 2008, 361 homicides were perpetrated by partners or ex-partners as opposed to 253 homicides that were perpetrated by a stranger. Clearly, domestic violence leads to homicide. Why is it that, as reported by the Hestia Fund's report last November, support from independent domestic violence advisers, to whom the noble and learned Baroness referred-a service introduced in 2005-is available to less than half the women in this country, given that it has proved to be successful where it has been used?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we now have more than 700 domestic violence advisers. I tend to refer to them as "divas", because that is what they are-both male and female. They are being rolled out right across the country, on a stage by stage basis. The noble Lord is absolutely right: they make a real difference. Every pilot that we have had demonstrates that difference, which is why we are making sure that there will be independent domestic violence advisers in every corner of our country.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: Is my noble and learned friend aware that some time ago in the House of Commons a group of us got together and decided on a campaign on domestic violence? We had met some of the women concerned, who had been beaten and bruised and shattered and battered. We were appalled at this, so we started a campaign, with some limited success. Is my noble and learned friend aware that the present picture is very unclear? For example, how many people are subject to domestic violence? What provision do we make for them? Do policemen still comment on it as a perk of marriage? Could my noble and learned friend inform us on that?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, unfortunately, one in four women will be subjected to domestic violence at some stage in their lives, with 89 per cent of them subject to repeat victimisation-meaning that one to four additional assaults are on women. We have

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made a real difference to that figure; we have almost halved the repeat victimisation figures and have saved £7.5 billion in terms of pain, injury, loss and suffering. That is making a significant difference. We have the lowest level of domestic homicide rates at any time for the past 10 years.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: Does the noble and learned Baroness agree that it is both right and proper that the criminal courts should regard domestic violence as, if anything, more serious than other species of violence, while remembering at all times that all unlawful violence tends to undermine a civilised society?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I certainly agree that domestic violence should be treated more seriously-noble Lords will know that I have appeared in the Court of Appeal myself in the past few weeks to make that point. The Court of Appeal has been very clear to endorse the sentencing guidelines provision, and in the case that I appeared in the court doubled the sentence and made it clear that domestic violence is wholly unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, I think that the noble and learned Baroness has told the House that reported domestic violence is the lowest in our history. Can she explain why, according to the Home Office statistical bulletin entitled Crime in England and Wales, it has flat-lined since 2005?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, it has not flat-lined. There has been a 64 per cent reduction in domestic violence since 1997, and the trajectory is downwards. I said that the domestic violence homicide rate is the lowest it has been in 10 years.

Baroness Gale: My Lords, does my noble and learned friend agree that many young girls and boys witness domestic violence on a weekly, if not daily, basis and could learn a pattern of inappropriate behaviour? What efforts are being made to ensure that young boys learn that this behaviour is totally unacceptable, and that young girls learn that they can say no and there is no need for them to accept this form of behaviour?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, my noble friend is right: about 750,000 children in our country will see domestic violence in any given year. In February, the Government launched a £2 million campaign to raise awareness in relation to teen dating and teen violence. This is specifically targeted to help our young people understand that domestic violence is unacceptable and they should not participate in it.

Personal Finance: Home Credit Market


2.52 pm

Asked By The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (Lord Young of Norwood Green): My Lords, I acknowledge

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the right reverend Prelate's concern regarding home credit and his desire to protect vulnerable people. Evidence suggests that caps on charges could be detrimental to those on low incomes by risking a contraction in the supply of licensed credit, leading to an increase in the use of loan sharks. The OFT is reviewing the high-cost credit market, including caps on interest rates, and the Government will respond quickly when the results are published.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer and for the promise of thought and action in the future, because a large number of people are driven into deep debt by the home credit market. What action will the Government take to make it easier for credit unions to make loans, as they are a far better way of helping those in debt than home credit can ever be?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I wholeheartedly agree with the right reverend Prelate about credit unions. We strongly support credit unions and we have taken steps to make them more accessible to vulnerable consumers, helping them to move away from high-cost credit. The growth fund has enabled credit unions and CDFIs to make over 230,000 loans worth £100 million to financially excluded people. We have also laid a legislative reform order which will put credit unions in a better position to grow and provide a wider range of services.

Lord Elton: My Lords, I was surprised to hear the Minister dismiss the idea of capping charges, which can be astronomic. Can he tell us what is the highest rate that a person in the clutches of these lenders can be charged? Also, can he give us the Government's definition of "usury"?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: I cannot say what the highest rate is, but it could be something like 500 per cent-they are huge figures. We have looked carefully at introducing interest-rate caps, and we recognise that vulnerable consumers sometimes have little option other than to use high-cost credit products. However, the case for a rate cap is not clear-cut, and is not supported by consumer bodies-even though I have some personal sympathy with the idea. Introducing a cap could lead to lenders withdrawing from the market, denying vulnerable consumers legitimate sources of credit and leaving them no option but to resort to illegal, unlicensed lenders, exposing them to much higher borrowing costs and potentially violent methods for obtaining repayment.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, how can a loan at a rate of 500 per cent be described as legitimate?

Lord Young of Norwood Green: My Lords, I do not think that I was describing it as legitimate. I was asked to give an estimate of the highest possible figures and I went on to say why we have not yet acted to introduce a rate cap. Research tells us that that would not particularly solve the problem. In countries such as France and Germany, where they have introduced rate caps, more borrowers than in the UK admitted that they or someone in their household had used an illegal lender.

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