Thursday, 5 March 2015.
Israel and Palestine
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for replying to this debate, and to all noble Lords, who will no doubt make distinctive contributions despite the time constraint.
A few months after I was born in 1936, a royal commission on Palestine set up by the Government concluded:
“An irrepressible conflict has arisen between two national communities within the narrow bounds of one small country.”
Some 78 years later, following interminable cycles of war, occupation and violence, the Israelis and Palestinians are still locked in a desperate and dangerous impasse out of which they seem unable to escape.
All this is against an even more ominous background where much of the Middle East has sunk into a dark age of wars of religion and ethnic conflict. In these circumstances, the most dangerous thing of all would be to continue with the status quo and to assume that there is no hope of progress on Palestine. On both sides, the insecurity, fear, frustration and anger can be a recipe only for an endless cycle of violence—a time bomb that threatens continually the peace and security of the Middle East and of the international community.
This area is and will remain vital to Britain’s security and economic well-being. Both are at great risk without a solution to the Palestinian problem. Beyond that, Britain, responsible for the Balfour Declaration, still has a moral obligation to play an active role in seeking a just settlement. Today we have a State of Israel—though it is not yet secure—while Palestinians have been driven out of much of the land of Palestine. Many now live as refugees elsewhere in the West Bank, surrounded by Jewish settlements, or in the most desperate conditions in Gaza—all this despite a British Government mandate as long ago as 1920 to guide Palestine to independence.
Since then, on the Palestinian side, there have been repeated failures of leadership, internal divisions, missed opportunities and appalling acts of terrorism. As to Israel, I draw a sharp distinction between the Jewish people and the policy of certain Israeli leaders and extreme religious groups. I condemn utterly the re- emergence of anti-Semitism in Europe and elsewhere. The Holocaust was an unimaginable crime against humanity. The Jews deserve and need a secure home in Israel for those who want to live there. They have created a remarkable nation in a short time. But I have to say in no uncertain terms that Israeli settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem, which amount to more than 500,000 people, have emerged as the gravest impediment to a peaceful settlement. They also contravene the Geneva Convention and conflict with Article 2 of the UN charter, which prohibits the acquisition of territory by the use of force. As the late Mr Sharon once said:
“It is impossible to have a Jewish democratic state and at the same time control to all of Eretz Israel. If we insist on fulfilling the dream in its entirety, we are liable to lose it all”.
It is worth reminding our Israeli friends that we in Britain have extensive experience of occupying other people’s territories on different continents, of taking other people’s land and of discriminating between religious communities in Northern Ireland. We know from experience that this can be the recipe for anger, despair and violence. It is striking that so many Israeli intelligence, armed forces and security leaders have said in recent times that war will not solve the problem, and that occupation of the West Bank and, in effect, Gaza undermines Israel. But the determination of some Israeli politicians, egged on by extreme religious groups intent on the occupation of Judea and Samaria, to go on ignoring this advice can only inflame the problem and provide a powerful argument for Islamist recruiters. The international community has been regularly supine in confronting the issue of settlements, partly perhaps from a reluctance to counter Israel’s democratically elected politicians, however extreme their views.
Against this background, the prospects for a two-state solution are receding. Secretary of State Kerry’s sterling efforts have produced regrettably few results, perhaps because he addressed only part of the problem. But the international community cannot give up. Credible polls show that the majority of both Israelis and Palestinians still want a two-state solution. The only alternatives are the status quo or a binational state of some kind. Both are a dead end. The status quo means drift, more settlements, Gaza imprisoned and isolated with more extremism, and Israel retreating to another Masada fortress. Growing international support for recognition of Palestine as a state and as a member of UN bodies and of the ICC will be complemented by growing international isolation of Israel as a pariah state, with the prospect of intensified sanctions, particularly on those in Israel who do business with the settlements. There is no secure future in the status quo for Israelis or Palestinians.
As to the binational state or one-state solution, Kerry’s withdrawn public reference to apartheid was in fact right. The population trends show that there are at present 6 million Israeli Jews, with a similar and rapidly growing population of Palestinians living in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. If this is to be a Jewish nation, it would, in all likelihood, lead to an apartheid nation of Bantustans, where democracy would be undermined by the treatment of Palestinians as second-class citizens. Israel would be at serious risk of no longer providing a permanent home for the Jews, but of destroying itself through civil strife and international condemnation.
However, time and events are rapidly eroding the prospect of a two-state solution and it is imperative that international efforts should not lose momentum. As Israelis go to the polls, the international community, not least the European Union, needs to get the message across that, given leadership and determination, Israelis and Palestinians can still reach a two-state solution and that the dangers for all parties in the alternatives still outweigh the challenges of reaching a peace settlement.
The elements are well known, as has been restated so many times since Resolution 242 nearly 50 years ago. The Israelis for their part must show readiness to end their occupation of the West Bank and the imprisonment of Gaza and to remove settlements in return for firm security guarantees. The biggest problem on both sides remains lack of political leadership and trust. The international community has to do yet more to find ways to encourage a climate for renewed discussion. That includes an unequivocal stand on the issue of settlements and the condemnation of all violence.
At the same time, the Palestinians must be brought to demonstrate their unified determination to construct a viable state: a state which links Gaza and the West Bank, both of which must be the focus of negotiations. Jordan and Egypt in particular should be invited to contribute to this process. It requires imagination and fresh thinking. Any political agreement must be supported by the equivalent of an economic Marshall Plan to rescue Gaza and to rejuvenate the Palestinian economy.
Against this background, I now believe that if we are to remain a serious international player, HMG must give impetus to the peace process by recognising a Palestinian state without delay. Two factors persuade me of this. Negotiations will have a better chance if some equivalence of status is created between the two parties, and the Palestinians need such a spur to work hard to construct a viable state. It is worth noting that Israel was not a fully viable state when the British Government recognised her in 1948—and nor today do we recognise some of her borders or Jerusalem as her capital. On Palestinian recognition, we are lagging behind not only opinion in Europe but that in Israel itself, where there are open calls and petitions from senior and credible figures for Israeli recognition of Palestine on the basis that Israel’s safety and security depend on the two states existing side by side.
The inclination by Israeli and Palestinian leaders to wait for something to happen must be replaced by a will to succeed in reaching a comprehensive settlement. That will must be supported rigorously and robustly by Britain, the EU and the wider international community. I look forward to hearing from the Minister the position that HMG take on this vital issue.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for initiating this debate and for an excellent speech. If I may say so, if I do that on behalf of all of us, we need not repeat that phrase at the beginning of every speech.
I have explained before my interests and my belief that the biggest enemy of the peace process is the occupation and the so-called settlements—in reality, massive towns and vast agricultural estates. Today, I want to encourage reconciliation work between the different religious leaders in Jerusalem of the three faiths to whom it is especially sacred, and also between the many strands within each faith, which are particularly obvious in that part of the world.
The faith leaders have a duty to reach out to each other and to work to recognise and respect the religious sensibilities of the others. That is easier said than done, I fully realise, but that only emphasises its importance. The conflict is primarily about land and ethnicity, but faith is a key expression of the differences, and all the faith leaders have, after all, a commitment to peace in their own way. The Holy Land has been scarred by religious wars throughout history. If organised religion could now contribute to the peace, progress would be easier.
My Lords, in congratulating the noble Lord on having introduced this important debate and having given such a clear analysis of the situation, I simply say that if we are thinking about the men, women and children in Palestine and the men, women and children in Israel, we have to look to long-term, sustainable solutions. We must beware of attempts at short-term fixes; we need to find something that will last. By definition, if something is going to last it has to have the support of the maximum number of people on all sides. With our special moral and historical responsibilities, which the noble Lord rightly underlined, we have to think of that principle all the time. The solution in the end will be with the people and their leaders in the region.
If there is one thing that I think that we should say as friends of the Israeli people and friends of the Palestinian people, it is that counterproductivity is the real enemy. Just as it was totally counterproductive of those within Gaza to fire their rockets into Israel and led to great grief on the part of many of us who see ourselves as close friends of the people of Gaza, one must remember that there had been years of provocation, with the ruthless blockade which was systematically destroying the economy and the social welfare structure of Gaza. One has to think of the West Bank checkpoints, the daily humiliation of the people of the West Bank, farmers separated from their land, and the rest. One has to think of the recent proposal by the Cabinet in Israel to make it a Jewish state.
From that standpoint, it seems to me that we must back to the hilt the principle of a two-state solution, which will give both sides the confidence of international respect as they go about trying to find a long-term solution.
My Lords, the time has come for the active involvement of the regional Arab states in reaching a solution for the whole area. I fear that Israel probably does not take the UK or Europe seriously as impartial fixers, because of their fixation on Israel while they remain relatively silent on terrible situations in, for example, North Korea, Russia and China. Israel sees the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Europe and this country, connected with intransigence by Palestinians of violence, and that makes Israel more intransigent.
The Kerry proposals are as good as any, but, in addition, Hamas and Gaza must be disarmed, there must be no more tunnels and disarmament must be covered by UN inspectors. We should call on the Palestinians to renounce their arms, recognise their neighbour state and get on with creating a homeland for Palestinians wherever they may be, and not set up another rogue, extremist state. There must be two states. That means that Palestine must recognise Israel. Palestinians have been unwilling ever to accept a Jewish presence and that is more of a problem in the area than the settlements, remembering how Gaza was evacuated. One state, we know, is impossible and has never worked where there is a Muslim majority around the world.
The Palestinians have turned down a two-state solution many a time, while we know that Israel accepts it. The Palestinians need a democratic leader, a man of peace. They must make the citizens of the new Palestine be existing residents and not continue to call them refugees. They must gather in their refugees from the diaspora. If they do not do that, I have to believe that their intention is to overrun Israel. They say that, “Palestine should stretch from the river to the sea”—a Judenrein state—whereas Israel has 1.8 million Arabs.
The solution depends on normalisation. There are many partition states, such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, but in the end there must be normalisation.
My Lords, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, there will be a two-state solution, which I passionately want, only if the Israelis and Palestinians sit down and negotiate. I worry that nothing much has moved on since it was said about President Arafat that he missed no opportunity to miss an opportunity. There can be no quick, misguided fix of recognition of the state by the United Nations.
Let us be clear. Many noble Lords have talked, or will talk, about the requirements of Israel towards that peace negotiation. I would like to use the short time I have to talk about the requirements of the Palestinians as well as of the Israelis. There has to be a cessation of rockets and mortars from Gaza. There were 4,036 rockets in 2014 landing on Israel. Just think—if rockets were being fired at the Peers’ Entrance of this place there would soon be a militia acting in response. There has to be a cessation of tunnels. These are attack tunnels; they are not just for goods and supplies. It is people going down these tunnels to come out at the other end and attack civilians within the State of Israel. These tunnels are being built with concrete and building materials which should go to the building and restoring of the houses, hospitals and schools within Gaza.
As has been said by noble Lords, one of the requirements would be the granting of citizenship of the new state of Palestine to all who live in the West Bank and Gaza. On the subject of those refugees who live in UNRWA refugee camps, I was appalled by the way they live and the fact that there is no barbed wire between those camps and the Palestinian mansions of those people who lived in Gaza and the West Bank before the refugees came. Then there are the divisions between Hamas and Fatah. Hamas needs to change its vocabulary if there is to be peace in the Middle East.
My Lords, in the few moments available to me I will focus on just two issues. The first is the question of recognition. In his very powerful speech, much of which I agreed with, my noble friend Lord Luce argued that we should recognise the state of Palestine immediately. My concern is that it seems to assume that the only obstruction to the peace process is the Israeli political position. Of course, it is a massive obstruction, and, of course, settlements are an enormously controversial and difficult issue—I find that my Israeli friends have great difficulty in explaining to me the rationale behind this policy—but there are also problems on the Palestinian side, including their unwillingness, for internal political reasons, to address the key question of right of return, for example, and their unwillingness to address seriously the key question of security on the West Bank. The last thing that the Jordanians, let alone the Israelis, need is a fragile and insecure state on their border. These questions have to be addressed and we have to be sure, before we go through a process of formal recognition, that there are sufficient levers on the Palestinian side as well as the Israeli side to force the two sides to the appropriate compromises.
My second point is on the two-state solution itself. I think that pretty much everyone agrees that this is still the only reasonable and viable way forward. However, in considering the two-state solution, I ask that there be a degree of flexibility in the application of the Clinton parameters. Clearly, in broad terms these must be right, but the post-1918 settlement in the Middle East has unravelled almost totally, and borders in so many parts of that region are in question. We should look at a broader approach to this whole question of the two-state solution and in particular we should seek to draw Egypt and Jordan into a four-way negotiation so that the borders can be created in a way that produces a viable Palestinian state and will meet the needs of the Israelis, the Palestinians and their nearest neighbours who are most closely concerned—Egypt and Jordan.
My Lords, the flourishing of the freedom to practise religion is essential to the viability of a two-state solution. This freedom is under increasing pressure. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that faith leaders have a duty to act together—but there are other factors. On 17 February, without notice, the Israeli police entered the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, blocked the entry of worshippers and pilgrims, and closed the church for four hours. This sort of action represents the all too frequent disruption that the Christian community experiences—action that often increases around Easter. Muslims suffer, too. All West Bank Muslim males aged 16 to 45 are routinely banned from praying at the al-Aqsa mosque on security grounds.
Freedom to practise religion is further exacerbated when it strikes at the work of the church in cross-community support. The Cremisan situation is a particular example here. The Israeli plan to site the separation barrier through land which supports the livelihoods of more than 50 Christian families and the two religious communities which run a school and a vineyard puts at risk a delicate infrastructure. The school, which educates people from across the Palestinian community, will be separated from its pupils. The land—a vital source of income—will be annexed and what remains will be separated from the community’s buildings. Israel asserts that the separation barrier is necessary for its security; that is a legitimate concern. Whatever the outcome, the route of the barrier will be illegal unless it divides the settlement of Har Gilo on the Green Line. This does not appear to be the current intention of the Israeli Government.
The problem with interference in the practice of religion and the frustration of Palestinian Christians’ attempts to serve the whole community is that it actively undermines the position of moderate voices in the Holy Land. We must remember the call for the recognition of Palestine, made by the Christian leaders in Jerusalem and endorsed in a joint statement on 13 October last year by the Roman Catholic Bishop of Clifton and the Bishop of Coventry. I would be grateful to hear from the Minister what particular steps are being taken in regard to the situation in the Cremisan valley and, more generally, to the supporting of communities of faith in the practice of their religion, which must be an essential element in the securing of a long-term, viable and stable peace.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. We must never forget that this is not simply a question of one people seeking autonomy from another. As Max Blumenthal said in his book Goliath, this is about,
“people living under a regime of separation, grappling with the consequences of ethnic division in a land with no defined borders”.
To that I would add that it is also about people living under the daily grind of occupation.
Last year Laurence Brass, the former treasurer of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, spoke out about the miserable conditions he witnessed when he visited the West Bank. Following criticism of his statements he was supported by former Israeli ambassadors and a former Israeli Attorney-General, who praised his willingness to see the grim reality on the ground in the West Bank—and to that we must add the appalling situation in Gaza.
Time is running out and I fear that the resilience and amazing good humour of the Palestinian people is at breaking point. With the help of British aid, the Palestinian Authority has built the necessary structures for statehood and, despite the longest occupation in modern history, the Palestinians are highly educated and have universities, hospitals, a rich cultural life and leaders who believe in peace.
I would love to see the Government recognise Palestine as a first step towards breathing new life into the peace process. It is in the interests of all who love Israel, Palestine and the wider Middle East that we, as a Government, and our international partners do all that we can to support the moderate, secular Palestinian authority.
My Lords, I shall necessarily speak in telegraph-ese in this absurdly truncated but remarkably timely debate, for which I thank my noble friend Lord Luce. I will make four salient points.
First, it is frequently asserted that the two-state solution is dead or dying. I disagree. No one has yet put forward a viable alternative to it that has any chance of assuring Israel’s future security, the rights of the Palestinian people and the peace of Israel’s Arab neighbours. The international community needs to persevere with that approach, however unpropitious the circumstances.
Secondly, over many decades I have in good faith argued with my Arab friends that they should give absolute priority to the peace process and not pursue status issues which might damage the prospects for such negotiations. I no longer hold that view. The Netanyahu Government have tested it to destruction by their policy of expanding settlements and by their abuse of their undoubted right to self-defence through disproportionate use of force in Gaza. I believe that Britain should support, not just abstain on, the recognition of Palestine’s status. It is the only viable way of promoting the legal, practical and political case for a two-state solution.
Thirdly, Mr Netanyahu has, with the help of Republicans who should know better, ridden roughshod over every convention of international diplomacy by pursuing his election campaign in an overseas legislature. I shall reciprocate and say that I hope that the Israeli people, in their wisdom, in this month’s election will choose a new Prime Minister and a new Government who will be ready to revive the negotiating process.
Fourthly, I trust that whatever the outcome of those elections, and whatever the outcome of our elections, our Government will work tirelessly with our European partners and the US to revive the peace process and will not be discouraged by all the difficulties which will inevitably arise. To neglect this issue or to relegate it to the “too difficult” slot would be to court a subsequent painful reminder that the Middle East will never be at peace without a solution to the problem of Palestine.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, in introducing this debate, said a number of very wise things, but I thought that he was less than balanced and less than fair in ignoring entirely the many attempts over the years by Israel to establish a dialogue leading to peace. Just to take the most recent examples—because the problem has existed since the beginning of the Jewish-Palestinian relationship in that area—there was the rejection of Ehud Barak’s proposals at Camp David and the consequences of the Israelis withdrawing from Gaza, which, far from leading to peace and stability, actually created a nest of terrorism and constant missile attacks on Israel. Naturally, that has left Israeli public opinion with the idea that, far from there being a necessarily positive relationship between sacrificing land for peace, there is probably an inverse relationship between the two, which is a major factor in the present situation. There was also the period when Israel declared a unilateral suspension of all activities related to building settlements. For nine months, the Palestinians did not respond at all; they let the opportunity go completely.
Nevertheless, I share some of the concerns that have been expressed about the policies of the present Government and of Mr Netanyahu. It was a profound mistake, last year, to suspend peace talks because of the formation of the Palestinian unity Government. If there is going to be peace, it obviously has to include Gaza as well as the West Bank and it has to include Hamas as well as Fatah. The Israelis themselves would set no value whatever on a deal with Fatah if Hamas could go on exercising violence and threatening the existence of Israel.
What is more, clearly there can be no settlement unless there is unity in the Palestinian camp, or at least a consensus between the major parties in it, for the simple reason that, otherwise, anything that was agreed by Fatah or by Mahmoud Abbas would be denounced by Hamas as treason to the Palestinian cause, and there would be no possibility of a settlement. Therefore, it seems to me a positive, not a negative, feature that the two Palestinian groups have come together. That should have been welcomed rather than treated as a reason for suspending all contact with the other side.
My Lords, I am sure we all agree that this is a timely debate because it would seem that, elsewhere, energy has gone out of the Middle East peace process.
I recall that in the aftermath of 9/11, there was much talk of not taking any significant action as a consequence until there was some measureable progress in the Middle East peace process. Nevertheless, despite no progress at the time, much action was taken. That action has provoked the reaction across the Muslim and Arab world with which we are all too familiar, with the unfortunate shifting of the focus away from the Middle East peace process to the fight within Islam between Shia and Sunni states and groups. The Iran nuclear threat has also now gained a higher profile than the Middle East peace process.
The downside of this diversion of focus has allowed the Israelis to continue their settlement programme, making the ambition of a two-state solution that much more difficult to achieve. I wonder now whether a two-state solution is still viable or whether, when compared to a one-state solution, it remains the least unattractive of a series of unattractive options.
