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Animal Welfare: CITES

2.58 pm

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the United Kingdom takes a keen interest in elephant conservation. We very much hope that the African nations themselves can agree on how to proceed in a manner that they feel best protects the African elephant, but we stand ready, along with our colleagues in the EU, to offer them assistance in their deliberations, should they ask for it.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, given that last year saw the highest number of confiscations in the illegal ivory trade since the ban was introduced in 1989, will my noble friend seriously consider a 20-year moratorium in the trade, not only to allow elephant populations to recover, but so that we can introduce a monitoring system of the legal trade in stockpiled ivory, on whose back the illegal trade in ivory has grown and prospered?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, as I hope was implied by my Answer, it is the view of the European Union, including the United Kingdom, that this decision is best arrived at by the African nations. It is quite clear that there is a split between two groups. As we speak, this matter is being discussed in The Hague, as is indicated by the dates in the Question. We stand by, and indeed are helping to facilitate, discussions between the groups of African nations so that a solution can be arrived at.

There is only one approved trading nation, and that is Japan, so the trade is not widespread. Japan has been effectively monitored, and so far it has satisfactorily maintained the requirements of that monitoring.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, what is the present position in northern Botswana, where recently there have been far too many elephants, causing hundreds of square miles of devastation? If that is still the position, is anything being done to accommodate Botswana’s need by allowing that country to increase its cull of elephants, or perhaps to assist it with a programme of translocation?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Lord is quite right. Of the countries in the groupings, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe currently have an elephant population two or three times larger than when they were downsized to Appendix II of CITES, simply because of the success of the original ban under Appendix I. I understand that there is no large-scale culling at present, although selective culling is in place. That is how the stockpile has been created, along with seizures from the illegal trade. These issues are currently being discussed in The Hague by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The European Union is helping to facilitate discussions between the two blocs of African states, and we hope that a solution can be arrived at during today’s sitting of the committee.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the legal trade in Japan may well help to mask an illegal trade? What is the Government’s position on that?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, there is no evidence of that. Japan is the only trading nation—there is an application from China, but it has not been looked at yet because the country applied too late—and it has met all the requirements placed on it when it bought the second block of ivory, consisting of 60 tonnes in three tranches, which I understand was agreed in 2002. There is an agreement not to re-export. Japan has compulsory trade controls over the raw ivory, a comprehensive and demonstrably effective reporting and enforcement system for the worked ivory—that is, the products it makes—and the registering and licensing of all imports. Those who have looked at the monitoring of the situation have been satisfied that Japan has kept strictly to those requirements, hence the fact that the blocks of ivory have been allowed to be sold to them. We are satisfied with the monitoring that has occurred.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the organisations which lobby Members of your Lordships’ House on this subject do not adopt as even-handed a position as he has done today at the Dispatch Box?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I am not quite sure how to answer that. I was talking to Defra officials in Brussels less than an hour ago about the current position. The committee was then meeting. We are desperate to ensure that there is an African solution to this problem—not an NGO solution, but an African one that they are satisfied with. There are grounds for a compromise between those who want a complete long-term ban and those who want trade that would both protect the African elephant and maintain the trade for those who want it. However, it is up to the African nations themselves to reach that compromise: we do not want the ex-colonial powers being seen to force it on them.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, last week, there was an informative meeting of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee on elephants and their survival over the next 100 years. Elephant management is critical to the future of elephant populations. As the Minister indicated, that includes culling and the appropriate deletion of certain elephant families. That is a decision that must be taken by individual countries. If culling becomes an accepted policy for elephant control and management, will the British Government support that?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, obviously, we want effective management and to ensure that there is no illegal trade or illegal killing of elephants. Where culling can be justified because of increases in the population, and where the poachers’ goods have been seized—the stockpile is made up of ivory from elephants which have died naturally, as well as seized goods—we would endeavour to support that, but we want to ensure that this is an African solution, which we will support.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that there is an African solution on the table now in respect of Kenya and Malawi, which have proposed a 20-year moratorium on that trade?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, yes, there are other African solutions on the table, proposing different figures. We are seeking to achieve a satisfactory compromise that everyone can work to; that can be maintained legally and monitored so that it is transparent; that protects the elephant; and, above all, that is a solution that the African states themselves can agree on. There is not one easy fix for this. I understand that three proposals are on the table this afternoon, and we hope that one of them can be agreed on by everybody concerned.

Offender Management Bill

3.06 pm

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

[The LORD SPEAKER in the Chair.]

Clause 15 [Powers of authorised persons to perform custodial duties and search prisoners]:

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone moved Amendment No. 106:

The noble Baroness said: This amendment is tabled in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Dholakia and Lord Wallace of Saltaire. It echoes the previous amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and refers to the clear requirements for the appropriate training of all staff in contracted-out prisons who work with children and young people to include explicit child safety, protection and welfare provisions. These requirements really must be in the Bill. Our amendment has been informed by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, to which I am grateful.

I return to the issue of the essential role of training for all those working in the criminal justice system. I would like to clarify for the record and for the Minister that, on our last day in Committee, far from suggesting that I thought that the Government took qualifications and training lightly or that anyone could do the job, I meant quite the reverse. I wanted to draw their attention to the perception—subjective but real none the less—in the Probation Service that in the Home Office qualifications are not viewed with great importance. It is important that the Government are aware of this and take it into account in their dealings with the service.

