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House of Lords

Tuesday, 17th June 2003.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Blackburn.

Endangered Species

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What steps they are taking to increase the length of sentences to control the trade in endangered species from two to five years.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, I am glad to tell the House that the Government are today tabling an amendment to the Criminal Justice Bill, which received a Second Reading yesterday. It will provide for maximum prison sentences of five years for certain endangered species trade offences.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very welcome announcement. If we are intent on stamping out illegal trade in endangered species, will the Minister also consider appointing more police wildlife liaison officers, as I understand that there are only six at present?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, my noble friend tempts me to go beyond my powers. The deployment and designation of police officers is clearly a matter for chief constables. We understand that most police forces now have at least a part-time wildlife crime officer. They are augmented by the wildlife liaison department, which brings in other agencies in support of the police. That indicates that we take those wildlife offences very seriously.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, in welcoming the Minister's announcement, we should not allow ourselves to become too self-congratulatory. I hope that the Minister will agree that the announcement would not have been made had it not been for the very hard work of Back-Bench Members on both sides of the House of Commons. What is happening is welcome. The heavy involvement nowadays of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) in investigating this trafficking is also welcome. My next question may not be entirely appropriate, but the Minister should know the answer. Is he satisfied that NCIS is adequately resourced to play a proper part in the investigations? Some rare species give rise to very high-value products that are immensely corrupting.

Lord Whitty: My Lords, in response to the first part of the noble Lord's question, I am always happy to endorse the work of Back-Benchers of all parties in both Houses, but the charge of complacency on the

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part of the Government is misplaced. We have always intended to increase the maximum sentence thereby making trade in endangered species an arrestable offence, and we have indicated so. We did not table an amendment during the Commons stages because we needed to take account of the full consultation, but we always intended so to do.

On resources, now that we have a partnership against wildlife crime involving all the agencies, there is significant additional focus on the area. Obviously, that must be kept under review. But the noble Lord is right that, while some of the offences may be inadvertent, others involve very serious criminal activities.

Lord Renton of Mount Harry: My Lords, does the description "endangered species" cover occupants of the Woolsack?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the technical answer is that that is probably doubtful. If one contemplates the previous incumbent, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine, he had a rather successful period in a unique habitat and therefore does not seem endangered. The present Lord Chancellor, although we might be changing the name of the species, is clearly adaptable to several different changing habitats and is therefore not endangered.

Mental Health Services

2.40 p.m.

Lord Ashley of Stoke asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What progress is being made by primary care organisations in England and Wales towards providing the range of care and treatment required by people recovering from mental illness.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Warner): My Lords, good progress is being made. The most recent data show that 212 out of 220 assertive outreach teams targeted in the NHS Plan are already in place. Progress is slower for some targets, such as early intervention and crisis resolution teams. But delivery plans prepared by strategic health authorities show that over 80 per cent of team targets and over 60 per cent of new worker targets are on course to be met. That confirms the report by the Commission for Health Improvement, published in February this year which concluded that, although mental health services started from a very low point, progress is being made and that this is bringing tangible rewards of better care and support for service-users and carers.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, I offer my noble friend a very warm welcome and wish him every success in his new post.

Noble Lords: Hear, hear!

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that 58 per cent of those involved in a recent

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survey by MIND of people with mental health problems claimed that they were not receiving adequate treatment from the National Health Service? As that is such an enormous figure involving very vulnerable people, does it not pose a major challenge for the health service, especially as it is supposed to provide a comprehensive service? Will the Government look into those claims, and do what they can to help?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind remarks. It is true that the MIND report revealed areas of great concern. We all acknowledge that, with mental health services, we are starting from a pretty low base. But one of the particularly good things happening is the project to strengthen the workforce with up to 1,500 new graduate primary care workers and gateway workers working in primary care teams coming on-stream by the end of 2004. It is a people industry. We are doing a lot of work to encourage more people into this area of work.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I also congratulate the Minister on his return to the government Benches in such style. I am sure that he has not considered all the nuances of the MIND report on mental health—the hidden costs report to which the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke referred. However, is not the current National Health Service prescription policy one of the core problems? Sufferers of chronic diseases such as epilepsy and diabetes do not have to pay for prescriptions. The noble Lord, Lord Lipsey, when launching the report on Monday, described the NHS prescription policy as a "dog's dinner". Does the Minister agree with that?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I am not sure what dogs eat, but I shall be happy to look into prescription charges. I do not promise any changes, because I am still finding my way around this subject. I shall study the MIND report, and shall be happy to write to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, notwithstanding the uncertainty of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, about dogs' diets, there is a warm welcome for him from this side of the House in the difficult job that he now faces. Bearing in mind that the problem for mental patients starts when they leave hospital, will the noble Lord assure us that care has been considered, and given, to patients who have left mental care but need constant surveillance, especially with regard to diet and drug intake?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Knight, for her kind remarks. I share her concerns about people with psychiatric conditions leaving longer-stay and medium-stay hospitals. The Government are putting much emphasis on strengthening primary care teams. We are bringing in new people to work in the area, so that the support in the community can be strengthened. That is why we

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should be positive about the assertive outreach teams. They sound jargonish, but the people involved work at a local level finding hard-to-help people with mental illness and providing them with support and services.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister satisfied with the treatment of mentally ill people in prison and the links with the community when they are discharged?

Lord Warner: My Lords, I know from my previous incarnations that big changes are in prospect as the NHS takes greater responsibility for prison health services. We are seeing a changeover, with more prisons in England and Wales for which the NHS is providing the health service. We expect there to be considerable improvements over time. However, there is a backlog of service development in the prison health services just as there is in mental health outside the Prison Service. Progress is being made, and more than 40 prisons now receive health services from the NHS under local agreements.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I warmly welcome my noble friend Lord Warner to the Front Bench. I am sure that he recognises that the level of services for black and minority people with mental illness remains highly inappropriate because he had an enormous amount of contact with black men in his previous incarnation. What does my noble friend intend to do about that problem? How will he ensure that the level of service provided is in tandem with our commitment to equality of opportunity legislation?

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