If one comes to the conclusion that a two-state solution is still the best—or the least worst—option, I hope that Her Majesty’s Government, notwithstanding other distractions, will continue to discharge our historic and moral obligation to promote vigorously their pursuit of a peaceful two-state solution in the best interests of the Israelis, the Palestinians, the region and our own wider security.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said that settlements were the biggest impediment to peace. I do not agree. However, that does not mean that I approve of settlement-building—far from it. I am a declared friend of Israel, although certainly not a fan of the present Government. I believe that occupation is toxic to Israeli polity and society, as well as miserable for Palestinians. However, the lack of progress in peace negotiations cannot be blamed solely on Israel. As the noble Lord, Lord Davies, said, the Palestinians have rejected many opportunities.
I was unable to participate in the debate on 29 January. However, reading it afterwards, I was struck by the number of speakers who talked about how unilateral recognition of a state of Palestine would send a message or a signal, or be a symbol—of what I was not quite clear. A sustainable long-term settlement can be achieved only through bilateral negotiations involving difficult compromises on both sides. Unilateral recognition of Palestine is a cul-de-sac, not a catalyst for progress. It might satisfy an urge among some of us for “something to be done” but it does not achieve movement.
Israel set no preconditions for the resumption of direct talks in 2013. It is broadly assumed that it would give up all but about 3% of the West Bank through land swaps. Israel needs recognition and security, and the confidence of having a predominantly Jewish, democratic state. Former UK chief negotiator Dennis Ross recently wrote:
“It’s fair to ask the Israelis to accept the basic elements that make peace possible—1967 lines as well as land swaps and settlement building limited to the blocks. But isn’t it time to demand the equivalent from the Palestinians on two states for two peoples, and on Israeli security? Isn’t it time to ask the Palestinians to respond to proposals and accept resolutions that address Israeli needs and not just their own?”.
I agree with those remarks.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chairman of Medical Aid for Palestinians.
First, I strongly endorse the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and indeed those of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. I was very interested to hear his support for the recognition of Palestine. That is something which I, too, support, as I made clear in the debate on 29 January. I will not repeat it today. Nor do I underestimate the political problems that the Israeli Government face. None the less, I think that it is a sensible way forward.
Instead, I would like to support the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, in drawing attention to conditions on the ground in Gaza. The chief executive of Medical Aid for Palestinians has just returned from there. He has reported that he has never seen the place more depressed. Only 5% of the money pledged last summer to rebuild has actually arrived. As for health, he reported that there were, again, severe shortages of drugs and consumables. Many of the medical staff have been unpaid or getting only 60% of their salaries, and there are 8,000 unexploded munitions around the place, which are a terrible danger to children, several of whom underwent surgery while he was there.
Lastly, I draw attention to an article in Haaretz on 26 February by Gideon Levy. He reported that “Gaza’s disaster is dreadful” and cited the case of a baby girl in Beit Hanoun who froze to death in the makeshift shelter in which she and her family had been living,
“since their house was bombed. ‘She was frozen like ice cream,’ her mother said”,
of the last night of her baby’s life. These are the realities on the ground behind the endless diplomacy. A two-state solution cannot come too soon.
My Lords, one would have thought, with our Government’s promotion of democracy worldwide, that when Hamas won the election in Palestine in 2006, which was monitored by the European Union, we would then have talked with Hamas leaders to find out their agenda for the future of their country. Instead of taking that opportunity, the election result was not accepted and Hamas retreated to run the Gaza enclave, as we know, where the people have been held in an open prison and attacked viciously by Israel ever since. The Gazan people stand guilty of defending themselves.
Another opportunity was missed when the European court ruled last December that Hamas was no longer to be categorised as a terrorist organisation—a ruling which has been appealed by the European Union and ourselves.
When I and other parliamentarians have met Khaled Meshaal and other Hamas leaders over the past few years, they have been quite clear in their position, which is that while Hamas cannot bring itself to recognise the right of Israel to exist, it recognises, however, the existence of Israel within the 1967 borders. It offers an indefinite truce—a hudna—with the State of Israel within those borders and demands the release of prisoners, including those parliamentarians who were arrested after the elections in 2006. They do not mention the right of return for all the refugees spread all over the Middle East.
They are very clear about these messages. I have heard them on two occasions; others have heard them, too. I heard them transmitted again yesterday evening at a meeting in this place—not by members of Hamas, in case your Lordships all want to duck under the desks. They want the opportunity to give these three messages face-to-face to European and American negotiators. Will the Minister tell us why this cannot happen?
My Lords, in this Room there is a surprising degree of consensus. We all support a two-state solution; we regard the status quo as tragic and unsustainable; we oppose the settlement policy; and we all broadly know what the boundaries of the two states will be. That leaves us with two big unanswered questions, which are linked. First, what sort of state do noble Lords believe that the proposed Palestinian state will be as things now stand, realistically, and what will be its model—Iran, Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Bahrain, Lebanon, Egypt or Qatar? It is not shaping up to be Sweden, nor is it shaping up to be Israel. This may be controversial, but it is simply a realistic view of what is happening.
Who, then, would wish to live next door to a neighbour likely to prove violent? That is the second question. For 40 years, Israel has been asked by well meaning noble Lords to surrender strategic defence positions to Syria as an act of trust in the Assad family. Who would volunteer to have the Assads running the next-door borough council or to have Hamas there—except in the fantasy version of the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge—or Hezbollah, or ISIS? Noble Lords urging unilateral recognition step around this problem by the extraordinary feat of neglecting to mention Hamas at all, or pretending that it is something it is not. The failure to grapple with this is astonishing.
There cannot be peace in the Middle East until we can imagine a peaceful, democratic Palestinian state, willing to let the Jews live in peace. It is just nonsense to say that there would be peace without settlements, because there was no peace before settlements. Why do we talk of a 1967 border? It is because there was a war in 1967 that created it. We are often told that the Jews should learn the lesson of the Holocaust. That is quite right, and one of the key lessons is not to trust the security of the Jewish people to compassionate, liberal people who cannot recognise murderous extremists when they are staring in our faces and pointing guns.
My Lords, the politics of humanity demand the ending of the blockade of Gaza, the phasing out of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and fair access for all the world to the holy places of Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Of course, Israel’s security is critical, but it cannot trump the interests of peace. Security can be handled by many techniques and by disarmament, but above all by local and regional agreements. Funds pledged for Gaza must be paid up. This is urgent to prevent children dying from a poor diet and cold and wet conditions. Life-saving repairs must be done now.
We have the right to demand that Israel ceases collective punishments and all illegal acts. Keeping international law will earn respect for Israel, and build confidence for two-state and wider agreements. This would benefit the whole of the Middle East and the Islamic world. Recognising the notional Palestinian state would be a step towards two full states before it is too late. Peace must prevail. Our Government should stop balancing interests and help all sides to behave humanely. Palestine deserves the complete self-determination that Israel has enjoyed for so long.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and congratulate him on obtaining the debate and all speakers for their much too short but expert contributions. The Opposition of course support what has been British foreign policy now under Governments of all colours for many years: namely, a two-state solution to the tragic impasse—I use the same word as the noble Lord, Lord Luce—that has existed for far too long. The impasse has resulted in so many lives being lost, so much agony for Israelis and Palestinians alike and so much danger to the rest of the world.
As good a symbol as any of this long-standing tragedy is Gaza today, and all those killed and injured, so many children among them, in last summer’s events. The human cost of the failure to negotiate a lasting and sustainable agreement is all too apparent in the continued trauma, destruction and insecurity, not just in Gaza but in the West Bank and in Israel itself. We of course support Her Majesty’s Government in their contribution to the reconstruction effort in Gaza, but we are concerned that too much of the money pledged by international donors has not translated into actual disbursements. I wonder if the Minister could comment on that.
It is one of the concerns of the donors that there has been a failure so far of the technocrat unity Government agreed by Hamas and Fatah in April last year to take control of Gaza. We believe that it is important, if we are not to see some ghastly repeat of last summer, that the international community remains focused on efforts to stop Hamas building up its arsenal and rebuilding tunnels or firing thousands of rockets into Israel itself. We want to see the blockade of Gaza ending. The cycle that we have seen in recent years of rocket attacks, periodic incursions and permanent blockades has not brought the lasting peace and security that Israeli citizens deserve and the justice that Palestinians have long waited for.
My Lords, at the risk of disobeying my former Chief Whip, my noble friend Lord Cope, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Luce, for tabling today’s debate. It is indeed timely. It is a subject on which all noble Lords have made significant contributions, despite the narrow limit of two minutes for most of those taking part in this debate. In response, given my own time limit of 12 minutes, I shall address the main themes that have been raised today: the UK Government’s position on the Middle East peace process; what the parties must do; what the regions should do; and Gaza.
I start by saying that I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for making clear the Opposition’s position in continuing their support. I am clear that the way in which the British Government can play a constructive part and speak with a strong voice is by speaking as a united Government and Opposition.
I turn first to the Government’s position on the Middle East peace process, and how we see the prospects for a two state-solution for Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. The UK’s long-standing position on the Middle East peace process is well known; we support a negotiated settlement leading to a safe and secure Israel living alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state. Such a vision is based on 1967 borders with agreed land swaps, with Jerusalem as the shared capital, and a just, fair and agreed settlement for refugees. We share the deep frustration felt in this Room today at the lack of progress towards achieving this vision. We will continue to push for progress towards peace and lead the way in supporting Palestinian state-building and measures to address Israel’s security concerns.
The noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, asked why we do not talk to Hamas. Our policy on Hamas remains clear: it must renounce violence, recognise Israel and accept previously signed agreements. Hamas must make credible movement towards these conditions, which remain the benchmark against which its intentions should be judged. We call on those in the region with influence over Hamas to encourage it to take those steps. Further, the noble Baroness asked a specific question about the European court decision to annul the Hamas EU designation. The court judgment is procedural and does not mean that the EU and UK have changed their positions on Hamas. The effects of the EU Hamas listing, including asset freezes, remain in place. We will work with partners to ensure that the Hamas listing at the EU is maintained. Hamas’s military wing has been proscribed in the UK since 2001 under separate UK legislation, which is not affected by December’s EU General Court judgment.
While the UK has not yet recognised a Palestinian state, the Government have long said that they would like to see a sovereign, independent, democratic, contiguous and viable Palestinian state living in peace and security, side by side with Israel. We reserve the right to recognise a Palestinian state bilaterally at a moment of our choosing and when we judge that it can best help bring about peace. We remain convinced that only negotiations can deliver a solution that ends the conflict once and for all, and that they are the most effective way for Palestinian aspirations of statehood to be met on the ground. That is what we are continuing to work towards. Either we move towards peace, as noble Lords have said today, with the strong support of the region and the wider international community, or we face an uncertain and dangerous future.
Several noble Lords referred specifically to the peace process itself and strongly commended Secretary Kerry for his tireless efforts to deliver a final status deal. We strongly support his work. Whatever the disappointments of 2014, Secretary Kerry has made it clear that progress was made. But it is vital that Israel and the Palestinians take advantage of any momentum gathered; it is vital that they commit to restarting the process, and focus once again on finding common ground.
So what must the parties do? They must take steps to build an environment conducive to peace, and they must avoid actions which undermine the viability of a two-state solution. In this regard, I am as one with noble Lords who are deeply concerned by Israel’s decision to freeze the transfer of tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority. This is contrary to Israel’s obligations as an occupying power. We urge Israel to fulfil its legal obligations under the 1994 Paris protocol, transfer the revenues without delay and refrain from taking any further punitive action, including announcing new settlements.
We have repeatedly condemned Israel’s announcements to expand settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including east Jerusalem. As the noble Lord, Lord Luce, pointed out, as well as being illegal under international law, settlements undermine the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and those working for a sustainable peace.
The Palestinian Authority must also show leadership. It must recommit to dialogue with Israel and to making progress on governance and security for Palestinians in Gaza, as well as the West Bank. We note the Palestinian Authority’s recent decisions to sign a number of conventions, including the Rome statute of the International Criminal Court. While we understand that the Palestinian Authority is seeking alternate ways to deliver the state that the Palestinian people deserve, there can be no substitute for negotiations with Israel. Negotiations must remain the focus.
What should the region do? I agree with all noble Lords who made the strong point that the international community can and must do more to support US-led efforts to find a viable, permanent solution to the conflict. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, that regional players have a significant role to play. Through the Arab peace initiative, Arab states have offered Israel the normalisation of relations in the event of a comprehensive peace agreement. This opportunity must be seized upon as part of a relaunched negotiation process. It signals the benefits that peace would bring for the entire region.
We also agree on the need to promote economic development for the Palestinians to support the political process. That is why we are supporting the Office of the Quartet Representative, whose economic initiative aspires to grow rapidly the Palestinian economy over a three-year period. We are aware of the Israeli peace initiative and the work on the important role that civil society has in generating ideas to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Europe must also remain a key partner in the peace process. In December 2013, we led EU efforts to set out an unprecedented package of political, economic and security support that Europe would offer to both parties in the event of a final status agreement. That package remains on the table, should the parties return to negotiations—but much more needs to be done, and we will continue to work closely with our EU partners to support both sides in taking bold, necessary steps.
My noble friend Lord Cope and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Southwark referred in particular to the duty of the faith communities in their varied forms. I agree with my noble friend Lord Cope that there is a duty on religious leaders to play their part on the route to finding peace. It is vital that Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan work together to maintain the long-standing status quo at Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif and other historic sites. Freedom of religion must be protected. I know that the Government have worked strongly to support the position of those of all faiths in the area and that these matters are discussed at the Human Rights Council and in the United Nations. All those of faith have a role to play.
There must also be progress for Palestinians in Gaza. Noble Lords, in particular my noble friend Lady Morris and the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, described the terrible situation there. At the Cairo reconstruction conference, we pledged a further £20 million to kick-start Gaza’s recovery. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, asked about disbursal. We have disbursed a quarter of our funding, but we agree that other donors have not come up to scratch and we call on all donors to fulfil their financial pledges to aid the reconstruction efforts in Gaza without delay. I should point out that our pledge of £20 million was in addition to our earlier provision of £19.1 million in UK aid in response to the crisis. That relates to Gaza itself, not the wider area of reconstruction.
There is a problem with money, but there is also a physical problem with being able to get materials into Gaza to enable the works to make progress. This is partly caused by the security situation in Sinai and the Egyptian response to that, and partly by the situation between Israel and the Palestinians in Gaza. There are limits to what donors can achieve without a political solution. As a priority, we continue to urge both parties to ensure that the ceasefire is durable. It must address Israel’s security concerns and ensure that movement and access restrictions are lifted. We therefore urge the parties to resume serious negotiations to reach a durable ceasefire and tackle the underlying causes of the conflict.
We strongly believe that dialogue is the only way to ensure a lasting solution to the Middle East peace process. We will continue to work closely with the US, the EU and the wider international community to re-energise the process. Once a new Israeli Government are formed following elections on 17 March, the international community must take note to redouble its efforts working with the new Government to move the process forwards. Ultimately, Israeli and Palestinian leaders must show the courage, determination and creative leadership to make the compromises that a deal will require. When they show such leadership, we and our partners will be ready to show our full support.
Sport: Women in Rowing
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, on 11 April, Oxford and Cambridge women’s crews will race over the Putney/Mortlake 6.8 kilometre course for the first time ever. When in 1927 the first women’s race between the universities took place at Oxford, large and hostile crowds gathered on the towpath to protest. It was conceded that it was unladylike to row side by side, so the crews competed on time and style. Oxford were quicker but some of the umpires thought that Cambridge were more stylish.
Prejudice persisted. In the 1960s, a Cambridge college captain—male, of course—objected to women racing altogether. He complained:
“It is a ghastly sight, an anatomical impossibility and physiologically dangerous”.
By 1973, male attitudes had not improved. In the race that took place on the Cam, the boats nearly collided when a male spectator trumpeted the “Last Post” at the start. Talking about press coverage, the Times correspondent in 1973 thought it right to refer to the fact that the rowers had ankles, thighs, biceps and, most shockingly of all, padded seats, and that the winning crew had celebrated on beer and sang bawdy songs in a Cambridge curry house afterwards.
The times of patronising women’s rowing have long gone. It is a sport that has earned the right in this country to be treated with equality and parity. At Sydney in the 2000 Olympics, the GB women’s four gained silver medals for the first time, and they repeated that success at Athens and Beijing with rowers of the calibre of Katherine Grainger and Debbie Flood. Bronze medals were also won in the double sculls. In London in 2012, Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, both graduates of British rowing’s Start programme, unforgettably began a haul of gold medals in the coxless pairs. Katherine Grainger with Anna Watkins won gold for the first time in the double sculls, and Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking romped home in the lightweight pairs. In the Paralympics, golds were won by Pamela Relph, Naomi Riches and Lily van den Broecke. What those outstanding athletes did was to inspire women of all ages and abilities to take up the sport.
It is not all about the Olympics or university sport. In 1927 the very first Women’s Eights Head of the River Race took place over the tideway course, with just two clubs competing. As late as the 1980s, the event attracted only 50 crews—but in 2013, following the Olympics, the 73rd race attracted 320 entries and some 2,880 active women participants. A week on Saturday next, for the 75th race, there will again be in excess of 300 crews on the river. The competitors range in age from 15 to 70-plus—from beginners to international competitors.
Last weekend, I was able to talk to the captain of the Grosvenor Rowing Club of Chester, Louise Tobias. She epitomises the women who are now attracted to the sport. Louise was a hockey player, but, in her mid-30s, at the time of the Beijing Olympics, she was inspired by the British women rowers in action and decided to have a go herself. She joined a Learn to Row course and was soon into competitive rowing. She enjoys the elation in winning and the devastation of losing. She and her family revel in the strong social side of the sport. Last June, Grosvenor Ladies won the Leicester cup for coxed fours at the Henley Women’s Regatta, with two of the crew coming to rowing for the first time through Learn to Row courses on the River Dee.
However, if there is a drive for more participation, it has to be backed up with support both in the clubs and by funding. It is not expensive for the individual but it does collectively require expensive equipment—although boats and oars can be used over and over again with proper timetabling.
I turn to access. Of the 43,000 miles of inland river and canal waterways, 2,800 miles are currently in use for rowing. The potential for shared water use is considerable. Chester Royals, founded in 1838 and one of the oldest clubs in the country, have initiated a proposal for the development of a new water sports hub at their boathouse on the Dee, in conjunction with West Cheshire and Chester councils. Incidentally, like nearby Grosvenor, their captain is a lady, Jane Sweeney, the first to be club captain in the Royals’ 177-year history. I declare an interest as president of Rex Rowing Club, which rows nearby.
I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm the Government’s commitment to initiatives of this nature. However, last November, as co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Rowing Group, I wrote to the Secretary of State, Mr Javid, and I regret that I have not, as yet, had a reply. I drew attention to the plight of the Hillingdon Rowing Club, which was set up in 2012 with post-Olympic enthusiasm and is the only rowing club with many women novices in the area to the north-west of London. Hillingdon Outdoor Activity Centre caters for a number of water sports and accommodates rowing on a course of about 700 metres. Unhappily, it is on the route of the HS2 railway. The club’s proposal to relocate to nearby Broadwater Lake, where there is a stretch of some 1,200 metres, has been met by opposition from Natural England because of the number of waterfowl on the water. Rowing ought to be accepted as a natural and beneficial use of our waterways.
