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Philip Hunt on the need to urgently improve the process for funding research into brain tumours

No one who was there could possibly forget the extraordinarily brave speech made in the House of Lords by Tessa Jowell a few months before her untimely death in 2018. A speech in which she movingly talked about her experience since developing a brain tumour.

Tessa warned that cancer is a tough challenge to all health systems, particularly to our cherished NHS. The UK has the worst survival rate in western Europe, partly because diagnosis is often too slow. Brain tumours grow very quickly, and they are incredibly hard to spot. She also told her fellow Peers that less than 2% of cancer research funding is spent on such tumours, and no new vital drugs have been developed in the past 50 years.

The Minister at the time, Lord O’Shaughnessy, was very sympathetic and acknowledged that we have lagged for a long time behind the best performing countries in Europe. Subsequently, the government announced, through the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), an extra funding commitment of £20 million for brain tumour research over the following five years – doubling the total to £40 million.

The money was much needed. Brain tumours are indiscriminate and disproportionally affect younger members of society. There are no preventative steps to avoid a brain tumour diagnosis, and we remain largely in the dark about the causes. But sadly, by July 2020, only £5.7 million of the government’s promised extra money had been allocated.

This was not down to a paucity of research funding applications. In 2018/19, there were 27 submission (up from 17 the previous year), but a mere four were successful. The picture in 2019/20 was similar, with a further 27 submissions for only three receiving support.

The charity Brain Tumour Research alongside the Neuropathologist Dr Kathreena Kurian have made suggestions on how to best improve the application process to facilitate a greater strike rate; as well as more effective and helpful approach to rejected submissions.

In addition to the support offered by the NIHR, the UK government could also support discovery science through UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and the Medical Research Council (MRC). Few organisations are willing to take on early stage, high-risk research, which is why Brain Tumour Research plays a critical role. Indeed, it reports that only 14% of UK spend is from the government, with the remaining 86% from the charity sector.

Somewhere between the NIHR and the UKRI / MRC lies a funding solution for brain tumour research. Responsibility, however, must not be shuffled around and passed on between these different agencies if we are to better help those living with a diagnosis.

In the Lords this week, I will urge ministers to knock heads together to ensure much more research into brain tumours gets underway.  We owe it to Tessa’s memory and the thousands of patients so grievously affected by this devastating disease.

Lord Philip Hunt of Kings Heath is a Labour Peer and former Health Minister. He tweets @LordPhilofBrum

Published 18th January 2021

Applied science

Philip Hunt on the need to urgently improve the process for funding research into brain tumours

Sue Hayman on the government’s ongoing failure to deliver on animal welfare promises

It’s more than three years since the government promised to increase maximum sentences for animal cruelty, but we are still waiting for ministers to act.

Indeed, the government has failed even to bring forward the promised Animal Welfare Sentencing Bill – legislation that was set to include extending the maximum penalty to five years imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. At present, the maximum sentence is six months – but even that is not being consistently enforced. In some places, it is not being enforced at all.

All animals, domestic or wild, need proper protection from abuse and harm, and today in the Lords I will ask ministers how they plan to improve enforcement rates. Back in September 2017, there was strong support across the political spectrum for the government’s proposals. Now there is growing frustration in the country about the delays, and wide concern at the lack of convictions around existing laws.

Most recent animal welfare legislation is designed to be enforced at local authority level. But a Freedom of Information request from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home has revealed that some councils are currently lacking an animal welfare function. Some contract it out, some refer cases to the RSPCA, and some only deal with dog issues and licensing. Some don’t carry it out at all.

Overstretched and underfunded local government is being left to enforce complex legislation with little or no central government support, and limited training. Even the most active council animal welfare teams are struggling.

Reports of wildlife crime are increasing but the number of convictions remains very low. The RSPB reports 85 confirmed killings of birds of prey in 2019 with just the one conviction. Illegal hare coursing and badger baiting and trapping continue to cause terrible suffering, as well as damage to the countryside and farming.

