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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I was not expecting to deal with quite that aspect of policy, otherwise I would have had with me the figures on the number of publications that we produce and how many are online. Everything that the Department for Education and Skills produces is available online. We encourage schools to use that service and to print off publications, or whatever parts of them they want to

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print off; as noble Lords will know, teachers often look for certain parts of documents. I am proud of the quality of the publications that we produce, because they are accessible. That they are colourful is a good thing.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, although the Minister may say that the subject is a little wide of the mark, the Question refers to potential savings for the taxpayer. Might I therefore raise the whole question of retention of school teachers, which is nearly more important than recruiting new teachers? The biggest waste that we have is that, unfortunately, teachers become disillusioned and leave, so we are always catching up. It seems such a crying shame that we do not spend as much effort on retaining teachers as we do on seeking their replacements.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very important point about retention. As noble Lords will know, the Government place great store on that. It is why I am very pleased that the figures just released show the number of vacancies for teacher posts to have gone down from 1.4 per cent last year to 1.2 per cent in 2003. That means that the figure is 1,940. I am pleased that we are seeing that decrease across the range of different subjects, many of which noble Lords have raised before in this House. That therefore means that not only are we recruiting well, but we are retaining teachers.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, in order to increase retention of staff, how is the Minister improving the level of consultation with schools? For instance, there is a school in Lambeth that uses a child psychotherapist to come in and support the staff on a regular basis. That is very helpful, given that we know that some schools have more and more troubled children in their ranks. There is some rearrangement in the administration of the special schools, which have special skills. How are they being used to provide extra support for mainstream schools?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, that question is probably wide of the mark. However, I shall make a couple of comments, because I know that the noble Earl takes the subject extremely seriously and I am pleased to be in dialogue with him on such questions. At the moment, I am looking very closely at the relationship between our special schools, which have great expertise to share, and what we shall call for the moment mainstream schools. We need to ensure that assistance is available to teachers to enable them to support the children in their schools, some of whom have complex needs.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, in so far as a strong lobby is developing in favour of setting up a national single online system, which would cost so little and be run on a non-profit-making basis, would

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Ministers be prepared to consult people in the education profession about the potential of that for the future and the savings that might arise?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am not aware of a national lobby. I am aware that we have had some interest from individuals who have talked with officials, and officials have assured me that they will shortly give advice to Ministers on how we might better involve ourselves in the whole question of advertising. However, we are some way from saying that there is a strong lobby. At the moment I am convinced that, as a government, we need to be clear about our role and responsibility, which is to make sure that schools are able to access different opportunities to recruit and retain staff.

Iraq: Trade in Antiquities

3.24 p.m.

Lord Redesdale asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What their policy is concerning the removal of international sanctions from the trade in antiquities from Iraq.

The Minister for Trade (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, United Nations Security Council resolutions make it illegal to export anything from Iraq except under the Oil for Food programme. Therefore, it is illegal to export antiques from Iraq. Negotiations are under way in the Security Council to lift sanctions against Iraq. We will be discussing with other Security Council members how best to protect Iraq's cultural assets in the circumstances.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which will be helpful. However, any ban on the export of antiquities does not solve the problem that many of the antiquities were looted in the first place, as was expressed most movingly by Mr Donny George at the British Museum earlier in the week. Will the Minister say what efforts the coalition forces are taking to stop the ongoing looting? It is not taking place at the Baghdad museum but outside Baghdad, especially on archaeological sites. There is no confirmation because no one is there at the moment, but we believe that such sites are suffering from gangs looting the artefacts to sell on the international market.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the problem is very serious, and we all join in the real regret expressed at the meeting held on 29th April under the auspices of the British Museum about the looting that has taken place. The noble Lord may know that the MoD consulted the archaeological community widely before the conflict started. Newcastle University and University College, London, provided lists of sites of key cultural and historical interest in Iraq. The troops were briefed accordingly to avoid those sites during the conflict.

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In the area dominated by American troops, there is now some security around the Baghdad and Mosul museums. As I understand it, there was a limited amount of looting in Basra, where we have said that we will have an amnesty for those wishing and able to return looted objects. The issue goes wider than that. I am sure that other noble Lords will ask me questions relating to other matters that we are putting in hand to try to recover some of the looted articles.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords—

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, for a second time now, priceless antiques from the Iraqi museums have been looted and possibly sold, some even to order. We on these Benches fully support UN Security Council Resolution 661 and all the laws that prohibit the trading of such looted antiques. However, in the present climate, does the Minister feel that either keeping or lifting sanctions on the exporting of valuable antiques from Iraq is the most efficient method to stop the illicit trade? In the light of this, will the Government now give official support to the Bill of my noble friend Lord Renfrew—it is currently in another place—which would deal with the problem?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the lifting of sanctions is very important in taking forward the future of oil for the Iraqi people. However, as I hope that I made clear in my initial Answer, we would wish to do so only in such a way as was consistent in protecting Iraq's cultural assets in the circumstances. Basically, we are talking about many goods and cultural artefacts that have been stolen. Trade in those artefacts would of course be entirely wrong.

The noble Baroness referred to a Bill that had its Second Reading in another place on 4th April. As I understand it, there is wide cross-party support for that Bill, and the Government will support it.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

The Lord Privy Seal (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I think that we would like to hear from my noble friend Lord Strabolgi.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that advance warning was given that the Baghdad museum was at risk? Was there any advance plan to protect the museum once Baghdad had been liberated?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I am aware of the advance warnings—the noble Lord, Lord Redesdale, raised them with me on Monday—about not only the Baghdad museum, but also a number of very important cultural sites. As I have indicated, we did our best to ensure that our troops knew where those cultural sites were. However, while the majority of the looting was taking place, the situation in Iraq remained extremely unstable. Therefore, it was too dangerous for troops to

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undertake static guarding of specific sites, as I hope that I explained to noble Lords when I answered points on the subject on Monday. Such activity was deemed too dangerous, until the security situation allowed for it. It does now, and that activity is being undertaken.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, in view of the fact that the greatest destruction and looting appears to have taken place in areas for which the coalition partners and the United States have had responsibility, in what dialogue are the Government engaged with the American authorities?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I understand it, my noble friend from the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Lady Blackstone, discussed these matters during her recent visit to Washington. I hope that the noble Lord will also be pleased to learn that at the meeting held on 29th April representatives from many of the institutions with interests in these cultural artefacts came over from the United States. I understand that the J Paul Getty Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and, I believe, the State Museum of Pennsylvania were all represented on that occasion. We are working, together with UNESCO, to try to find a way forward.

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