Volunteering is crucial to successful rowing. Coaching is key, and regrettably there is a dearth of women coaches. I am grateful to Lisa Taylor, an experienced coach who has written a thesis on the subject, who pointed out to me that lack of coaching may put off underconfident women. It may also have an impact on the retention of newcomers, because more ambitious athletes may feel unable to progress without a higher coaching input. Coaching is like lining up eight golfers on an expanded golf tee and requiring each to swing in time and in harmony so as to hit the sweet spot on the ball at exactly the same moment, and then to repeat the stroke up to 30 times a minute for 20 minutes. Those who want to see poetry in motion will no doubt watch the House of Lords crew next July as they shoot under Lambeth Bridge. There are no stars. Teamwork is about getting the best out of every member of the crew. To meet the demand for coaches, I invite the Minister to consider whether employers should allow volunteers one or two paid days off a year to attend accredited coaching courses.
I turn to identifying talent. British rowing has honed its talent identification process of the past 15 years or so. It has had immense success with the women’s squad. British rowing in 2013 implemented a new programme led by England Talent Pathway coaches, whereby a performance coach in a particular area trawls local clubs and schools for juniors with potential and develops them along GB best practice lines. They educate the clubs and coaches so that they can keep nurturing talent when they have it—a sustainable pathway rather than a stop-gap. This scheme is in its infancy, but it should be extended to adults for the benefit of women who take up the sport at a later stage in their lives.
The Government’s Women and Sport Advisory Board is tackling the emotional capability and opportunity barriers preventing women taking part in sport generally. I hope to hear more of its work in this debate.
On 11 April, thanks very much to the investment and support of Newton Investments and BNY Mellon, women’s rowing will gain a massive new television audience for their Putney to Mortlake race. I wish both crews as much enjoyment out of the event as no doubt those pioneers of 1927 achieved in the teeth of male chauvinist opposition. I hope that the raised profile of the sport will attract many more women to find the camaraderie and companionship of a crew in this country’s leading Olympic sport.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford for securing this significant and timely debate. As a swimmer, I have always had more than a passing admiration for rowers. As we splash around in the pool, they seem to be able to glide gracefully on top of the water, clearly as a more evolved species.
It was women’s rowing, as already mentioned, that started the gold rush in London 2012. I was lucky enough to be at Eton Dorney that day and what a moment it was. How significant it was for Glover and Stanning and for the sport of rowing—but it was even more significant for Team GB. There is nothing more important than the first gold medal for a host nation at their home Games. It was followed by tremendous performances on the water and demonstrated that rowing is now not just a sport for the boys; it is very much for the girls.
There is no question that Sir Steve Redgrave is Britain’s most successful and prolific Olympian of all time—five Games and five gold medals. But ever since the late 90s, it is the girls who have come through and shown, in tremendous gold, silver and bronze performances, that this is a sport that everybody can participate in, perform in and excel at. When rowing was introduced to the Paralympic programme—an excellent sport to be added to the programme—for the Beijing Games in 2008, it was Britain’s Helene Raynsford who steamed through to win gold, the first Paralympic gold on the water, in the single sculls by over 12 seconds. That is a sporting performance. That is impressive rowing.
It matters what happens at the high end—at the Olympic and Paralympic Games—not just for those performances, for the nation and for elite sport. It matters because role models are so important to driving participation and opportunities for people throughout sport. There are so many impressive programmes from British rowing, not least the Sportivate programme inspired by London 2012—female participants now make up 49% of its rowing element. It is a similar situation with the Start programme—the talent ID programme already mentioned by my noble friend. Before London 2012, the ratio of men to women was 4:1 on the talent programme. Now it is almost equal. That is impressive progress.
The great thing about rowing is that it is not just about the athletes and participants. It is a great sport because it has developed and believes in an inclusive culture right through the sport—whether you are an athlete, a volunteer, coach, official or an administrator, there are opportunities for anybody, whatever your background and wherever you want to go in the sport. That is because it has been led right from the top. The chair of British rowing for 20 years was Di Ellis: a tremendous performance. She has now been succeeded by Annamarie Phelps, who is doing a phenomenal job. She comes from a rowing family that is so tied to the Thames. I would not say that they have webbed feet, but I can imagine that their semi in Chiswick could certainly be called The Boathouse.
Such leadership is required in sport if you are truly to develop an inclusive culture. Electing Debbie Flood as the first female captain of Leander and Sophie Hosking as the first female captain of the London Rowing Club is groundbreaking stuff. This is a great time for girls and women in sport, including across the sport of rowing, from the boat to the boardroom. To anyone who has children who are girls, I say, “Get them into sport”. There is no better time—and rowing is a pretty good place to start, with fantastic opportunities right across the water. To those at the higher level looking to the world championships and to Rio 2016, I say, “Good luck, we support you, we salute you and we look forward to celebrating your future successes”.
My Lords, I would like to focus my remarks on both ends of the age scale. Perhaps I should start with older women. I started rowing at the age of 60 and still do it occasionally. I would probably do it more often if it did not entail getting up so early in the morning. I have also been a member for several years of your Lordships’ House’s mixed-gender eight for the Lords and Commons boat race on the Thames. This has been a mixed experience since the Thames can be like the North Sea in a storm when the wind is against the tide. However, on the whole it has been an enjoyable and certainly a sociable experience.
Rowing, I am told, is very good for me because it helps to strengthen the core muscles, which get weaker as you get older. I know of an all-women crew in Australia called the Ancient Mariners, two of whom are over 80. I relate these facts in order to emphasise the fact that you do not need to be either young or an elite athlete to enjoy rowing and benefit from it. It is one of those sports that you can take up at any age and do either for enjoyment or take it right to the top level. What is important is that we make provision for girls and women of all ages to row.
The Olympic legacy has brought about a tremendous increase in interest in women’s rowing, to the extent that some adult clubs simply cannot cope with the demand for Learn to Row courses. It is a great pity if women are put off by having to wait many months for such a course and find a different sport where participation is easier. If we are going to develop the Olympians of tomorrow, we must nurture the grass roots of today. Is there anything the Government can do to help here?
At the other end of the scale there are girls who would like to take up rowing at school. Many independent schools offer this facility, with boats, coaches and accessible water, but what about young people at maintained schools? Apart from the excellent Westminster Boating Base which caters for many disadvantaged young rowers, it is often difficult for schools to find coaches and the money for boats. I therefore endorse the call of my noble kinsman Lord Thomas of Gresford for employers to consider giving volunteers time off to train as rowing coaches as part of their community service programme.
Whatever the reality, there is a perception among pupils and others that schools care more about, and spend more money on, sport for boys than for girls. I would not want to add to bureaucracy, but the decline in girls’ participation in sport is sufficiently serious for there to be a need to ask schools to focus more attention on girls’ sport. It has been suggested that this might most easily be done by an amendment to the public sector equality duty for schools. In the United States there is a thing called Title IX legislation, which makes it an offence for publicly funded institutions to discriminate in funding between boys and girls or men and women. That may not be appropriate here but we need to find a way of achieving the same result.
I was very interested in the House of Commons Culture, Media and Sport Committee report on girls and sport. It is concerned about the lack of communication and co-operation between government departments, which it thinks presents a serious obstacle to delivering the Olympic legacy. It recommends that the DCMS, Department for Education and Department of Health publish a joint annual report to Parliament on school sport, focusing on participation levels, the availability of different types of sport, partnerships with clubs and charities, and training for teachers. Perhaps such an annual review would force departments to work together and pool funding to achieve better value.
Sport England is doing a lot, in particular with its This Girl Can initiative, though I am delighted to see that many participants were girls many years ago. Also its place-based pilot launched in Bury is an imaginative initiative, involving local authorities and many partners in taking account of women’s real lives and bringing sport to them. I did not notice rowing in the list of sports but, if the scheme is rolled out across the country, does the Minister know whether rowing will be included wherever there is a suitable body of water? Can he tell us whether the initiative has yet been analysed and what plans there are to roll it out? Will women’s rowing benefit?
My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, has been able to secure this debate today. Rowing is a fantastic sport with many fans. I am one of them. Apart from the Olympic and Paralympic Games and the Boat Race, there have been limited opportunities to watch this sport on TV. We should be very proud of the institution that is the Boat Race. It has a very special place in the hearts of the British public.
I found the opening speech of the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, quite amusing when he explained how it was considered unladylike to race side by side. I am very glad that in my own sporting career I was never marked on the skill and grace of my performance. I looked far more like somebody from the This Girl Can campaign: red, sweaty and snotty. I would definitely have been considered unladylike, and I am very pleased about that.
Having the women’s Boat Race on the same day as the men’s is a major step forward, but we must not forget that the women’s race has its own very proud history. Many casual fans might not know that the women’s race exists, but it is not a new invention. We should thank all those who got the race to where it is now. Many women, and men, campaigned for it. Credit should be given to Helene Morrissey, CEO of the sponsor and a Cambridge graduate, but not a rower. She is well known for her work on encouraging women. Money makes a difference to what we are trying to do. Annie Vernon wrote about Miss Morrissey and said:
“She refused to listen to excuses that women could not cope with negotiating the tides and bends of the men’s 7000m course”—
so in many ways it is remarkable how far we have come.
However, it is important that young women know a bit of the history—and are slightly horrified by it. In the Chamber this morning, the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, said in the International Women’s Day debate that she did not want still to be talking about how far we have come in 20 years’ time, and that is very important.
If we look back at the history of the Boat Race, in 1927 there was much discussion about whether the women should be allowed to wear shorts or more demure gym tunics. One of the Cambridge rowers had to sit on a stool in front of university staff, simulating the action of rowing, to ascertain which clothes best preserved her modesty. Even in 1985, there was a picture in one of the papers, which is shown on the BBC website, of the women’s team in their gowns and fishnet tights, showing their legs. I hope that we have moved on a little from that.
For a bit of context, while we may consider some of these views slightly idiosyncratic, in my sport of athletics, it was only in 1984 that women were allowed to compete in the marathon and a very few distance races. Even in Moscow, the longest race women were allowed to do was the 1,500 metres, which was introduced only in 1972. Before 1960, it was considered safe for women to run only 200 metres. It took until the 2000 Games in Sydney for women to be able to compete in the pole vault. The excuse given each time was that it would have a detrimental effect on their ability to bear children. Tell that to Paula Radcliffe or Yelena Isinbayeva.
Looking back at 2012, it is hard to imagine anybody being hostile towards our amazing Olympic and Paralympic athletes. I cried when Katherine Grainger won—actually before she started. Ten strokes in, I knew that she was going to be fine, and it was good. I am very proud that Kat Copeland, who is also a gold medallist, lives in Ingleby Barwick, very close to where I live in the north-east of England. I drive past her gold postbox most weeks. That is an amazing inspiration for women who live around the River Tees, who can see rowing as an option for them going forward.
There are questions we still need to answer. As rowing is a sport which is deeply entrenched in the university structure, this is perhaps a place for Title IX to make the most impact. At Oxford this year, not only are the men’s and women’s races being held together for the first time but the men’s and women’s teams will be together at the post-race dinner. Well done, Oxford; I hope that Cambridge will follow next year.
We should also be very proud of Helene Rainsford, who other noble Lords have mentioned. She put women’s para-rowing on the map. In the interests of equality, in the mixed coxed team of Pam Relph, Naomi Riches and Lily van den Broecke, I will mention the two men in the team, David Smith and James Roe. I wonder how they feel—is it how women feel most of the time, being mentioned last? It is a little bit of a change around.
There are many challenges along the way for Paralympic rowing, including accessibility. Rivers are not the most accessible places for wheelchair users to be, but when I watch my daughter kayaking along the River Tees I am frequently asked by members of the rowing club whether I would like to join in. I very politely refuse, because I do not like moving water—but perhaps I could offer my services as a cheerleader for the Lords team. I will very happily sit and cheer from the terrace; I hope that that is an appropriate place to be.
There are also challenges with sponsorship. Women’s sport is an excellent opportunity to get involved in terms of branding, return on investment and encouraging people to think differently. Within our celebration, we must not forget that, back in 2013, British rowing carried out some research that was presented by Dr Alison Maitland, which showed that the traditional clubs value men’s events and achievements above women’s. For example, the Henley Women’s Regatta, which includes para-rowing, is not as valued by clubs as Henley Royal Regatta, which has no women’s club events, only open and elite events for men. So perhaps investment by clubs and schools in women’s equipment, programmes and coaching does not have a high enough priority. I hope that having the men’s and women’s Boat Race on the same day will change this.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, on securing this debate. Indeed, I am delighted to participate. Sports governance is an issue very close to my heart, especially when we are talking about celebrating women’s participation and trying to raise awareness of how we can improve it. I stress that I am not a rower myself but, according to the British Rowing Association, rowing,
“is a low-impact sport, suitable for all ages and abilities and with strong female representation across all types”.
So I will just say at this point, “Never say never”—I may join the team at some point.
Despite not participating myself, the exploits of British rowing have by no means passed me by. One of my abiding memories of watching Britain compete in the Olympics has been our extraordinary exploits in rowing. I first remember Sir Steve Redgrave and Matthew Pinsent winning gold after gold in their amazing partnership, which almost ended prematurely with the final gold at the Atlanta Games in 1996, when a seemingly exhausted Sir Steve gave his interviewer, and indeed anyone else watching, permission to “shoot” him if he went anywhere near a boat again—only for him to return four years later, thankfully unscathed, and sporting another gold medal in Sydney.
But at London 2012 it was the women who stole the show, from Heather Stanning and Helen Glover in the coxless pairs winning our first gold of the Games, to the looks of utter surprise, bewilderment and joy on the faces of Katherine Copeland and Sophie Hosking in the lightweight skull. Finally, there was Katherine Grainger—what a story. In her fourth Games after three successive silver medals, she persisted, with the kind of grit and determination that I so admire. She came back again, redoubled her efforts, and this time it was gold for her and teammate Anna Watkins in the double skull—Britain's ninth medal in women’s rowing since 2000. Nine medals since 2000, with three golds coming in 2012, cannot be a coincidence. This unprecedented success has been underpinned by a club network with impressive stats on women’s participation.
In a nutshell, we want that success to be made permanent. So how does it look for women’s rowing? Numbers from the British Rowing Association make for excellent reading, and it sounds as if success in the London Games is being translated into more women getting involved. Noble Lords before me have mentioned various impressive statistics. A point very well made is that not only are more women getting involved in the sport but leadership positions in rowing are increasingly being held by women. As has been said, there has been a female chairman for the past 27 years, Dame Di Ellis, and now we have chairman Annamarie Phelps, making a great impact. But we must keep pushing.
I commend a piece of research by Dr Alison Maitland of Brunel University, which concluded, among other things, that barriers to increased participation include a lack of opportunity at suitable times of the day and a lack of female coaches. As someone who is committed to empowering women, particularly working mothers such as myself, to achieve their business goals, I can see that some of the same challenges might apply to rowing. Providing weekday time slots is key to allowing for greater participation, but this is when only paid coaches are likely to be available, rather than volunteers. British Rowing could look at repeating what it did at Walton Rowing Club. It provided a paid coach to run an adult improver programme, which attracted more women to row.
Just as in business, so in sport; we need to encourage more women to have confidence to come forward and volunteer in an environment they may not be familiar with. With the help of British Rowing, clubs should provide more support and training to get women into volunteering and coaching roles, which in turn will lead to more female rowers. As has been said, we must also praise schemes such as Women on Water and This Girl Can, which encourage all women to get involved in sport.
I am delighted to say that the future looks bright for women’s rowing. We must ensure that the governance arrangements, the volunteer network, the facilities and, yes, the funding, continue to be there to deliver the pipeline of talent needed to build on the success of 2012. Just as they were at Eton Dorney, I want to see more women atop podiums in Rio de Janeiro in 2016, Tokyo in 2020 and beyond. Let us do everything we can to make that happen again.
My Lords, I must declare one interest. I am the third member of the House of Lords boat to be here. I am afraid I have to say to my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford that it is his fault, because I could not row before I got in there. I can now row badly. My other sporting claim to fame is that I am what is left of a rugby player.
In talking about the esteem that women’s sport has to be held in, the Boat Race is important. It has become something that conveys esteem. Until very recently, it was probably the only rowing that anybody had ever heard of. It was the time when the Thames became full of people having a pint and occasionally seeing a boat go past. Now, as we know, it is part of a huge international sport built upon the success of the Olympics. I hope that we will put this to use and make sure that the esteem of the sport is seen, worked into government and supported.
To take a slight diversion into my original sport of rugby, I hope that my noble friend the Minister can point out that esteem has to be carried in a message. I have given him notice of this point. When England’s men won the Rugby World Cup, they all got honours. When England’s women won the Rugby World Cup, which they did as amateurs and not as part of their professional lives, only two got honours. It is not the same sport but the message of esteem has to be there. There may be a good reason but it does not smell good. I hope that we will hear why that occurred and have it put it into context. I will leave that one where it falls.
As has been said, general congratulation to rowing has to go forward, given that rowing now has to turn away people from its clubs because it cannot deal with the great demand to take part. At the bedrock of any sport is the participation level. We have already heard from numerous people that you have to build capacity. We will be able to continue to build that capacity only if we make sure that people can open new rowing clubs. At all amateur clubs, somebody goes out as the missionary and says, “Let’s do something new”, inspired by a great vision that this sport should be played—or having fallen out with the people at the club they were at in the first place. It does not matter; they are still doing it. That is what is required to build capacity. Every time somebody does this, they have to take on a series of bureaucracies that are national, local and internal to the sport. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell us what the Government are doing centrally, and encouraging locally, to make sure that those people go out and form a club. All political parties should look to this.
Do we remember the idea of the big society? I know that is an election ago now, but amateur clubs in sport are probably the epitome of that. If you take on a public good, you make sure that you can do it properly. You bring in bigger organisations and build a social background to it. Making sure that this can happen is incredibly important, and what the Government do is vital. I spoke to new rowing clubs in Oxford, Leeds and the Lake District. All said that their relationship with government was slightly patchy. Going north, they were Cheney Falcon Rowing Club, Leeds Rowing Club—there had been no rowing club in a city of that size—and Lakeland Rowing Club. All had a mixed bag when it came to dealing with local bureaucracy—and, indeed, the bureaucracy with such things as universities and centres. Clubs with people who knew how to fill in forms did better. That is a lesson which all sports can carry forward.
Trying to address this in order to allow people who are doing a good thing to do it better is something that we should expect of government. Doing this—not just funding but making sure that people can access and get the best out of systems—is something which those of us in power should be encouraging. I hope that this will be a central thrust of everything we are doing here.
My Lords, it is most unusual for anyone in this House to hear me say anything derogatory about the Member of Parliament for West Worthing—but on this occasion I feel a need to do so. There are magnificent rowing clubs in Worthing and I salute and pay tribute to them, but my condition for getting married was that my husband would come to Henley, because I come from a rowing family. My son is a member of Leander, my father was a member of Leander, my great-uncle rowed in the Blue Boat, my nephew rowed in the Blue Boat. This was a very important matter and his rowing is quite appalling— shameful. He swims well, he has joined British Canoeing, but rowing is not him. When I was first in the other place I rowed once in the parliamentary eight, but had to abandon it because there was no way I could row in the boat which would not encourage him to do so—and then there would be more ignominy on the way.
I am an oarswoman. Coastal rowing is me; the Seaview regatta on the Isle of Wight. I have won skulling races, particularly randan races. That is a very exciting form of rowing, with three of you in a clinker-built boat. I have even rowed in the Great River Race, which is an incredibly long distance. I fear that we have a stranger in the Room who should not have been here. I have identified a very poor rower in this Room. Nevertheless, be that as it may, I then discovered recently, preparing for this critical debate, that my cousin rowed in the women’s Blue Boat in 1941. When I put this to my male relations, they all denied all knowledge of it. There is a long-standing problem in the relationship of male oarsmen to very distinguished female oarswomen. Penelope Poulton, now aged 92, is delighted that she is being mentioned here today. Similarly, my wonderful colleague, Clare Glackin, won in the Cambridge Blue Boat on two occasions in 1992. So this year is a triumph. It is quite a dilemma as to why it has taken so long for the women’s Boat Race to row on the tideway.