Nowhere, however, is the need for tougher laws and better enforcement more apparent than with fox hunting, where there is now overwhelming evidence to suggest the law is regularly ignored or exploited by hunts. We must tighten up the Hunting Act and introduce a ‘recklessness’ clause to prevent trail hunting being used as a cover for illegal activity.

The government ignores these issues when it should be seeking to enforce and strengthen the law. Responsibility is left with our overstretched police forces, who simply do not have enough specialist knowledge and training (let alone the funding and resources) to do the job effectively.

Extraordinarily, there is also no system to record wildlife crimes in the UK, so the police can’t track activity and share intelligence. Many such crimes are not recordable or notifiable offences, which means information isn’t collected – even when they have been investigated. So, valuable detail about trends in crime and intelligence is lost rather than being used to increase the allocation of resources. It also means less pressure on the government to actually do something.

The Law Commission’s 2015 report on wildlife law, commissioned by the government, considered current legislation to be a complex patchwork of overlapping and sometimes conflicting provisions. It recommended reforming the law in England and Wales but, once again, the government has failed to act.

Better legislation on animal welfare and wildlife crime is vital, along with a greater understanding of how existing laws are applied in practice – and why they are not being fully enforced. At the very least, ministers must act to ensure more effective reporting and assessment of crimes, the improved targeting of resources, and rigorous identification, prosecution and sentencing of criminals.

Baroness Sue Hayman of Ullock is a member of the Shadow Defra Team in the House of Lords

Published 12th January 2020

Lacking conviction

Sue Hayman on the government’s ongoing failure to deliver on animal welfare promises

Richard Rosser on ensuring new legislation on domestic abuse gives proper support to all victims

Today’s the day that we finally get to welcome the Domestic Abuse Bill to the Lords for its Second Reading. We have been waiting for this vital bill for a long time – due to a combination of the ongoing Brexit negotiations, general elections and the Covid pandemic. But we should not lose sight of the fact that victims of such abuse have been waiting for much longer.

It has been repeatedly said that this is a once-in-a-generation piece of legislation – a claim that we will ensure it lives up to. There is a huge amount to welcome in the bill but, as usual, there is also much to question and challenge. With expertise right across the House on the related issues, Labour looks forward to working cross-party to make the most of this opportunity.

A key concern is that the bill must work for all victims, and leave no one behind. As drafted, the Bill is missing vital protections for migrant women. A lack of protection and access to services means these victims are particularly vulnerable, with abusers able to exploit their immigration status to prevent them from reporting or escaping abuse. It is not right that the current system views them as an immigration case first, and a survivor second. So we will pursue amendments on recourse to public funds and safe reporting to build such protections into the bill. 

We strongly welcome the inclusion of children in the definition of abuse but action is needed to make sure this is reflected in policy throughout the bill. And we’ll be raising issues on the experiences of disabled survivors – including safeguards in carer relationships. 

The statutory duty on local authorities to provide accommodation-based services was hard fought for, and is a cause for optimism. But it is only one piece of the puzzle. The majority of victims (almost 70%) access support locally, and Labour Peers will build on the work of our Commons colleagues to seek a duty to provide specialist services in the community. It is crucial that victims get support where and when they need it most. 

On refuges, we all know that these are more than just a roof over people’s heads. We need to ensure victims have access to appropriate accommodation and specialist services. That involves taking a proper look at what support local authorities require to take on the statutory duty, and how local services can reflect national need. 

This Bill is a moment to face-up-to and tackle the realities of domestic abuse. But we need also to look at the economic impact of policies and the reality that some women are unable to flee abuse because they simply can’t afford to. And we must add to achievements on issues like coercive control, by recognising that abuse doesn’t neatly end when a relationship does. 

While the heart of this bill is correctly about protection for victims, we must not lose sight of those who commit the abuse. Our deliberations, therefore, must include questions about prevention, and a strategy for dealing with perpetrators. 

So, a rare and privileged opportunity to make meaningful, widespread change in law to protect victims and change lives – and one that comes with a real responsibility to get right. 

Lord Richard Rosser is Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords 

Published 5th January 2021

Meaningful change

Richard Rosser on ensuring new legislation on domestic abuse gives proper support to all victims

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