With others here I pay the warmest tribute to Helena Morrissey. She has been such a force. In the Chamber we have been debating female empowerment. I have already spoken there, as has my noble friend Lady Brady, and we paid tribute to the voluntary movement—not quotas—that has resulted in the quite extraordinary increase of women on boards, so that we are now in a very good place indeed. Helena Morrissey is entitled to a great deal of that credit. She founded the 30% Club and she said the other day, very interestingly, that,
“the relatively low proportion of girls participating particularly in team sports at school has a bearing on many aspects of how women’s lives develop—not just our health but our careers, too, and in business. It’s all part of a continuum that starts very early in life, leading to different experiences and expectations for women compared with men … the importance of learning to be part of a team, depended upon and depending on others, playing to personal strengths and respecting the complementary skills of others”.
Sport teaches people,
“to deal with performance nerves, to overcome disappointments, to have the strength of character to carry on when losing—and to enjoy victories. If girls have less opportunity to develop these skills, that surely puts them at a disadvantage in many other situations”.
From my perspective, rowing, of all sports, is the ultimate team game. There is no space for a prima donna at all. However good your stroke is, if it is not in time with the next person’s stroke, you are out of the boat. The other reason why I particularly enjoy rowing is that it is the one very competitive, very intense activity where you spend all of your time going backwards—totally trusting your future to the cox at the other end.
Good points have been made about the importance of coaches. I am particularly pleased that my local rowing club at Guildford has done a lot of work on encouraging volunteers to have more knowledge and information. People who do not feel that they understand the sport do not know how to be a volunteer, but the club has shown some wonderful examples.
I will quickly speak about Hull—because rowing is not just a southern, elite sport. As chancellor of the university, I pay tribute to Matt Evans, who is on British Rowing’s Young Person’s Panel. He is very involved in the Hull University Boat Club, where there is a great deal of enthusiasm and a growing participation by women. Similarly, community rowing in Hull is equally important. Of course, they could do more and I shall be writing about them getting a lottery award in the near future.
April 11 will be a wonderful day. The best person in my family at the moment is our son who has bought a house exactly on the finishing post at Mortlake. He is having a tremendous party to celebrate the women rowing down the tideway—and no male rowing supporters will be admitted at all.
My Lords, I cannot pretend to be either an expert or an enthusiastic rower. The extent of my involvement has been to use the machine in the gym. I seem to have more things in common with the noble Baroness’s husband—apart from being in the same trade union branch, which I was very proud of. Clearly, we need to balance this debate in terms of the sides. I suggest that the rowing team contact my noble friend Lady Hayter, who was a rowing blue. She could be another recruit to the team.
Compared with many other sports, rowing has an impressive record in both changing attitudes to, and increasing the participation level of, women. The Olympic effect on rowing was enormous in 2011 to 2013, and I suspect that it will still be evident. As a direct consequence of UK Sport and National Lottery funding, women rowers have won, as we have heard in the debate, nine Olympic medals since 2000, including three golds. That Olympic and Paralympic success has inspired girls to take part in rowing. Prior to London 2012, uptake for the Start programme had a ratio of 4:1 male to female participants. Since 2012, the ratio is almost equal.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, clubs were delighted that the profile was so high—but, sadly, the majority were unable to cope with such a huge influx of beginners. I know this first-hand from my niece and nephew who live in Chertsey, an area where you would expect to be able to row. But local Learn to Row courses were massively oversubscribed even before the Olympics. Clearly, if you drive up participation, you need to back it up with support in the clubs. British Rowing is doing some of this, but clubs need to make it a priority.
British Rowing now has 31,000 members, of whom 43% are female, compared with 38% in 2009. In the year following London 2012, 50% of new members were under 18 and 48% were female. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said, British Rowing is committed to promoting equality within the sport, setting an example for other national governing bodies, from grass roots to Olympic and Paralympic rowers. I read in the briefing provided by the noble Lord that the Lea Rowing Club is a great example of where attitude change produces results. The focus on men’s and women’s rowing there has shifted in the past few years to the point where they have an entirely equal focus. The women’s eight won the intermediate level competition for clubs at women’s Henley in 2013. That result demonstrated that a club could achieve results on a national level with women who were recruited as beginners.
British Rowing and Sport England research suggests that barriers to women’s participation include a lack of local access, a lack of opportunities at appropriate times of day, a lack of daytime rowing and a lack of female coaches. Again, that is an issue that can be replicated in other sports.
British Rowing works with other water-based sports for joint use of facilities. That is important, but the support of local authorities is critical. Will the Minister assure the Committee that this will be further encouraged? British Rowing staff deliver and support indoor rowing competitions at schools and universities. I have heard what has been said about universities, but for me, it is also fundamental to start early—and that means starting in schools, which is why I very much welcome British Rowing’s work.
Many clubs are supported through British Rowing with leadership and coaching support, and more clubs and centres are now offering Learn to Row courses, and adult and youth recreational rowing activities. The results of the programmes will be measured after 10 years in 2019, which is the time BR believes it will take to change the culture of rowing clubs. I hope that it will be faster than that. The programme is clearly something that other governing bodies could emulate. I, too, look forward to seeing the final report of the Women and Sport advisory committee, of which the noble Baroness, Lady Brady, is a member. I would like to hear from the Minister about his plans to ensure its final implementation.
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for securing this debate. The Government are absolutely committed to increasing women’s participation in all sport, including rowing, at every level of ability and age. I was very struck by my noble friend Lady Walmsley’s expression of the great enjoyment that rowing provides. My noble friend Lady Bottomley spoke about teamwork. The essence of what we all try to do in different parts of our lives is so much more positive when we work in a team. I have to say to my noble friend Lady Bottomley that my sympathies may lie with the honourable Member for Worthing when it comes to prowess in rowing ability, although I think that this debate has produced some enthusiastic volunteers for my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford’s team.
This country has an outstanding reputation for being at the forefront of rowing at the elite level. Over the last 20 years, Great Britain has won 23 Olympic rowing medals, 39% of which have been won in women’s events. Since para-rowing was introduced in 2008 in Beijing, Great Britain has won four medals, 50% of which have been won by women. My noble friend Lady Brady and the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson—I would like to call her my noble friend—both spoke of the great national pride there has been and will continue to be in these exceptional achievements.
UK Sport is investing £36 million in rowing and para-rowing through this Olympic cycle. It is the highest-funded Olympic programme and it continues to yield success. Some 41% of rowers and 31% of para-rowers on the World Class Performance Programme are women. This great sport has given us some outstanding role models—your Lordships have highlighted a number of them. We all remember those huge successes of 2012. It would be invidious to seek to name-check them all but we are fortunate to have them. My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond spoke of the emotions of being there and of the inspiration that those extraordinary and exceptional rowers provided. They were not only an inspiration for rowing but for our country as well.
Sport England is providing more than £8 million of funding to British Rowing during the 2013-17 whole sport plan period to do exactly that: to increase participation. As part of that funding, Sport England is working with British Rowing to encourage innovative ways of delivering rowing which might appeal to new participants, particularly women.
We know that there are various obstacles, both perceived and real—the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, spoke of them. They may be emotional barriers such as low body image and self-esteem, capability barriers such as fear of not having the right skills, and practical barriers such as cost or lack of time. We need to break down those barriers. It is why, pan sport: This Girl Can. I say in answer to my noble friend Lady Walmsley that, at this early stage, the sports that have been chosen are on demand and those which have come forward from the demand do not as yet include rowing, but I encourage rowing to seek that demand. However, the situation is constantly evaluated. We want to engage with 14 to 18 year-olds and lower socioeconomic groups who, so far, we think need the most encouragement.
Sport England is working with the national bodies to help design and market sports in a way that overcomes these barriers and taps into what women want from sport. It may be about rethinking and redesigning sport to appeal to women and to fit in with their lives. In the case of rowing, joining a boat club and committing to training every week might not be feasible for all women. Alternative formats of rowing, located in different environments, may appeal. That is why 5% of British Rowing’s funding has recently been redeployed to initiatives that promote indoor rowing, in the hope that this will do for rowing what spinning has done for cycling.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, spoke of participants. Almost half the participants in the School Games indoor rowing programme are girls.
Sport England is also investing more than £300,000 in the Rowability programme. This aims to get more disabled people rowing and includes beginners’ rowing right through to those who aspire to compete at the top level. At this high level, UK Sport is investing almost £4 million in para-rowing during this Olympic cycle. Additionally, through its Get Equipped fund, Sport England is investing more than £120,000 in adaptive rowing equipment to help disabled people get on the water.
British Rowing has also recognised the value of networks for sharing information and supporting others. Women on Water is an online community that aims to bring together women rowers to connect with each other and activate the rowing community.
As my noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford and other noble friends have already highlighted, the profile of women’s rowing will be raised even further next month, when for the first time the women’s Boat Race will take place on the same day as the men’s Boat Race on the tideway. Additionally, the BBC will broadcast the women’s race live, as it does the men’s race, putting the women on an equal footing with men for the first time in history. Frankly, I am amazed that this has not been done before, because the Boat Race is watched by more than a quarter of a million people live, while television audiences in the UK are upwards of 7 million people and more than 100 countries request rights to screen the race live or as a highlights package.
A key factor in achieving this success has been the investment in the women’s team by Newton Investment Management. I am so glad that my noble friend Lady Bottomley spoke of the CEO of Newton, Helena Morrissey, who sits on the Government’s Women and Sport Advisory Board. She is personally committed to women’s sport and recognises the commercial opportunity that it offers. I want to acknowledge some of the other high-profile sponsorship deals for women’s sport; for example, Investec sponsors women’s hockey, while Kia Motors sponsors women’s cricket. We want other brands to capitalise on the commercial opportunities in women’s sport in the same way.
As well as through sponsorship and media, it is important that sportswomen are recognised in other ways, too, and I was glad that my noble friend Lord Addington spoke about honours. I am pleased to report that one of the five key factors on which the Women and Sport Advisory Board focuses is recognition and honours. The board has pushed for more women to be nominated in the honours process. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport writes to sports bodies twice a year urging them to nominate more women for honours. Since London 2012, at least 30% of sports honours have gone to women each year.
My noble friends Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lady Brady were right to emphasise the importance of volunteers in sport. Last month, Sport England launched Club Matters, a £3.6 million programme to support community sport and volunteers at grass-roots level. Club Matters also supports people to set up new clubs, which my noble friend Lord Addington was absolutely right to raise. There is a whole range of resources available online to help those at the very start of the journey—for amateur clubs, as well as for more established clubs. As part of the Olympic legacy, Join In has continued to increase its pool of volunteers. It now has more than 250 local leaders trained, enabling more people than ever to become involved with grass-roots sports clubs through the 30 established local networks.
At the other end of the scale, UK Sport encourages all its funded athletes to give five days a year to volunteering. Through that programme, those world-class athletes have given back more than 10,000 days to schools and communities since London 2012. Many organisations already allow their staff days off for volunteering as part of their corporate social responsibility strategy, and I encourage that. For example, many departments in the Civil Service offer up to five days a year for volunteering, recognising the benefits for employees and recipients of their time.
My noble friend Lord Thomas of Gresford raised a number of issues regarding specific boat clubs. I know that Sport England is familiar with the proposal from Chester Royals and is supporting the club as it develops the idea for a water sports hub on the Dee. I was very sorry to hear that my noble friend has not received a reply about Hillingdon Rowing Club. I will of course look into the matter and report back to him.
The Minister for Sport has done something extremely important in establishing a Women and Sport Advisory Board. The noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, mentioned that. It will be focusing on increasing women’s participation in sport, improving the media profile of women’s sport, increasing commercial investment in women’s sport, improving women’s representation in leadership—my noble friend Lady Brady mentioned that in particular—as well as representation in the workforce, and a greater recognition for women’s sporting achievements. A final report will be published this month and will give suggestions for future action on women’s sport, which I believe we will all welcome.
British Rowing, with the support of Sport England, is initiating innovative ideas to increase participation. We wish to encourage sport, including rowing, to be enjoyed at all levels and by all abilities. I think that we all wish rowing every success, and may it continue to flourish.
Employment Levels of Older People
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I have tabled this debate largely to illuminate the employment challenges faced by the over-50s in our society. I am privileged to head up a think tank, the ILC-UK, or International Longevity Centre, one of 17 around the world. Through it, we try to help people plan for the future in the light of demographic change and look at the challenges, as well as some of the advantages, of our increased longevity.
Recently, the ILC published two new reports called The Missing Million. These illuminate the employment challenges of people who are over 50, demonstrating that, of the 3.3 million economically inactive people aged 50 to 64, approximately 1 million have been made “involuntarily workless”. We know that the plight of people aged 50-plus is worse than that of those aged 60-plus in a country where there has been very important legislation to ban age discrimination for some years. This really is bad and economically stupid.
The ILC research also shows that if people aged 50 and above are helped back into employment, it does not mean that younger people are crowded out of the labour market. Helping older people into the labour market, or back into it, could also lead to a potential £88 billion boost to UK GDP. As we know, these people create jobs in the consumer sector if they are working because they create the need for more things for other people to buy as those people have more money to spend. If they work and are caring for older relatives, grandchildren or even their own children, then other people are employed in caring. They are a boost to the economy, not a drain on it. This is creating more wealth.
We also know that people who are denied access into the labour market through discrimination, or for whatever reason, will tend to disappear into the black market and the black economy. They will do that because very often they need the money and they have some skills. That is the rather sad result of inadequate policies and safeguards to ensure that they can get work.
The Government created a business champion for older workers, Dr Ros Altmann, who argued recently that if everybody retired one year later, it would add 1% to this nation’s GDP. We know that chronological age has now become rather irrelevant; what we are talking about is capacity and the will to work and to contribute to society and in most cases—because we do not force people into scaffolding or something at the age of 50-plus—people who are in work have a better health record, a better social life with mates or friends and feel that they have more self-worth because they are contributing to the nation’s economy and to society at large. I share Ros Altmann’s belief that retirement should be a journey rather than a one-off event. No employer should make an assumption that employees should be on the work scrapheap because they have reached an arbitrary milestone in their lives.
One common argument against greater labour market participation in older age is that it will prevent younger people entering or staying in paid employment because it takes the jobs away from them. We know, however, that that argument is built on the false assumption that there is a fixed number of jobs in an economy—the lump of labour argument. It has been demonstrated over and over again that that is a fallacy: there is no lump of labour. Creating jobs for people creates a market for more jobs. It is nonsense to assume the opposite, but that assumption goes on.
An increasing number of older people in employment can also support employment across all ages. Older and younger people in a job in a firm can work together. You have the experience of someone who knows the history of the company and young people who may have more vibrant or new ideas to introduce. Together, they are stronger than if there is just one age group. That is a good sign in an economy, and it needs to be encouraged.
Saga carried out some research on that, which showed that the extension of people’s working lives has enhanced employment opportunities for people of all age groups, in particular for younger people. Using data spanning about 50 years from 22 countries, some very good OECD research in 2010 found that old and young workers complement each other rather than substitute for one another, so encouraging later retirement will not have an adverse effect on youth employment. At an individual level, there are also potential benefits—earnings gains, pensions saved and improved financial well-being—but there are also benefits to individuals’ health and well-being. There is a reason to get up in the morning. There is a reason to meet your friends, social interaction, having a part in society and feeling that you have self-worth. Those are all excellent things.
It is encouraging that as part of the DWP’s Age Positive initiative, the Government announced in December an older workers’ champion scheme to combat age discrimination offering targeted support for older jobseekers. I welcome that and hope that the Minister will tell us how well it is doing and how we can all encourage it to do more.
Looking at other good examples, everybody in this field has heard of B&Q, because it led the way in employing older people. Barclays recently launched a new apprenticeship scheme for the over-50s who want a career in the City. We know of the success of Teach First. I have been promoting the idea of “mentor later”. We are looking at how we can do something on those lines with older people.
There are many things that one can do. Paid employment is one thing, but there are other opportunities for older people to play a full role in society. As for stimulating youth employment, the best way to achieve that is through targeted measures that will make young people better prospects for employers, such as improved training and supporting the growth agenda. Young people often benefit from mentoring at work from their older colleagues.
The employment of older people does not keep younger people out of the job market. Rather, by the means outlined above, all our adult citizens, irrespective of their age, who want to work should and could be helped not only to fulfil their aspirations but to contribute to the economy at large, our economy, our society and the benefit of us all.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for securing this important debate. She is a superb advocate for the elderly, and this debate demonstrates her sharp concern for old and young alike. It is appropriate that we are having this debate in the Moses Room. The Bible tells us that Moses lived for 120 years, and even at that age, his eyes were clear and his vigour unabated. Sadly, history is silent on the effect on the Old Testament labour market. British life spans have not reached biblical levels, but many Britons are now working well into their 60s, and 1.1 million workers are now over 65. That is a quarter of a million more than when default retirement was abolished four years ago. That has had a major effect, but broader social trends are also at work. The number of older people working has increased throughout the past two decades. The decline of heavy manual work, improved health and the rise of part-time working are all making a contribution. We cannot turn back these trends, nor should we try to. For one thing, the earnings of older workers create demand and jobs. For another, the impact on full-time workers is smaller than it appears. Fewer than 20% of over-65s have a traditional full-time job. Most are part-time or self-employed. The vast majority of young people want full-time jobs, so they will not feel direct competition.
However, the ability to retain skilled workers will impact on companies’ decisions to hire new people. For higher-paid workers, this can be partly dealt with by employers offering lower wages as workers learn their trade. However, at lower levels of pay, the minimum wage rightly limits this approach. This should not change. We have the minimum wage in order to prevent exploitation of all workers.
We must find another way to help younger workers, especially those on the edges of the labour market. The key is to improve the skills of those young people who struggle to find full-time work. We offer significant support to university students, but our offer to those who do not take that route is much less effective. The crucial group is the NEETs: young people not in work, school or vocational education. For all the media stereotypes, what sets NEETs apart is that they do not have good GCSEs. This means they often pursue low-level qualifications which lead only to casual work and frequent unemployment. Bluntly, the Government are failing these teenagers, at school, after school and in the job centre.
How can we do better? First, we must offer all young people the chance to advance their careers while still at school, not just those destined for higher education. This requires a greater variety of educational provision, which could be delivered through vocational courses, specialist schools, university technical colleges or even by industrial partners—provision by industrial partners is growing. Next, we need every young person to get maths and English qualifications, even well after they finish school. All the evidence shows that these core qualifications are vital to finding work. The Government have made the right choice by insisting students who do not get good maths and English GCSEs take these courses as part of vocational education or apprenticeships, yet many drop out or do not pass. Data from the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion show that more than a quarter of apprentices do not successfully complete their course, a far higher rate than for A-level students. That is a disturbing figure, as those young people are precisely those likely to struggle in the labour market.
Our aim should be that every single 21 year-old has maths and English qualifications. We should not stop educating them until they do, whatever it takes. For example, that might mean paying employers to support failed apprentices studying for an extra year and at the same time having some mentoring by older people who are beyond retirement age. This will mean working unconventionally, whether with employers or with health and social work teams that pick up the hardest-to-reach young people.
Finally, we must expose young people to the world of work much earlier, so that they can build links with employers and understand what is required to hold down a good job. To do that, we need local employers, councils and colleges to work together to improve education and training courses. This will help employers anticipate the problems some young people have in adapting to work, such as with the structure of the working day. This is not an impossible challenge. In most cities, just a few hundred young people need this kind of focused support each year. Each worker over retirement age could be a mentor, providing early work experience and career support, and putting young people on the right course to get a good job.
In an age when the competition for work is greater than ever, our challenge lies with the neglected young people who deserve better from us. We cannot prevent older workers earning, and we should not race to the bottom on wages. That means that we must resolve to do better for those at the margins of the labour market.
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to discuss this issue and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for initiating this debate. I share her concerns and conclusions. There is an assumption that apprenticeships should be for younger people, but there are advantages in apprenticeships for older people—I think of the example of Barclays, as well as others in the construction industry, which are particularly welcome. The noble Baroness is absolutely right, too, to draw our attention to the needs of the over-50s. Those who, for whatever reason, lose their jobs in their late 40s or early 50s can find it quite difficult to return to the world of work.
It is true that more older people work than used to be the case. There are now more than 1.1 million people aged over 65 who work—an increase in the last year of more than 50,000. I welcome the opportunity for older people to be in work if they wish to be, and I accept entirely that we have to do more to ensure that every individual is enabled to work if they want to be in work. It is also true that younger people can face difficulties in securing employment, in securing employment that pays enough and in securing employment that can lead to career development. However, it does not follow—I am entirely with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, on this—that there needs to be an adverse effect on youth employment arising from older people staying in employment for longer.
There are two reasons for that. The first is the growth in the economy that we are now experiencing, together with the huge growth in vocational apprenticeships for young people, both of which will make a big difference. Secondly, older people will still be retiring at some point, so the growth need not be a long-term upwards trend, even if it continues for a few years.
Given the growth in the number of jobs that has taken place in the last five years, with almost 31 million people now in work in the United Kingdom, older people are needed, not least to train the next generation and transfer their skills to them. It is interesting to note that around two-thirds of the growth in employment over the past five years seems to be in higher-skilled jobs. Older people have tended to fill those jobs, and one consequence is that fewer young people get promoted and so start to earn more. As I said, before long that trend should cease.
Not everyone wants to continue working when they are older. Over the next few years, despite the growth in the number of older people staying in work for longer, some 200,000 people are expected to retire from manufacturing and engineering jobs. They will have to be replaced at a time when more are needed anyway. This country has a skills gap. All over the United Kingdom, in manufacturing, engineering and the process industries, there are shortages at level 3 and above. That is why apprenticeships matter—apprenticeships driven by the needs of businesses. We should welcome the huge growth in apprenticeship starts. There have been more than 2 million under this Government, which is twice as high as the figure achieved by the previous Government. That is contributing so much to vocational training and equipping many more young people to undertake skilled work.
Apprenticeships can be of different kinds, and older workers can transfer their skills to younger workers through them. I am impressed by the commitment of businesses all over the country to them—for example, the shared apprenticeship scheme of the Construction Industry Training Board, which enables more young people to be trained because they can be with more than one employer over the three-year period of an apprenticeship. There have been successful pilots in Lancashire, Merseyside and Wales, with several more schemes now offering three-year apprenticeships. Importantly, more than 90% of those who complete their three-year shared apprenticeship by this means secure full-time jobs, which is higher than the average.
As we achieve higher growth, we need to reflect on the fact that just over 16% of young people aged 16 to 24 are still unemployed. That is around three-quarters of a million. Of those, some 40% are in some form of education or training, but that figure is simply too high, despite the significant achievements of this Government. We need much better careers advice for young people when they choose courses at school, to ensure that the courses they take enable them to take up the apprenticeships at a later date. We need careers advice in schools to broker better relationships with employers. Some very interesting research has been undertaken, not least that by IPPR North in January 2014 which explained how that might be done to the advantage of both employers and young people. The reason why all this matters is that the nature of employment is changing and the level of skills needed is higher than it used to be.
It is a welcome fact that unemployment is going down, and has been doing so for some time, but it needs to go down faster for young people, and the pay rates for young people need to rise. None of this needs have an effect on the potential for additional employment opportunities for older people. This week I noticed on Tuesday a report on the front page of the Financial Times and then later comments from the Institute for Fiscal Studies about movements in pay reported by HMRC from the PAYE system over the past six years. It is interesting to see that the regions outside London cut the pay gap with London in the six years from 2008 to 2014, with cash growth in median pay in London half the rate in the United Kingdom as a whole. Interestingly, the rate in London is a quarter of the rate in the north-east of England, where I live. Regionally, from the perspective of the north-east, I strongly welcome that. However, that is a geographical test of course, and we need to go a bit further. By age, the IFS said that median pay for young people between the ages of 22 and 29 is down 9% in real terms in those six years, so growth in median pay is lower in London and it is much worse for younger people. Those two facts relate to each other because in London young people make up a much higher proportion of the workforce: the average age of workers is 34 in London but 40 in the rest of the United Kingdom.
In one sense, this confirms what we already know in terms of intergenerational differences, but we need to be more alert to it because younger people cannot be expected to manage high personal debt as well as cover future debt from government borrowing today. They need secure jobs and jobs that pay enough to meet their essential expenditure. We need to ensure that the overall gains of economic growth resulting from the work that this Government have undertaken so effectively, particularly in the past two or three years, are spread and shared by all—both the older and the younger.
My Lords, this has been an interesting short debate. I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for enabling us to reflect on this issue today and for her many years of championing older people in our society. I also thank my noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya for pointing out that we have Moses presiding over us today. I remind him that we also have a very young Daniel presiding over us. Perhaps that tells us something about the importance of both young and older people and the wisdom that they both have to offer to us in our judgments.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, have done a fine job of debunking the lump of labour fallacy, thereby saving the Minister and me the need to do that. However, it is worth dwelling on it briefly. I am amazed by just how hard it is to persuade most people that something that seems as obvious as the idea that if more older people work, younger people will not be able to may not in fact be true. That is something for the Government to think about. How does one go about trying to make sure that everybody understands that things are a bit more complicated than that?
In the pack that the House of Lords Library made to help us with this debate, which was very helpful, they kindly included a very interesting report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies from 2008 called Releasing jobs for the young? Early retirement and youth unemployment in the United Kingdom. It could almost have been written for today. Of course, the IFS evaluated the job release scheme, which was designed precisely to release jobs for younger people, but also looked at the measures that Governments took between the late 1960s and 2005. Its findings precisely backed up the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. On the job release scheme, it found,
“some evidence that it reduced employment of the old but no positive effect can be found on youth employment”.
It went on to say:
“When looking at the entire 1968-2005 period, labor force participation of the old is positively associated with employment of the young … Overall we find no evidence of long-term crowding-out of younger individuals from the labor market by older workers. The evidence, according to a variety of methods, points always in the direction of an absence of such a relationship”.
So the evidence is really very strong, and I hope that we can all agree with that.
That said, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that there is an issue about youth unemployment, which needs quick and careful attention. I agree with my noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya about the importance of focusing on NEETs and the importance of skills, a point also made by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. However, despite the welcome improvement in employment rates generally, young people are now almost three times as likely to be unemployed as the rest of the population. The youth unemployment proportion is 13%, whereas it is only 4% for 25 to 64 year-olds. So something is going on there. Young people are now faring, comparatively speaking, worse than at any point since 1992, which means that the UK is now towards the bottom of the league table internationally when it comes to giving young people a fair chance, with the gap between the youth unemployment rate and the overall rate higher in the UK than in all but five out of 39 OECD countries for which data are available.
We need to see some good help being given to young people, but only 35% of young people find a job after two years on the Work Programme. Indeed, more people return to the jobcentre than find a job as a result of the Work Programme. Last summer, the Government announced that they had decided to scrap the Youth Contract ahead of its planned closure. The latest figures published by the DWP showed that two-thirds of the way through the scheme’s three-year duration, the Youth Contract had delivered less than 13% of the promised job placements, with 20,030 wage incentives paid rather than the target of 160,000. So there is reason to be concerned and need for action.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Bhattacharyya about the importance of careers and mentoring and getting education right, but we need more direct intervention, too. Labour would tackle this problem by bringing in a compulsory job guarantee for anyone under 25 who has been on JSA for a year or more, as well as reforming the Work Programme and introducing a new youth allowance to ensure that unemployed 18 to 21 year-olds who do not have the skills they need to get a decent job are training as well as looking for work. We simply cannot afford to have young people scarred by damaging periods of unemployment, which can carry on having effects throughout their working lives.
Then there is the position of older workers, described very movingly by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. If you want to see the effects on older people of being able to turn up every day for work, to feel that they have a sense of worth and something to contribute and to mix with friends and colleagues, we do not have to look very far from this Room. The House of Lords shows just what a positive effect having a role to play in society can have on some people at quite a considerable age.
However, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, pointed out, there are still too many older people who would like to work but cannot get a job or who lose their job in their 50s and then struggle to get back in, despite having great skills and experience. If the state pension age is to continue to rise, we need to ensure that older people can stay in employment on the kind of wages that enable them to carry on saving for a pension. Otherwise, not only will they end up struggling to get by on benefits designed for those who are temporarily unemployed, they will not be able to build up the kind of pension provision that they will need to have a comfortable retirement when they get there.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, mentioned that the DWP will be giving more tailored support, and I will be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say. At the moment, it is not working. In fact, the Work Programme works even less well for older workers than for younger workers. In the latest figures available, 30% of 18 to 24 year-olds achieved a job outcome, but of 50 to 54 year-olds it was just 17% and it fell to 13% of 55 to 59 year-olds and of those who were 60-plus fewer than 7% achieved a job outcome. Whatever is happening now is simply not working for older people who want to get back into the workforce.
Labour would reform the Work Programme, devolving it to make it more responsive to the needs of older people in different areas of the country. We would also introduce a compulsory jobs guarantee to ensure that older jobseekers who have been unemployed for more than two years are guaranteed the offer of a paid job, and we would look to help more older workers save for a pension. With the latest figures showing that less than a third of self-employed workers are currently saving into a pension—older workers are more likely to be self-employed—we would act to find ways to help older self-employed workers to save for a pension. We would cut red tape for older workers. The new universal credit rules threaten 600,000 self-employed workers with a huge increase in red tape, and that is something that Labour is committed to addressing. We would also introduce a higher rate of jobseeker’s allowance for those who have contributed for longer, funded by extending the length of time for which people need to have worked to qualify.
I will be very interested to hear from the Minister what the Government’s strategy is to address that very serious problem. I have two other specific questions for him. First, what thought are the Government giving to ways in which employers as a whole can think about the way workers move into retirement? We have known for a long time that it is not always the most healthy thing for someone to go from a full-time, very high-stress job into nothing at all. It is not good for their physical or mental health and is certainly not good for their spouse or partner in many cases. Have the Government given some thought as to how strategically as a country we might approach that? Secondly, have the Government considered what impact, if any, the new pension freedoms might have on the pattern of labour market participation by older workers?
There is a challenge for us as a country to ensure that neither older nor younger workers are left behind as the economy slowly recovers. Fortunately, I do not believe that the people of our country will warm to a public debate that divides generation from generation. After all, many older people are deeply concerned about the opportunities and prospects for their children and grandchildren, and conversely the young do not want to see their parents and grandparents thrown on the scrapheap at 50 when they have so much to contribute. Apart from the individual costs, our country can ill afford to lose the talents and energies of either our younger or our older workers. If we do not tackle those challenges, we will all be the poorer.
My Lords, like other speakers in this debate, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for bringing this question to the Committee. I am really pleased to acknowledge the work she has done in this area. She has been director general of Age Concern and is now chief executive of the International Longevity Centre. I am also very pleased to be able to respond to as many of the points made by colleagues in the Committee as I can.
We are today talking not about a potential increase in the employment of older people but about a very real and sustained improvement. The past year has seen the number of over-50s in work exceed 9 million for the first time. It has risen by nearly 250,000 in the past 12 months and by more than 1 million since 2010. That is not just about the number of older people rising. The proportion of over-50s in work has also reached the highest on record.
The question of whether the increase in the number of old people in work has an impact on other groups is one that I think we are all in violent agreement on—the lump of labour fallacy. The figures that we have just seen demonstrate that it is a fallacy. If we exclude young people who are in full-time education, the employment of under-25s has risen by nearly 70,000 in the past year alone and by 140,000 since 2010.
I will pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, that 16% of young people are still unemployed. The actual figure, if students are excluded, is 6.8% of young people unemployed at that level. So we should not worry about a rise in employment in one group damaging the chances of another. We are not in a zero-sum game. A recent report for the European Parliament which looked at employment trends for older and younger workers across the EU found no trade-off between rates of employment. The IFS study which the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, quoted looked specifically at the UK. It concluded:
“When looking at the entire 1968 to 2005 period … we find no evidence of long-term crowding-out of younger individuals from the labour market by older workers”.
It is interesting how Governments used to think like this. The 1970s and 1980s programmes such as the Job Release Scheme, which positively encouraged older people to leave the market so that it would free up jobs for the young, had their origins in that thinking. It is interesting that the IFS concluded that that particular programme did achieve one of its aims. It reduced employment among older workers but there was no evidence of a corresponding effective employment of young people.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, raised the Saga report on how over-50s make an important and growing contribution to society. It made the point that she was making that encouraging people to leave the labour force early reduces spending power and demand in the economy.
Evidence from research goes in the entirely opposite way to the lump of labour fallacy, because older and younger workers are likely to complement each other. A study by the RAND organisation in 2009, using data from 22 OECD countries, suggested that there was a positive effect. In other words, for every one additional older person in work, the overall effect was nearly 1.1 more people in work. Far from the substitution effect, firms may choose to hire both because this brings a healthy mix of skills, qualities and experiences.
I want to outline briefly what the Government are doing for older workers. We abolished the default retirement age in 2011; we extended the right to request flexible working for all; and we have introduced Fit for Work, which helps with sickness absence and provides an occupational health assessment and health and work advice to employees, employers and GPs. In Jobcentres, work coaches have the flexibility to offer all claimants a comprehensive menu of support. In addition, in last year’s Autumn Statement we announced two pilots, which will support 3,000 people who need help to move back into work or start a new career in a different sector. These will be based on our current sector-based work academies and work experience programmes—currently more orientated at youngsters—but tailored to the needs of older people.
We are planning two further trials that will explore what may provide effective support for these older claimants. The first will look at support through a career review-based approach and the second will look at providing IT and digital support. We will also introduce regional champions in Jobcentre Plus, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross. That champion role will start later this month. I want these roles to work with local employers and share good practice so that we can promote activity for older claimants in the regions.
The noble Baroness raised the issue of those made involuntarily workless and talked about there being 1 million of them. We published Fuller Working Lives to set out what the Government and others are doing to tackle this. We are making good progress on the commitments in respect of it.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, asked about the Work Programme. That treats everyone as an individual rather than looking at this on the basis of age. Up to September 2014, there had been 300,000 referrals of people aged 50 and over, which resulted in more than 42,000 job outcomes.
The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, made a point about flexibility in pension schemes. That is key, in that it enables more flexible retirement options. We are bringing in new flexibilities in April for people with defined contribution pension arrangements by introducing new freedoms in terms of how and when they access their pension payments.
As for policies for younger workers, sector-based work academies are available in England and Scotland. That has been a very successful programme, with a combination of pre-employment training, work experience and guaranteed interviews. They are local and demand-led, so you have different sectors depending on where you are running those schemes. There have been more than 88,000 sector-based work academy starts for 18 to 24 year-olds since the scheme began in August 2011. We have had 247,000 work experience placements for 18 to 24 year-olds, and various healthy outcomes, with half of work experience participants off benefits 21 weeks after starting their placements. The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised the issue of the success of apprenticeships. There have been more than 2 million since the election.
This is more of a theoretical debate than a political one, but I will just pick up very gently the description given by the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, of some of the Labour policies, such as the jobs guarantee. I am in despair about all that, because that is the kind of top-down approach of saying, “We can produce the jobs for the people and put them into them”, which is exactly the wrong way to go about creating a dynamic economy. You want to have people put into real jobs that will last. I just express my despair and move on.
To pick up the point about apprenticeships again, we clearly need to see how that works for older people. It has worked really well for younger people and is something that Ros Altmann has been championing for older people. As noble Lords have pointed out, there are schemes now, from Barclays for example, to do that. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Bhattacharyya, they have been successful: 89% of employers report that that process has helped their business and improved their quality and standards. Last year the Education Secretary announced a new careers and enterprise company for schools to transform the provision of careers education and advice for young people. I repeat my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, for bringing this Question to the House. Today’s contributions have been interesting and I think we are all fundamentally in agreement, apart from my one point of despair.
Youth unemployment is a really serious matter and this debate has been another opportunity for us to emphasise that increasing the number of older workers does not have an adverse effect on youth employment.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, we are nearing the end of a Parliament, which is, perhaps, a good time to assess what progress has been made in this important area, where we are and where we want to be. I start by congratulating the Government on two measures of immense importance. The first was their decision to enable equal marriage, which did a vast amount not only to encourage equality but at the same time to fight prejudice against gay people, which stands against progress in fighting HIV and AIDS literally around the world. The second was to double their contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which brings invaluable help to areas where the death toll has been immense. AIDS alone has been responsible for 35 million deaths around the world since the epidemic began. Frankly, the criticism of the National Audit Office that this was an example of a last-minute decision was about as far from the mark as it was possible to get. It was first promised not by the current Secretary of State but by her predecessor, Andrew Mitchell, and it was, as I say, extraordinarily welcome.
However, in this short debate I want to concentrate on this country and ask whether we are making the progress that we should. In bare statistics, last year there were almost 6,500 new HIV diagnoses. I have just come back from Russia, where I looked at the position there. Indeed, they were kind enough to present me with a medal for 25 years service. It is a damn sight more than I ever get from the Department of Health, I can tell noble Lords, but I fear that it makes me no more sympathetic to their policies, which last year resulted in 85,000 new HIV diagnoses. The figure goes up remorselessly each year.
The temptation is, against that background, to say about Britain, with fewer than 6,500 new HIV diagnoses, what are you worried about and what is the problem? The problem, basically, is that today in Britain there are 100,000 men, women and children living with HIV. That is almost double the number accessing care a decade ago. The National Health Service now spends £860 million a year on treatment and care: almost £1 billion a year. Worst of all, of those 100,000 with HIV, about a quarter are undiagnosed. They do not know that they have the virus and, of course, other things being equal, they spread HIV further. In other words we have, in my view, an undoubted public health crisis and, although we now have antiretroviral drugs which prolong life, we still face the situation which we faced, frankly, in the 1980s, with no cure and no vaccine.
Against such figures, what can we do and what are we doing? The obvious step is to put the maximum effort into prevention. We save £320,000 in lifetime costs for every infection which is prevented. Top of the list in prevention policy is to persuade ever more people to be tested. We are not going to win when we have around 25,000 people untested and undiagnosed in the community. Second to that is that we also need to persuade people to continue with their treatment once they are on it. Too many drop off. The point to recognise, generally, here is that persuasion can work, provided that sufficient imagination is put into the messages and it is backed by sufficient resources. We established that back in 1986-87 with the promotion of condom use and the warnings against shared needles.
The Select Committee that I chaired in 2011—I am glad to see that one of its members, my noble friend Lord Gardiner, is sitting very near me—raised this point with the Government. We said that publicity was inadequate and should be increased, so what did the department do? It cut it further. Today, the department spends about £2.4 million a year nationally on promoting prevention. I repeat that the cost of treatment and care is £860 million a year. It is, frankly, a ludicrous position. We spend hundreds of millions on treating the casualties but next to nothing on trying to prevent those casualties coming about. The defence for this is that, in addition to the national campaign, another £10 million or £11 million is spent by local authorities, although the figures suggest that some of the most affected local authorities are spending next to nothing, if anything at all.
Frankly, making every allowance in the book, the amount we spend on trying to prevent infection is seriously inadequate. Prevention is simply not being given the priority that it deserves. If it were not for the NGOs and the volunteers, our overall national policy would, in my view, be not only in trouble but in tatters.
Therefore, I say to the Government that we need a new campaign to encourage testing, which is the obvious glaring gap in our policy. A few weeks ago, I proposed to the Minister on the Floor of the House that a task force should be set up to explore how to take that forward. The Minister, as is his custom, was courteous—even encouraging—but, frankly, I have heard no more, doubtless because he was planning the detail of the campaign that I set out. Perhaps this afternoon he might come forward with those proposals.
I would like to make two further points. The first is on drugs and harm reduction policy generally. We introduced clean needles and then methadone as a policy back in the 1980s. Methadone is not injected and therefore has an obvious use in reducing transmission. It has been demonstrably successful as a policy. For the last 25 years the number contracting HIV in this country through shared needles has been around 1% of the total—almost imperceptible. Therefore, it is vastly important that that policy is maintained and that there is no lurching away from it. Why do I say, “lurching away from it”? In recent weeks there has been a suggestion that policy is changing. There has been a hint that drug users should be forced into taking treatment—taken not only off injecting drugs but off methadone as well. I say to the Minister that my only advice on this is to go very cautiously indeed.
Of course, we all want to see as many people as possible living a drug-free life, but we should not underestimate the difficulties, which are not going to be reconciled by a speedy review of a few weeks. If you want to see the alternative, again, go to Russia: see the treatment centres there and the attempt at rehabilitation, and look at the figures. They show that after 12 months of treatment and rehabilitation 80% or 90% go back to injecting drugs, and after five years virtually everyone does.
Given that drug users have never really been able to be forced off drugs in the way that seems to be imagined, I think we might also remember that methadone can lead to a recovered life. I remember visiting a clinic in Ukraine, where the doctor in charge basically said just that—that, although some of them had been on methadone for six, seven or eight years, they had at least been restored to society: they held down jobs and were relating to their families again. Basically, I would like an assurance that there is no intention on the part of the Government to turn their back on sensible harm reduction policies.
My last point I make in précis. The latest research shows that the drug Truvada can very substantially cut HIV for men who have sex with men. It prevents HIV infection. Given that men who have sex with men are the group most affected by HIV in this country, it seems obvious that we should develop that policy as quickly as we can. Of course, there are costs to the policy, but there are even greater costs in doing nothing.
My conclusion is this. On a number of issues, such as the increased contribution to the Global Fund, this country has been among the leaders in the world, but I fear that nationally, inside Britain, there are too many gaps in our policy to say that we lead the world. What we can say is that we have some of the finest and most devoted clinicians, NGOs, voluntary organisations and officials. If I had one word of advice for the Government, it would be that Ministers should raise their general policy game to the level of those doctors and volunteers who work so tirelessly in this country to eliminate HIV and AIDS.
My Lords, I begin with what is a normal courtesy but I really mean it. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for securing this debate and for his dedication and overwhelming commitment to the issues of HIV/AIDS and non-discrimination. I also want to develop the theme which he outlined. There has been a massive expansion globally of HIV interventions, which has transformed the HIV epidemic and the broader public health landscape, demonstrating that the right to health can be realised even in the most trying circumstances. I remember well the 1980s when, as a gay man, I saw AIDS and HIV portrayed in the media as the gay plague. We have moved further, and onwards, since then. I welcome that move and I welcome this Government’s commitment and their increased funding, particularly for the Global Fund.
There has been much progress in the developing world but I must express my concern at our view, now taken, that we should pull back in those so-called middle-income countries such as South Africa, where there is a high and increasing prevalence of HIV infection. To pull back in those middle-income countries, with this Government leading on asking the Global Fund to pull back in them, will reverse all the good that has been done.
I turn now specifically to the United Kingdom. People with HIV who receive appropriate treatment, as we know, have a near-normal life expectancy and are very unlikely to transmit the virus. Yet the proportion of people receiving a late diagnosis, according to Library statistics, was 47% in 2012. An estimated 22% of people living with HIV in the United Kingdom are unaware of their infection or status. Increasing HIV testing is therefore important so that treatment can be given and onward transmission prevented. Successful prevention depends on a combination of testing, treating and behavioural change. Giving antiretroviral drugs to those at risk could reduce infections. We know that that work is being rolled out in the United States. Work is also being done here on that. I have to express concerns at some parts of the media comparing the cost of this treatment to that of cancer care. When it comes to the health of an individual, comparisons are odious. There are concerns that the separation of commissioning HIV treatment and prevention has negatively impacted patients.
I have specific questions for the Minister but I will come to those shortly. First, let me refer to the National AIDS Trust and its press release of 20 February 2015. In its report, HIV Prevention—Underfunded and Deprioritised, the charity states:
“Not enough money is being spent on HIV prevention to have any impact on the … new HIV infections”—
as was outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler. The trust estimates that,
“in 2014/15 £15 million was spent nationally on HIV prevention compared with £55 million allocated in 2001/02 … In this time the number of people living with HIV has trebled whilst the amount spent on prevention has decreased to less than a third of the original budget”.
This makes no sense whatever. The report continues:
“This estimate is based on information provided to NAT from local authorities in England with a high prevalence of HIV. £10 million was spent in 2014/15 on HIV prevention in these areas—this works out at only 70p per person. The report found that in local authorities with high prevalence of HIV less than 1% of local authority public health allocation is spent on HIV prevention. In 2013 the NHS spent 55 times more on HIV treatment and care in these areas than local authorities spent on HIV prevention”.
According to the chief executive of the NAT:
“Our research found, shockingly, in the 58 areas of highest prevalence of HIV in England, seven local authorities weren’t spending anything on primary HIV prevention or on additional testing services. Worryingly we also found no correlation between level of HIV prevalence in an area and how much was being spent on prevention”.
The report continues:
“The HIV charity is also concerned that more problems are on the horizon when the ring-fencing for the public health budget is removed. Currently, local authorities are given money to provide basic services such as sexual health clinics. In April 2016 they will be able to spend this money on anything”.
To quote the chief executive:
“In the current climate of cuts and pressure on budgets we are extremely worried this money will be used to shore up other areas of council spend. This would be a disaster for public health in this country”.
I now come to my questions. Will the Government address this funding gap, maintain public health ring-fencing and prioritise HIV prevention and testing services? It is three weeks to purdah and the new financial year. The people who are supposed to be managing the national HIV prevention programme, which has been cut in half, have still had no instruction on how the money should be reallocated, let alone spent. They are dependent on getting approval for this from the Department of Health, which means that the charities involved will not even get the four weeks’ notice they need to give notice, in turn, to staff who may lose their jobs. How do the Government intend to ensure continuity of service?
We also need a nationally co-ordinated approach to ensure that we use ever-decreasing resources effectively to reduce undiagnosed HIV and forward transmission. How will the Government ensure a co-ordinated approach when they are not planning and consulting on it? We have a situation where reducing duplication and using money wisely is paramount, yet I am reliably informed that there is a total abdication of any national responsibility for this. Both the Department of Health and Public Health England say they can only advise. It is deeply worrying and I look to the Minister for his replies.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for his leadership on this issue. It was needed right at the beginning of the epidemic, and he gave it, and it is needed again very strongly now and over the next few years. I am going to talk about the situation outside the UK. I have told the Minister that I am not expecting instant replies to the two questions I have, but I hope that they can be passed on to the Department for International Development.
This is, of course a global epidemic and it is in our interest to see that it is contained and managed globally as well as locally. As the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Cashman, both said, the UK is very influential in this regard. Globally, there has been amazing progress. The epidemic is coming under control in the sense that more people are going on to treatment than there are new infections each year. That is true even in South Africa, thanks to changes in the political leadership there. But it is still devastating and it will be for years to come, so there is much more to do.
In 2013, 35 million people were estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS, of whom less than half had been diagnosed; 13 million were in treatment; 2.3 million more received treatment; 2.1 million more became infected and 1.5 million died. This is an awful picture. In those countries that are particularly badly affected, HIV/AIDS affects everything about health and health services. In South Africa, there is 5% prevalence and there are huge costs to its health system. It will grow and be more costly over the next few years because the WHO has changed its guidelines about when to put people on treatment, and still many people are not yet receiving treatment. This is a big problem. Nevertheless, UNAIDS aims to see what it describes as the end of the epidemic by 2030. That will require increased funding until 2020, and it will decline thereafter.
There are economic issues as well. This is not just about human devastation, illness and death; it is also about the economy. Conservative estimates suggest that the gross national product of South Africa has decreased by at least 1% per year because of the illness of its people. I shall sum up this quick summary of the situation with the South African Government’s vision for 2030—in 15 years’ time—which reflects this reality. They aim to have life expectancy reaching 70 and a generation of under-20s largely free of HIV. That is a great vision from where they are, but it is also rather sad that is what we are talking about. This is a long march. It is a very long-term issue which needs, as I said, champions like the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, to keep the momentum up globally as well as nationally.
What are the key issues? The first is funding. The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, has already pulled out one extremely important point, which is that most people who are affected are now in middle-income countries, and the development agencies of the world, particularly DfID, do not give money to middle-income countries. Even the Global Fund, which is cash strapped, is having to prioritise the poorest countries. This is a wider issue about development because most poor people now live in middle-income countries. Therefore, we cannot think about this as being aid to poor countries; it is much more targeted.
The response of groups such as the International HIV/AIDS Alliance is to try to raise money locally. This is very difficult. I am proud to be the chair of Sightsavers, which works, for example, in India, where we can raise money because you can raise money for elderly people with cataracts or children going blind relatively easily in any society. It is much harder when you are talking about intravenous drug users or men who have sex with men. It is even harder in those countries than it is in our own country. That is the second big point about prejudice and discrimination against the groups that are most at risk. In purely health terms, this affects treatment and prevention and is very counterproductive economically and in health terms—but, of course, there are other profound ethical and human rights issues here that ought to be addressed.
The third issue that people who work in this area tell me about is the loss of priority that is coming to HIV/AIDS because, at the end of this year, we will move on from the millennium development goals to the sustainable development goals, which I support. Let me be very clear: I think that the sustainable development goals, which put an emphasis on the whole of the health system, are exactly what is needed for the future in low and middle-income countries, particularly in the light of things such as Ebola. I think the case is made by Ebola. However, it raises a very serious issue of transition from HIV/AIDS being central to international development to it not being in quite the same position, and how that transition will be managed. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on HIV/AIDS has just published an excellent report, Access Denied, which identifies these and other more detailed issues about problems in the supply chain, monitoring, pricing, R&D and so on.
What should Her Majesty’s Government do? There are many recommendations from that All-Party Parliamentary Group, but I shall draw out three. In asking questions, I want to congratulate the UK on its global leadership on this issue and, indeed, on development in global health generally. It is because DfID is so influential globally that the signals it gives on aid are fundamental. It is supporting the Global Fund. Indeed, it increased its support, and it needs to use its influence to make sure that there is continuing support from other countries. However, its recent decision to stop funding work on an AIDS vaccine is counterproductive. Will Her Majesty’s Government reassess the decision to stop funding an AIDS vaccine, as was proposed by the All-Party Parliamentary Group?
The second issue is that as the needs move to middle-income countries from low-income countries, the funding gap needs to be addressed. It is important not just that external parties such as DfID do something about this but that the countries themselves are encouraged to take up the slack. There were, after all, the Abuja agreements of 2003 and 2001, whereby every African Government committed themselves to spend 15% of their expenditure on health. Only six have yet hit that target. So there is a great challenge that should be put to the middle-income countries.
My second question is: what are Her Majesty’s Government doing to help facilitate continued access to funding for countries moving to middle-income status? That includes encouraging national Governments to play an increased part. My final point is not in the form of a question. The UK is also very influential on civil liberties, and it needs to argue the case about discrimination louder than it has. I know that that is difficult. I have spent a lot of time in Africa. I was recently in Uganda, where I came across a situation where Ugandan doctors were extremely annoyed—with the Americans, I am happy to say, rather than the Brits—because on the one hand Americans from various gay groups were arguing their case and on the other, Americans from various church groups were arguing their case. They said: “The last thing that we need is an American war on our territory”. They likened that to some other things that had happened earlier in their history.
It is difficult to intervene in any other country, but we need to take a stance as a nation about who we are as well as who our friends are and how we work with other people. There is a vital health case to be made here, because this is about health and the economy as well as people’s beliefs about society. The right to health is fundamental. It is also ultimately an economic case. Healthy populations can be productive and prosperous.
Finally, I support the call made by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, at the end of his excellent book, where he says that there should be some sort of international convention based here in London—something that this Government or a Government formed after May should take up—on protecting the rights of people who are discriminated against in that way.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am indebted to my noble friend Lord Fowler for securing this debate today and for giving us, as he said, what is probably the last opportunity before Dissolution to discuss the issue of HIV and AIDS.
It is therefore a fitting moment to pay him the warmest of tributes, as other noble Lords have done, for everything that he has done throughout this Parliament to keep this subject right up at the top of the political agenda, focusing on not just the impact of HIV and AIDS in the United Kingdom but on the terrible scourge of the epidemic in so much of the developing world, which the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, spoke about so eloquently just now. I only hope that at the end of the next Parliament in five years’ time, we will have seen more progress at home but also some of the incredibly important changes that need to take place in the developing world as a prerequisite to tackling HIV and AIDS. I absolutely agree with the noble Lord that the most crucial is the rapid decriminalisation of homosexuality in many Commonwealth countries. Criminalisation is not just a moral outrage; it is a public health disaster, and we must do everything that we can to stop it. I do not want to dwell on that subject today, but it would be good to hear from the Minister that the Government are continuing to put pressure on Commonwealth institutions to live up to their obligations under the Commonwealth charter.
I do not know whether it is a coincidence or whether my noble friend has engineered it this way, but this very week is the 30th anniversary of the approval of the first commercial HIV blood test on 2 March 1985. That was a seminal moment in the battle against what was then an unstoppable horror. Testing meant that the blood supply could essentially be freed of HIV. It also helped scientists and other public health officials to determine the extent of the epidemic. For the first time, it empowered individuals by allowing them to know their status and to protect their partners if they had been infected. What a change 30 years have made. Today, HIV testing is at an all-time high. As I understand it, in the United States, 86% of people who are infected know their status, although that means that an eye-watering 186,000 people in the United States of America do not know that they are infected.
Despite that success, however, rates of infection are still disturbingly high, as we have heard, with 6,000 people in the UK diagnosed in 2013. That figure crosses every age group. I am grateful to the Minister for providing information on that point in a Written Answer to me in the past few weeks. While the majority of people diagnosed in 2013 were in the 35 to 50 age group, 462 new cases of HIV among gay men were in those aged under 24 and 308 were in those aged over 50. Among heterosexuals, 105 women and 47 men were aged between 15 and 24 and 439 were over 50. This is still a virus that respects no boundary of age or background.
Despite the fact that an HIV diagnosis is no longer, as it was 30 years ago, a death sentence—indeed, those infected and properly treated will probably have a normal, healthy lifespan—problems, as we heard during the debate, remain. One is prevention, as my noble friend pointed out, and the other is ensuring ever-higher levels of testing. On prevention, there is a great deal of hope and optimism with the development of pre-exposure prophylaxis presenting incredibly exciting opportunities. Although it has been available in the US for some time, it is not yet here, but should, I believe, be available to all those at risk in the UK as soon as possible. As Yusef Azad at the National AIDS Trust—and I pay tribute to its work—put it to me, the very recent PROUD trial looking at the impact of pre-exposure prophylaxis here,
“is a prevention game-changer which we cannot afford to ignore. As a much needed addition to—not substitute for—condom use, its costs are modest when compared with the lifelong costs of treating someone with HIV if we fail to prevent their infection”.
He is absolutely right, and I hope that NHS England will heed those wise words. Action sooner rather than later will save not just lives, but money too. I support everything that my noble friend said. It must be Mickey Mouse economics to spend so much on treatment and so little on prevention.
Similarly, there has been much progress on testing, as we have heard, but the figures for late diagnosis—still above 40%—are shockingly high. To tackle that, I hope that, among other things, the NICE public health guidance recommending that high-prevalence local authorities commission HIV testing to be offered to all those admitted to a hospital and all those registering with a GP is implemented soon. The Government and Public Health England can play a powerful leadership role, and I would be grateful if the Minister could take the lead today in calling for such important initiatives to be implemented.
Of course, key to both testing and prevention is the ongoing problem of stigma. The National AIDS Trust survey on public attitudes published in December last year still makes very depressing reading. If anything, public knowledge and attitudes seem to be deteriorating, and we need to take action to reverse that, otherwise, all the good work on testing and prevention could be in vain. This is, of course, a matter that goes well beyond central government, but local government, the NHS and schools all have a role to play. The Government can, again, take a lead, and I know that the Minister, who has done so much to help in this area in the past, will take up that challenge and this afternoon energise all those involved to redouble their efforts to tackle stigma.
I am conscious that there are no noble Baronesses speaking this afternoon, undoubtedly because of the clash with the debate on International Women’s Day, but I want to say a word or two about the special issues still faced by women with HIV and to cast a quick glance beyond our own shores to where the situation for people with HIV is still incredibly difficult and in some cases horrific. I commend an excellent report published in the past few months by the Salamander Trust, which last summer conducted a global survey on the sexual and reproductive health and human rights of women living with HIV. Of those who responded in a survey that took place in 94 countries, a shocking 89% reported that they had experienced violence or fear of violence since or because of their diagnosis— in their homes, in their communities and even, most appallingly of all, in healthcare settings. Only 50% of respondents found their healthcare service providers to be well trained and knowledgeable about their condition. A significant number emphasised the challenges of poverty and the resulting strain that it places on mental as well as physical and sexual health. It is little wonder that 80% of respondents reported experiences of depression, shame, loneliness and feelings of rejection.
The report contains a wealth of recommendations about how to improve the specific condition of many women across the globe living with HIV. I hope that the Government will be prepared to support such recommendations. It is an initiative that the Commonwealth in particular could pursue. Progress may be slow—I think that we all understand that—but this is a tangible way in which we could help improve the lot of thousands of lonely, frightened and vulnerable people across the globe.
As so often in debates on this subject, there is much significant progress to applaud and great hope and optimism, but there are problems, too: in tackling stigma in particular. There are serious challenges beyond our shores in tackling the criminalisation of homosexuality, which is turbo-charging the HIV epidemic in much of the world, in dealing with the special problems faced by women with HIV and in ensuring access to healthcare for all who need it. As I said earlier, some of those issues will take time to tackle, but I hope that this debate will again spur us to redouble our efforts both here in the UK and in the wider world one day to bring to an end a horrific epidemic which has already claimed too many lives and will yet claim many more.
My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for his outstanding work on HIV and AIDS both here and globally, advocating action on prevention, treatment and care while attacking discrimination and stigma. As we have heard in this debate, it is estimated that 35 million people are living with HIV worldwide, with 1.5 million AIDS-related deaths in 2013. Here, 6,000 people were diagnosed as carrying the HIV infection in 2013, and 320 people were reported as having AIDS. An estimated 107,800 people are now living with HIV.
As we have heard in the debate, the UK is one of the world’s leading funders of global health. If we are to move beyond investments to control HIV and towards eradication, we desperately need new tools. Where there is an affluent market, as is the case with adult HIV drugs, we can see significant private investment. By contrast, there are very few formulations of paediatric HIV drugs, where the market is smaller and more heavily based in developing countries. UNAIDS highlights the fact that only 24% of children living with HIV currently have access to HIV treatment. Will the Minister support within government the recommendation from the HIV/AIDS APPG that the UK commissions an economic paper to contrast the total costs of developing and purchasing medical tools using the current R&D model with the costs of a delinked model?
As was asked by other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, can the Minister explain how the Government will address the growing problem in middle-income countries whereby funding is being pulled out from all directions, including from the Global Fund, while the pharmaceutical industry continues to expect MIC Governments to afford higher prices for ARV treatment?
In England, the Health and Social Care Act changed the commissioning and monitoring of HIV prevention, testing, treatment and care services. Conditions that require specialist expertise and medication are the responsibility of NHS England, including HIV treatment. In its Five Year Forward View, NHS England states that it plans to let local commissioners share responsibility for commissioning specialised services, incentivising them to direct funding towards local priorities.
Naturally, many patient groups are concerned about the impact on service standards leading to a possible postcode lottery. Their concern is heightened by the fact that there are so many outstanding questions about what co-commissioning will look like and no specific announcements related to HIV. What steps will the Minister take to ensure that the overall responsibility for the provision of services is clearly defined? It is also vital that standards of care are maintained across the country.
As we have heard in this debate, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, the Government have funded national HIV prevention programmes since 1996. In recent years, funding for these programmes has been progressively reduced. The current English national prevention programme HIV Prevention England—HPE—has been funded for three years until the end of March 2015. Funding for HPE is £2.4 million per year, which is less than the combined funding received by the previous prevention programmes in 2011 and 2012. In December 2014, the Government indicated that they intended to reduce funding for HPE by 50% to £1.2 million for 2015-16.
That decision was criticised by many organisations, who led a public campaign seeking reconsideration, and shortly afterwards it was reversed and a commitment made to fund the programme at current levels for a further year. Will the reallocated budget support a new programme of work or existing activities that are currently paid for with other budgets?
In addition to the national HPE programme, local authorities should be investing in complementary prevention initiatives as part of their public health responsibilities. However, National Aids Trust research shows that less than 0.1% of local funding allocated to public health in high HIV-prevalence areas is being spent on primary HIV prevention. A total of about 1.2 million men have sex with men and black African adults living in England. A budget of £1.2 million means that the national programme has only £l to spend a year for each person in its target audience. Does the Minister believe that that is enough to achieve the programme’s objectives? The estimated lifetime cost of treating someone with HIV is £360,777. That means that even if a £2.4 million programme prevented only seven new transmissions a year, it would save the NHS money. Is there not a strong case for increasing the funding rather than cutting it?
Finally, I raise the issue of pre-exposure prophylaxis—PrEP—to which the noble Lord, Lord Black, referred. Really impressive research from England was released last week. I read it at the international retrovirus conference in Seattle. The study recruited men who have sex with men and trans women who were at elevated risk of acquiring HIV. They had multiple partners; condom use was inconsistent or irregular; rates of sexually transmitted infections were high; many participants had needed post-exposure prophylaxis before and recreational drug use was common. Participants were generally well-educated and in full-time employment. The fact that the study has demonstrated such a high and statistically significant level of efficacy with a few hundred participants tells us both about how effective PrEP is and how high the rate of infection is in some groups of gay men.
What is being done to ensure that this highly effective HIV-prevention intervention is made available to those who need it without delay? What work is being done to ensure that prescribing of PrEP is appropriately targeted to those who are most likely to benefit from it?
My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend for today’s debate on this important issue. All of us know how much he personally has done to ensure that HIV and AIDS remain firmly on agendas, both at home and abroad. I may not be able to give him a medal, but I congratulate him on his book AIDS: Don’t Die of Prejudice, which is very timely and draws on his great experience. It is most welcome given that there is still, as we have heard today, much to do around the world to reduce the stigma and prejudice associated with HIV. I welcome, too, his appointment as a member of the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative.
Compared with many other countries, HIV prevalence in the UK remains relatively low: just under three per 1,000 of the adult population were living with HIV in 2013. Thanks to the Government’s early efforts and the leadership of my noble friend back in the 1980s, we have been spared the higher prevalence rates seen by other European countries and countries in other continents. Our confidential sexual health clinics are doing more and more HIV tests—more than a million in 2013, up 5% from 2012. The NHS continues to provide excellent, high-quality HIV treatment and care for everyone, with 90% having an undetectable viral load. Diagnosed early, the outlook for people with HIV in the UK is very good and most people can expect a near normal life expectancy. We also benefit from government’s sustained investment in Public Health England’s comprehensive HIV surveillance systems.
A 2014 report for the National AIDS Trust by Ipsos MORI reported that overall public support for people with HIV is higher than ever, with 79% of adults agreeing that people with HIV deserve the same level of support as people with cancer. Today, it is much easier to get an HIV test, with virtually all NHS sexual health clinics providing the option of same-day testing results. Like many other countries, we have virtually eliminated mother-to-child transmission of HIV.
However, we are acutely aware that challenges remain in how we tackle HIV. Although overall HIV prevalence in the UK is very low, there are marked variations. In London, HIV prevalence in men who have sex with men—MSM—is much higher, and in 2013 one in eight men were living with HIV, compared to one in 26 outside London. In 2013, the prevalence rate of HIV was approximately 30 times higher for MSM and black African men and women compared to the general population in England. New diagnoses in MSM continue to increase, with 3,250 MSM diagnosed in 2013. Some of this increase will be due to increased testing but there is evidence of increasing risk-taking behaviours, which prevention services and community groups must address, taking into account the latest research and evidence. Achieving sustained changes in risk-taking is challenging for all.
Today, HIV prevention is just as important as it was in the 1980s. Investment in prevention also makes good economic sense, as noble Lords have argued, given that each new HIV infection represents between £280,000 and £360,000 in lifetime treatment costs alone. I will pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Cashman. Although we have excellent NHS HIV treatment and care services, and antiretroviral treatment is highly effective, we are still seeing too many people diagnosed late, after treatment is recommended. This means they are unable to benefit from that treatment and risk transmitting HIV to their partners. Although we have seen improvements, HIV still attracts stigma, which is unacceptable and can deter people from getting tested and, if positive, taking their medication. I listened with care to my noble friend Lord Black on that theme.
In 2013, the department published A Framework for Sexual Health Improvement in England, setting out our ambitions to improve sexual health and well-being for all. These include reducing the rate of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, using evidence-based prevention and treatment initiatives; tackling HIV through prevention, including increasing access to testing to enable earlier diagnosis and treatment; and tackling the stigma, discrimination and prejudice often associated with sexual health and HIV.
Late diagnosis is included as an indicator in the public health outcomes framework and progress is being monitored. Since we published the framework, we know that HIV testing services are changing and becoming more innovative and focused around the needs of people. A good example of that is self-sampling HIV tests to reduce undiagnosed and late diagnosis of HIV.
Self-sampling HIV test schemes, such as those provided through the HIV Prevention England programme and the 56 Dean Street clinic in Soho, show that new types of tests are acceptable. Importantly, they appeal to people who choose not to use traditional services, and they are picking up undiagnosed HIV. An assessment of more than 4,000 people using self-sampling HIV testing services in November 2013 indicated that the majority had never had an HIV test, yet were reporting high-risk behaviour. It is encouraging that the rates of late diagnosis are improving, albeit slowly—down from 57% in 2004 to 42% in 2013. However, I agree that we need to do more to reduce this. Last year, we removed the ban on the sale of self-testing kits, which will eventually provide further options for testing.
Healthcare services, including general practice, especially in high-prevalence areas, have a key role in offering HIV testing. We were pleased to fund the Medical Foundation for HIV & Sexual Health to produce a web-based interactive tool to make testing easier in primary care. That was launched by MEDFASH last November.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Fowler referred to the prevention budget. We are committed to protecting the national HIV prevention budget for next year. I agree with him that we will need to be more ambitious and innovative in our plans to prevent the spread of HIV. We will be announcing our plans very shortly and these are likely to include a contract with the Terrence Higgins Trust for the HIV Prevention England programme, but we are also keen to be more innovative and ambitious in our response. At that time, the answer to one of the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, will become clearer.
I will endeavour to answer as many questions as I can in the time available but I will of course write to noble Lords whose questions I cannot answer today. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, referred to a lack of clarity, as he perceives it, in the overall responsibility for commissioning these services. We recognise that the public health and NHS reforms have presented some challenges for sexual health services, and a number of actions have been taken or are planned. Public Health England has worked with partners, including the Local Government Association, and last summer published Making it Work: A Guide to Whole System Commissioning for Sexual Health, Reproductive Health and HIV. It is planning to undertake a review of commissioning arrangements for sexual health and HIV, similar to the one just published for drugs and alcohol.
My noble friend Lord Fowler called for a new campaign to promote testing. As I mentioned, the level of testing in sexual health clinics is increasing, which is encouraging. More than 1 million tests were carried out in 2013, which was an increase on the previous year. I agree that that level needs to increase, with action by local authorities, especially in high-prevalence areas. We need to offer new ways of testing, as I mentioned—for example, home sampling.
The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, rightly said that engagement with HIV charities was vital in determining the way forward. We see 2015-16 as a transition year towards a longer-term plan for sexual health promotion and HIV prevention. Public Health England will engage with key stakeholders on their new strategy, and my department has been discussing 2015-16 contracts since last November.
My noble friend Lord Black mentioned stigma. I remind us all that it is not just the NHS or the Government who have a role to play here, it is everybody. Community and faith groups, the media and individuals all have a part to play in eliminating HIV-related stigma. We should not forget some of the good news, part of which is that people with HIV are now protected by UK equalities legislation. The department’s framework for sexual health improvement is clear that there is a need to build an honest and open culture, where everyone can make informed decisions and responsible choices about relationships and sex.
The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, referred to the role of local authorities. We believe that local authorities are best placed to make decisions on investment in HIV health promotion services and primary prevention services. Reducing the late diagnosis of HIV is included in the public health outcomes framework, as I mentioned. We have provided local authorities with £8.2 billion of ring-fenced funding for public health, including HIV prevention. I completely understand the arguments in favour of the ring-fence; it has played an important part in ensuring a smooth transition of services and will continue to apply through the next financial year. We have always intended to review the need for it after that. We will do that during discussion on the next spending round, but of course it is for the next Government under the ensuing comprehensive spending review to decide on the continuation of the ring-fence.
In primary care, there is evidence that HIV testing is acceptable to patients and healthcare professionals. My department was pleased to fund the Medical Foundation for HIV & Sexual Health for its HIV testing in primary care project, launched last November.
I just mention the issue of PrEP and Truvada, referred to by my noble friends Lord Fowler and Lord Black and the noble Lord, Lord Collins. The recent results from the trial are encouraging. Further work is needed, and NHS England has set up an expert committee to consider the results of the PROUD study and whether PrEP should be provided by the NHS. Some outstanding issues are being considered in that process which prevent us forging ahead immediately with any action. For example, there is the evidence supporting use in other higher-risk groups, such as black African groups, and whether the recommendation should be for daily treatment, as in the study, or only to protect individuals for a certain high-risk event. The service model is also important here. I can write further on that to noble Lords.
I hope that I can reassure my noble friend Lord Fowler on the continuation of methadone and reducing the harm that drug-taking can cause. Again, I shall write to him on that subject, as I shall to the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and all those who have spoken about global issues. For now, my time is up. I thank all contributors for their expert speeches, to which I shall respond.
Women: Domestic and Mental Abuse
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I want to open this debate by considering the fundamental importance of housing. I always remember that when I first became an MP, I received a leaflet called “Don’t Make Me Laugh”. Because of very poor-quality housing three of the children living in a particular house in my constituency, which had dripping wet damp on all the walls, had bad respiratory and asthmatic conditions. The doctor had said to the mother, “You must make sure that your children don’t laugh”. The importance of housing should be seen as a fundamental public service, in the same way as education or health, because a successful housing policy is never just about bricks or mortar. This is particularly true when you add domestic violence to the mix.
As we all know, domestic violence accounts for one in four murders in British society—murders of a woman by her partner or ex-partner—and costs our economy an extraordinary £15.7 billion per annum. Just think of the waste, never mind the human misery, which is unquantifiable. I spoke at an event last night for Housing for Women. Its domestic violence helpline received 2,000 calls last year. It is just one small charity working in the area. Across the country, the police receive a call from a survivor of domestic violence every 30 seconds.
I initiated this debate because I have been particularly struck by the work of Women’s Aid, an incredible organisation which works to help women and children survivors of domestic violence. It is expert in the matter and it understands—and would like us and those in Government to understand—that we need a needs-led intervention for this issue. Critically, we need to help women and children achieve long-term independence. I want to say how much I welcome the Government’s announcement of new money, which I will come back to. The problem is that it is a short-term stop-gap measure. It is none the less clearly very welcome and I genuinely thank the Government for what they have done there.
The Women’s Aid annual survey found in 2014 that a third of all referrals to refuges were turned away. A third of those women who arrive looking for shelter and seeking refuge from violence, and sometimes despicable torture as well, were turned away. Women’s Aid would like to see a national network of specialist domestic violence refuges that are protected and have a new model of sustainable funding.
I begin with an example of a survivor case study because quite often when we talk about the human misery, the statistics do not quite capture the experience. I will give only one example; I have given many others in many other speeches on many other occasions. Mandy experienced 18 years of domestic violence at the hands of her partner, which included severe physical abuse, rape and humiliation in front of her children. Every element of her life was controlled by her partner. He made her leave her job when she got a promotion. She tried to escape on numerous occasions but he would track her down. He hacked into her medical files, broke into her property and repeatedly attacked and threatened the whole family until she went back.
Mandy’s eldest son witnessed a particularly horrific attack in which Mandy nearly lost her life. Her son was so traumatised when his father was let out of prison that he committed suicide rather than live in constant fear of his father coming back to get them. Without specialist refuges for Mandy to go to and services which understood the level of danger they were in, she does not think that she would be alive now. They provided not only a roof over the heads of her and her children, but specialist knowledge to help protect her from a dangerous perpetrator. They helped her to rebuild her life and gave her the ongoing support she needed.
That is what Mandy needed then. What we need now is a new model of funding and commissioning that promotes a sustainable service and high-quality care. Going back to what the Government have done, in November 2014 the Government responded to the SOS campaign by announcing a £10 million fund for specialist domestic violence refuges. The fund will seek to deal with some of the problems that I and others, including Women’s Aid, have pointed out, very vocally, around the need to keep refuges open, first and foremost, to ensure that non-local women are not restricted from accessing services and to improve what provision there is. As I have said, this £10 million fund is extremely welcome; however it will end in March 2016. This will impact Women’s Aid and the other incredible organisations up and down the country that seek to protect women in such terrible circumstances. These will be left in the same position that they were in last October: they have no long-term, sustainable funding.
This debate also touches on the issue of mental abuse and I want to flag up some of the issues there. Clearly, domestic violence has an enormous effect on one’s mental health. A third of all female suicide attempts and half of those by ethnic minority women are attributed to past or current experiences of domestic violence. Some 70% of women psychiatric in-patients and 80% of women held in secure psychiatric facilities have a history of physical or sexual abuse. That is an incredible figure. If we are to deal with those women who have the biggest problems, we need to deal with the issue facing 80% of them, which is a history of physical or sexual abuse. Clearly, the impact on children is devastating.
My noble friend Lady Thornton has previously highlighted cases in the south-west of England and in Chester West and Chester, where vulnerable women fleeing domestic violence no longer have access to specialist accommodation, or where numbers of women and children from outside local authorities are being capped. I know that the Government are aware of this issue. What will happen when this funding round ends? The Minister will also know that there are still authorities where services are not available to women from outside the area. Obviously, if one is fleeing a psychotic, violent perpetrator, one wants to get as far away as possible, not to be in the same authority.
In Northamptonshire, the county council planned to cut all its support for domestic violence refuges. After a successful campaign with Labour colleagues and the refuges themselves, the council backed down. However, the funding has been reduced, especially for Nene Valley Christian Family Refuge, one of the few organisations in the area to support women. It helps women who have been brought over for arranged or forced marriages and who are especially vulnerable. I trust that the Minister shares my concern that such vital services are being put at risk. What advice does he have for refuges that are seeking long-term funding beyond 2016? Does he agree that we need a new, sustainable model? Does he agree, in particular, that if we focus only on high-risk victims, we fail to appreciate the fluid nature of risk? We need to look at need as well as risk or we will not get a full picture.
Finally, in the time remaining, will the Minister make a statement on the Government’s understanding of the gendered nature and impact of abuse? Too often, the professionals charged with dealing with this subject, as we saw in the Statements to Parliament this week on child abuse in Oxfordshire, are simply not aware of how their decisions endanger vulnerable people, often young women. Those experiences lead to a lifetime of catastrophe. I truly thank the Government for averting catastrophe for some women like Mandy, but should we not do more to avert catastrophe for all women like Mandy?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady King, for drawing the Committee’s attention to the plight of women and men who experience domestic abuse, and the availability of refuges for them. In my role as Victims Commissioner for England and Wales, I have met many women who have suffered almost unimaginable abuse at the hands of their partners and have been faced with homelessness as a result. The Government’s commitment to assist women, and in some cases men, to escape the abuse that they are suffering is admirable. However, it is clear that more needs to be done.
We hear a lot about statistics relating to the prevalence of domestic abuse. We know for example that: one in four women will experience domestic violence or abuse at some point in their lives; that almost 100 women are killed every year as a result of an act of domestic abuse; and that on average a domestic abuse victim will attempt to flee the perpetrator several times before they successfully manage to do so. Local housing authorities have a clear duty towards victims of abuse. Housing and accommodation provide a pivotal role in making sure that victims can be made to feel safe by providing them with a refuge from the abuse they are suffering.
There is a real problem in the availability of accommodation for women escaping abusive partners. While there are many refuges undertaking commendable work, they are buckling under the pressures of being able to provide a place of safety for all victims who need it. The lack of availability at refuges across England and Wales tells a sad story. Knowing that a victim can access such services might help them to feel more able to escape their abuser. However, where victims are continually being told that there is insufficient space for them at refuges, or where housing authorities are unable to provide appropriate accommodation, this important lifeline presents an increased risk that the victim will remain where she is and possibly risk her life by continuing to stay with the perpetrator.
I commend the Government’s recent funding of £10 million and I was heartened to see that the bidders had to demonstrate how they could develop sustainable services for victims, together in partnership with other authorities and sector specialists. In all the work that I do with communities and victims of crime, I have always said that valuable partnerships need to be sustainable partnerships. While domestic abuse victims need to know that they have a safe place through the provision of a refuge space or alternative housing accommodation, they must also be able to have access to other support services that are needed as a result of being in the refuge. I am not suggesting that specialist and support services need necessarily to be co-located at refuges or local housing centres, but the wide range of services and support that a victim will need when they have left the perpetrator are properly recognised. This will also include financial support and legal advice. In addition, it is likely that some women may also need help and support to manage or treat mental health issues as a result of any mental abuse they have also experienced during an abusive relationship.
We are all aware of the different forms that domestic abuse can take. Some victims will experience mental health issues as a result of the abuse they are suffering and some victims may in fact be abused because they have a mental health condition. Abuse can also very often worsen an existing condition. It is so important that any refuge provision or alternative housing solution recognises this and can facilitate intervention from mental health professionals where needed. The noble Baroness, Lady King, highlighted the outstanding work of Women’s Aid. Figures from Women’s Aid reports show that domestic abuse is the most prevalent cause of depression, anxiety and other mental health difficulties in women. It is so sad to hear that 70% of women psychiatric in-patients and 80% of those in secure settings have a history of physical or sexual abuse. It is all well and good for there to be an increase in the quality of refuge and alternative accommodation provision, but what really needs to be in place is a recognition of what specialist support women need to help them when they leave an abusive partner.
Staff at refuges should be required to complete training on mental health awareness so that these issues can be identified and victims assisted in accessing the right services for their specific needs. I do not wish to criticise the few services that do exist to help women accessing mental health support when they are placed in refuges or alternative accommodation. Rather, what I am trying to say is that we must not lose sight of the fact that some women are so traumatised they may not realise that they need specialist support in addition to a housing solution.
I do not consider myself to be a professional politician or a policymaker. My experience comes from being a victim of crime and seeing how agencies do not work together. In fact, I stand here today in this debate still going through those issues. I do not pretend to have all the answers, but from meeting and speaking to many victims of domestic abuse, I know that it is a complex and emotional issue which cannot be resolved by a one-size-fits-all response. This is why it is important that the Government consider how such support can be provided across the board so that victims of domestic abuse can be kept safe from further harm and further traumatisation through providing quality practical support. The biggest obstacle to this is that government departments, such as those responsible for homelessness, health and social services issues, do not seem to join together to address this issue. This simply is not good enough. There needs to be joined-up support across all the agencies, and women must be supported to grab the whole of their problems in the order that makes most sense to them.
The fact that we are having this debate today shows how we and society have moved forward in speaking about and recognising the nature and prevalence of domestic abuse, more so perhaps than previous generations. However, I know we can often become desensitised and be made complacent by facts and figures. We must remember that there is a real person behind each of these figures who has suffered, and continues to suffer, dreadful abuse despite the very best intentions of government and policymakers.
I am sickened and saddened by the numbers of domestic abuse victims suffering from mental health issues, more so when I hear that there is little funding available for those who can provide the services and specialist help to support these victims. I know the feeling of not feeling safe outside your home, and for these victims to not feel safe inside their homes because of the horrific abuse received by their partners must be hell on earth. These victims need to be listened to, and their experiences understood, to ensure that the most appropriate support can be identified for them. In doing so, we will provide a co-ordinated, accessible response which genuinely makes a difference to their lives.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady King, on securing this debate. I shall offer a brief case study and try to highlight some of the issues that we need to consider together. The contributions of the noble Baronesses, Lady King and Lady Newlove, and the briefing pack graphically show the scale and challenge of this issue.
To escape from domestic violence and mental abuse, people need safe space, because that is what they do not have, which is what is so destabilising. I shall explore what safe space looks like and how we might try to provide it securely so that it is genuinely safe. In Derby, where I work, an excellent organisation, Refuge, won a contract in November 2013 to provide a women’s refuge in the city. There are 25 spaces available and it is always full. There are probably 40 or 50 children as well as the women involved. There is a very high turnover because the contract states that the accommodation can be provided for 12 weeks only. That is the deal, so you create a bit of safe space, but as soon as you start feeling safe, you have to move. It offers a resettlement service for up to three months, which is good, but all the research shows that women need at least five or six months to begin to feel safe and settled. The aspiration for safe space is being frustrated by the 12-week turnover and the three-month limit on resettlement. The further graphic statistic that Refuge has shared with me is that 50% of the women it deals with have experienced death threats. That is the degree of unsafeness which we are trying to create an alternative to and a refuge from.
Of course, there is an issue about resourcing and models of provision. The February 2015 APPG report states:
“The current model for funding specialist domestic and sexual violence services is not fit for purpose”.
Since 2011, Refuge has had funding reductions in 80% of its service contracts, with some contracts cut by up to 50%. That is the background of our case study on some of the issues. People desperately need safe space and the struggle is to provide it and to fund it.
What might safe space look like, and where are we failing? Because of the lack of resources and of stable provision, there are fewer specialist services, especially for minority-ethnic communities and disabled women, so they are not being offered a safe enough space because there is not special provision for people in those categories. Similarly, Refuge reports that in some local commissioning the tenders specify mixed-bedroom provision. That may be an economic factor if you are short of money, but one of the things women are trying to get into a safe space for is to step away from a strong male environment. They need to be protected from that. To have tenders that specify that is rather alarming. That is not safe space either. As the noble Baroness, Lady King, said, there is a tendency to spend our money in our space and therefore to say that we will support local women only. As she said, women need to cross the boundary to feel safe, so if the space is going to be genuinely safe it needs to be shaped across boundaries, which requires more imagination about funding streams and how they can be deployed.
Another issue is the short contracts for commissioning. Refuge and others win one or two-year contracts. That is a start, but if you are going to build a reputation in a community for a safe and stable place, it needs to be there, because people learn about these things through gossip. It is only if it is there and stable that it feels safe to potential consumers. If every couple of years there is a new provider, a new image and all those new things that anybody has to put in to get established, the very people we are trying to help are going to wonder whether the new provider is up to it and what it is about. To construct a safe space requires stability, so that is a challenge for how we use limited funds. The danger is that if we do not get the provision of safe space right then, as we all know, women in vulnerable situations flee to the streets, which are the most unsafe spaces in our society.
I understand this very difficult problem of limited resources, but there are two issues that I want to raise. If we are serious about safe space being constructed and maintained, how can we marshal our funds so that there is stable provision, proper recognition of specialist needs and proper fluidity across local authority boundaries? We also have to encourage the statutory agencies that hold and administer funds to be proactive in working with the voluntary and faith sectors about the added value that we can bring along with the other forms of stability and safe space. As we found in considering the Modern Slavery Bill, in which I was involved, faith and voluntary groups can provide space alongside statutory providers. We are just there to love people, really, which helps people to feel safe, alongside all the proper provision of a bed and room of a certain size.
When the Minister replies, I encourage him to look at the limits of resources, how best to create a safe space that is stable, dependable and flexible for the right specialisms—that is a pretty big ask—and how faith and voluntary groups can be challenged to put their resources alongside the statutory ones to make the provisions as stable and effective as possible.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady King, for securing another debate on this important and, sadly, prevalent issue of domestic abuse. I hope that the Government are aware of the encouraging paradigm shift that is happening right now in domestic abuse services, such that many are now intervening early to prevent many women ending up in refuges. I must, however, stress at the beginning that I understand that the women and children who need the safety that refuges provide have typically somehow survived the most terrifying and sustained attacks on their bodies and personhood imaginable. Until we see the elimination of domestic violence—thankfully, many organisations are working towards that ambition—those safe havens will be needed.
Former hedge fund manager Diana Barran set up the greatly respected organisation Co-ordinated Action against Domestic Abuse, or CAADA. Diana’s starting point then and now is, “What would you want for your best friend?”. Being safe in her own home rather than living in secrecy in a refuge, possibly at the other end of the country, must be the goal if at all possible. CAADA, renamed as Safe Lives, recently concluded that it needs a fresh approach if it is to provide the best help, and it is strongly endorsing a paradigm shift towards early intervention, prevention and a family-based emphasis in domestic abuse work—all without in any way deprioritising safety, hence the new name.
I want to use my time today to draw your Lordships’ attention to how the best available practice in the country is seeking to achieve that shift and how policy can and must support it. My simple point is that intervening early is vital to break the cycle of domestic abuse that so many men and women are caught up in.
Although nothing excuses violence and it is by no means inevitable, childhood exposure to domestic abuse is one of the most powerful predictors of becoming both a perpetrator and a victim as an adult. However, organisations are increasingly grasping the urgency of working across the whole family, with victim, perpetrator and children being helped with all that they are contending with so that they can move on, but with safety of course the top consideration.
Atal Y Fro, for instance, Welsh for Safety in the Vale, was formerly known as the Vale of Glamorgan Women’s Aid. The name change reflects its broader base of working. It has become convinced over years of practice that if it works only with the mother and children, it is just putting a sticking plaster on the problem. It also refers to those using their service as men, women and children, rather than perpetrators and victims, not least to reflect the complexity of what is going on in many households where there is violence.
Many of your Lordships will know that research has revealed a typology of abuse, and that different forms require different solutions. Coercive and controlling abuse, or intimate terrorism, is not the same as situational couple violence, violent resistance or separation-instigated violence. In addition, Professor Murray Straus’s research has made it clear that a surprisingly similar proportion of women and men use violence against their partner, and one in seven men reports being abused by his partner or ex-partner. However, as men are usually stronger than women, they tend to inflict far greater physical harm.
I want to lay out four ways in which we can intervene early and how policy can support this paradigm shift. First, it is imperative that families are helped to build strong parent and child relationships in the early years to lay the foundations for secure relationships throughout life. Children who know that they are loved and cared for and who have learnt valuable interpersonal skills are far less likely to grow up feeling that they need to use violence in relationships or that they will inevitably be on the receiving end. Recent YouGov polling for the Centre for Social Justice found that 73% of the public think that tackling abuse requires acknowledging that perpetrators were often themselves young victims.
Secondly, it is essential that we encourage positive relationships in schools by building supportive school cultures, ensuring that students who need it can access counselling and mentoring services—great examples being Place2Be and Chance UK—and providing effective relationship education. The Government have acknowledged the very high prevalence of adolescents in abusive dating relationships by including 16 and 17 year-olds in the new definition of domestic abuse. Worryingly, patterns set in adolescence can define relationships in adulthood. Voluntary sector programmes such as those run by Love4Life in Loughborough aim to help adolescents develop the skills to enjoy non-violent, equal relationships, increase understanding of domestic abuse, encourage appropriate attitudes and reduce abusive behaviours. The Government should make relationship education mandatory and call it that, and teach the biology of sex, which is already mandatory, separately. Teachers often find relationship education very hard to deliver, so schools should draw in the voluntary sector as its outsider status means it can add real value.
Thirdly, there should also be help for high-conflict and otherwise risky couples going through key transitions such as pregnancy or early years of parenting, or when parents decide to separate. Couple relationship education programmes, as well as the help for parents mentioned earlier, needs to be offered in the community, ideally in family hubs. In its recent report, Fully Committed, the Centre for Social Justice extensively describes how Sure Start children’s centres should be evolved into one-stop shops in every community. These would offer a much wider range of help to parents to tackle the root causes of family breakdown and disadvantage.
Fourthly, prevention of ongoing and future abuse is also taking place where couples are being helped to explore staying together. Increasingly, and very carefully, mainstream service providers are no longer taking the break-up of the abusive relationship as their starting point of help for victims in cases of situational couple violence. However, couple counselling can be positively dangerous in cases of intimate terrorism.
Many people on the receiving end of domestic abuse desperately want to keep the family together but know that that can happen only if the abuse stops. If both partners have a strong desire to work the issues through, and whoever is being violent is taking full responsibility for their actions, therapeutic support can help end that abusive behaviour. It is very important to acknowledge that that may not mean that the couple stay together. Troubled families programmes must include this help for couples, where appropriate, as part of their drive to equip parents to provide safe, stable and nurturing relationships. Again, CSJ/YouGov polling found that three-quarters of the public agreed that services should be available, if they wanted them, to help couples stay together.
Returning to Safety in the Vale, there is much to learn from how to work with a range of organisations in a one-stop shop to help families with medium to low-risk abuse to reshape and restore their lives. Current evidence suggests that it has helped two-thirds of families to stay together safely through a strategy of education, prevention and intervention in the community—EPIC. This involves different evidence-based perpetrator programmes for men and women, a healthy relationships programme in every school in the Vale of Glamorgan, and couples work. The current pilot is largely being paid for through charitable foundations, but once it has proven its effectiveness, the aim is that local authorities can commission it with confidence. Its annual cost is around £83,000 with a conservative estimate of cost savings of around £1.4 million.
Finally, Safety in the Vale is still running a refuge, but it is straining with every sinew to drain away all need for it. Can the Minister please inform me where and how government policy is keeping in step with this promising shift towards early intervention?
My Lords, I, too, am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady King, for initiating this debate, and for the other very interesting contributions on this important subject. I have no experience of women’s refuges, but I live in an all-female household with a wife, four daughters and two female dogs, so I have a strong interest in the opportunities available to women in the UK today and the terrible effects of domestic abuse when it occurs.
I want to make it clear that the Government believe that high-quality refuge provision plays a vital role in protecting victims of domestic abuse who find themselves in a situation so difficult that they are forced to flee their own homes. Being able to access a specialist domestic abuse refuge at the point a victim chooses to leave home can make the difference between life and death. The right reverend Prelate talked interestingly about safe space in this regard.
The Government’s approach to strengthening refuge provision is underpinned by clear legal duties to homeless victims, robust standards and significant investment. We are strongly committed to maintaining a resilient national network. That is why on 25 November last year in this House, my noble friend announced a £10 million fund to strengthen and boost refuge provision for vulnerable victims, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady King. That funding was put in place to respond to the concerns expressed by the sector. We will shortly announce the successful areas which will receive funding—unfortunately not in time for this debate. A significant number of local housing authorities will benefit from a share of the £10 million.
That funding will see local authorities working closely with some of the 400 specialist domestic abuse support providers, such as Refuge or My Sisters Place, which was advocated by the right reverend Prelate. Not only will it stop refuges closing but it will increase the number of bed spaces, improve services in existing refuges and place local refuges on a more sustainable footing. That is not all that we have done to ensure the long-term quality of provision in England. In November 2014, we used powers in the Housing Act 1996 to publish strengthened statutory homelessness guidance. This was developed with help from Women’s Aid, Imkaan and SafeLives, and it sets out clear standards of support that victims of domestic abuse can expect to receive.
Those standards cover a broad range of service areas including safety, health and well-being, children and young people and prevention. All those who will receive funding have signed up to these exacting standards and we expect others to follow suit now that they are under the statutory guidance. We know that these standards are effective as they were developed, as I said, with help from Women’s Aid and were derived from the national quality standards.
Although I think that the whole Committee agrees that refuges can play such an important role protecting victims at their most vulnerable, we must do all we can to prevent a situation from reaching crisis point. That begins to address the question that my noble friend Lord Farmer put at the end of his speech about early intervention. We are determined to continue to reach out to young people to encourage them to challenge unacceptable attitudes and behaviours. For example, the Home Office’s This is Abuse campaign is helping to reach young people. Only by preventing violence and abuse in the first place can we hope to make a sustainable change over the long term. Education has a very important role to play in encouraging young people to build healthy relationships. That is why we are committed to working with schools and other experts to ensure that young people are receiving age-appropriate information that allows them to make informed choices and stay safe.
I will come to that. As I was saying, education in schools is very important. Maintained secondary schools are already legally required to teach sex and relationship education, and we expect academies to do so, but I take my noble friend’s point about separating those two key areas. I will come to the measures that the Government are taking later.
Rather than waiting for a crisis to happen, one of the strengths of today’s homelessness services is that local housing authorities are reaching out proactively to those in need and helping them to avoid a crisis in the first place. Since 2010, more than 20,000 households experiencing domestic abuse have had their homelessness prevented by sanctuary schemes installed by local authorities working with the domestic abuse support sector. Of course, they have to have victim approval.
Supported by an investment of £6.5 billion over this spending review period, interventions such as family mediation, resolving rent arrears and sanctuary schemes all help to prevent problems escalating out of control. Frequently, it is the local authority working hand in hand with the voluntary and community sector which helps get the lives of victims and their families back on track. The Troubled Families programme, for example, will target an extra 400,000 troubled families, thanks to the investment of an additional £200 million. Our research shows that 29% of families on the current programme have experienced domestic abuse in the past six months and that is why the expanded programme will use domestic abuse as a specific indicator of eligibility.
We have a strong record on tackling domestic violence and abuse. For the first time ever, this Government provided £40 million for specialist local domestic and sexual violence support services. Our approach is set out in our Call to End Violence Against Women and Girls strategy published in 2010 and updated each year. We will be publishing a further update shortly. It has put in place a tough legislative framework and strong protections to support victims of domestic abuse, which is overseen by the Home Secretary through an inter-ministerial group.
I now come to some of the questions I was asked. The noble Baroness, Lady King, generously acknowledged that the £10 million was welcome and that it is a stop-gap. It is a limited amount of money. She has just asked me what advice I will give to the Government and what commitment I can make on behalf of the Government about future funding. She knows how government works. I am unable to give total government commitment at the moment, particularly six weeks before an election. We have put that £10 million funding in place for two years in response to concerns and we have made clear that that funding is a priority. I expect that to continue and we will prioritise this matter when we are thinking about future spending after the election, if we are in a position to do that.
The noble Baroness also asked for advice for refuges which are seeking to survive past 2016, which is a similar point. The duties to vulnerable women in homelessness legislation will remain. New standards will ensure that the standards are maintained and meet the needs of victims. In fact, we prioritised funding in response to the issues that Women’s Aid and Refuge raised. I would expect that we would prioritise this matter and continue to do so when we think about future spending plans after the election.
There was mention, too, of the fact that women are being turned away from refuges. The Government fund UKRefugesOnline, so that victims and those who work to support them can find appropriate accommodation. Also, the new strengthened statutory guidance places clear expectations on how local authorities commission and organise their refuge provision. The guidance makes it clear that available bed spaces or support should not be restricted to local people only. The homelessness legislation also protects victims of domestic abuse by placing a duty on local authorities to provide accommodation to those vulnerable people who find themselves homeless as a result of fleeing domestic violence.
The noble Baroness also asked about the impact of local authority cuts on refuge services. The DCLG’s statutory best value guidance to local authorities makes it clear that councils need to avoid making disproportionate cuts to the voluntary and community sector. They have un-ring-fenced many of these funds, so that the local authorities have flexibility in their use of funds. This duty will make it clear to them that they are not allowed disproportionately to cut the voluntary and community sector. There is some good news. Local authorities’ own estimates show that 91% expect a growth in their business rates income, which would equal about £400 million.
My noble friend Lady Newlove complained that we do not join up government support enough. I absolutely acknowledge that it is difficult to co-ordinate service delivery across government. We recognise this, and recognise that one size does not fit all. The Government’s commitment to tackling these dreadful crimes is set out in the call to end violence against women, as I said, which is driven by the Home Secretary. The Public Services Transformation Network funding, which is backed by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury, is also enabling local areas better to fit services to victims’ needs. For example, Essex has developed a strategic approach to commissioning a wide range of wrap-around services, including refuges, outreach, support for children, survivor support groups and an enhanced perpetrator strategy, and they are all included so that victims can get the help that they need.
The right reverend Prelate asked about women being moved on before they are ready. They should not be being moved on in that way; it is right that victims, when they are given the chance, move on when they are ready so that others can find a place of safety, but they should not be moved before then. As I mentioned, the Public Services Transformation Network helps local areas better to fit services to victims. We are clear that services must meet the needs of victims, and our guidance says that.
The right reverend Prelate also mentioned getting the faith and voluntary sector to work alongside government. The guidance is clear that, when commissioning services to help to support homeless victims, authorities should not exclude any sector. In fact, our experience shows that those sectors often know the best, do the best jobs and are better able to relate to and thus support victims—so I completely agree with him.
As for commissioning guidance, decisions on how best to find services for victims of domestic abuse are local matters, and we think that it is right that they should be handled at local level.
To support effective local commissioning, the Government held a series of local road shows with local commissioners last year to share best practice in effective commissioning. New standards published by the DCLG make it clear that the needs of those with a protected characteristic must be met in refuges.
I think that I have answered most of the questions that I was asked. If not, I shall be very happy to write later.
Finally, I thank all noble Lords for participating in this hugely important and varied debate, which rightly has the attention of the Committee. I wish all noble Lords a very good weekend, including Sunday of course, which will be International Women’s Day.
Committee adjourned at 5.50 pm.