I also return unashamedly, despite the reservations expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Warner, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, on the previous day in Committee, to our discussion on the training of the provider of probation services. Today we are looking at the even more sensitive issue of the training of those who deal directly with children and young people. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, has already raised the question of the management of visitors, who may be children, by staff in private prisons, including searching them and letting them in and out. I do not know whether many Members of the Committee have witnessed the searching process of visitors to prisons, but it is certainly more rigorous than many may realise. It includes looking into people’s mouths, for example. This comes as quite a shock when you are not expecting it. In addition, personal searches can include the removal of more than just an outer coat or jacket, or gloves. Indeed, on more than one occasion I have been thoroughly searched and frisked in a cubicle, by an officer, in an STC, of all places, where I was an expected visitor. Actually, I was searched more thoroughly there than I ever was on going into the Maze prison.

When searching of any kind is extended to children, we believe that it is essential that there are explicit child safety protection and welfare safeguards in place, which is not the case at the moment. The Explanatory Notes state that these powers will be exercised in line with prison and YOI rules, but no more than that. I believe that that is not enough.

It is fair to assume that many children coming to make these visits are, by definition, more vulnerable than most. The often stressful nature of a prison visit, which anyone who has undertaken one will know, must not be compounded by inexpert searching. Furthermore, it is essential that those working in private prisons and STCs are able to exercise their powers to search and detain only within a clear framework of accountability, as exists in the statutory sector. There is, as always, a balance to be struck between necessary precautions and unwarranted invasion of privacy with adults, but in dealing with children, searching must be handled with extreme care and sensitivity at all times.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights, in its letter of 19 December to the Department for Constitutional Affairs, raises a number of human rights compatibility issues in relation to the Bill. It says:

At present, the qualifications specified by regulations should include a requirement to undertake training in the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the Children’s Workforce, developed by the DfES. It is meant to be a tool to enable anyone who works with children and young people to develop a common understanding in six basic areas: effective communication and engagement with children, young people and families; child and young person development; safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child; supporting transitions; multi-agency working; and information sharing.

I am sure that Members of the Committee will find that that list consists of nothing less than what is basic to all those practitioners we are discussing. But this common core is not mandatory for any practitioner working with children, although it expects a basic level of competence to be demonstrated “over time”. Our view is that in this field it should be a prerequisite. I beg to move.

Viscount Bridgeman: We accept wholeheartedly the principle behind the amendment; we are just concerned that the qualification regulations imposed by the Secretary of State may place an undue burden on both the workers and the resources of the prison estate. Does the noble Baroness consider that the qualifications she has outlined complement existing training provisions?

3.15 pm

The Earl of Listowel: Since the Minister was absent at an earlier stage of the Committee, perhaps I may ask her about supervision of custody officers. She kindly wrote to me recently in response to my Question on how supervision in private, contracted-out custody was monitored. She stated that it was a matter for the private contractors and that the Government managed these matters through the performance framework. As the Minister knows, I am very concerned that custody officers should be well supervised; in young offender institutions, they currently are not. I was therefore concerned by that Answer. It is certainly relevant to the question of visitors with children. I would therefore appreciate it if the Minister were to describe in a letter to me how these contracts monitor the performance of the contracted-out prisons, so ensuring that adequate supervision exists. We hear that there is often a high turnover of staff in private nurseries and prisons, because, for all the benefits that private contracting can bring, support for front-line staff is not as strong as it would be in public provision. I understand that the European Union has demanded that a common core of skills and knowledge for adults working with children be in place by 2008, but I may be wrong. I would be interested to hear from the Minister whether that is correct.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: We have covered much of this ground previously, so I shall not reiterate the arguments. However, it would certainly be helpful if the Minister were to give us all a straightforward reassurance that Articles 5 and 8, to which the noble Baroness referred, are not being breached and that we can rely on appropriate training being offered to people working in contracted-out prisons.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: I say straightaway to the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Linklater, that we are confident that Articles 5 and 8 of the ECHR are not being breached. The requirement in Wainwright is that there be clear procedures and proper training. We are happy that we have in place precisely such procedures; we are not worried about that.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked an important question in relation to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, about undue burden on workers and the prisons estate. We think that such burden would be the precise impact of the amendment, although I am sure that that is not what the noble Baroness intends.

My noble friend Lord Bassam dealt in detail with some of these matters yesterday, so I shall try to deal with them as quickly as I can. However, before doing so, perhaps I may say how disappointed I was at the noble Baroness’s remarks about the perception of the probation services, because it flies in the face of reality when one bears in mind the Government’s investment in, and concentration on, training, expertise and excellence.

The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, mentioned searching. One of the tragedies the system regrettably faces is that some very alarming items have been found on the person, sometimes the intimate person, of visitors. That creates a real challenge for all of us. However, I recognise the purpose of the noble Baroness’s amendment; it tries to ensure that the quality of staff is sufficient and that operations are undertaken correctly. I hope that I have already made it clear that I share those concerns, but I am glad of this opportunity to remind the Committee of the safeguards that we have in place to ensure that this is the case. As Members of the Committee indicated, this issue was discussed at some length in Committee in another place, but the opportunity to restate the Government’s position is none the less welcome.

The proposed amendment would require the Secretary of State to set unnecessary qualification requirements for non-PCO staff before they could be authorised to perform a custodial duty. Before I explain why the amendment is unnecessary I would like to make clear what this clause is intended to achieve. Its aim is to reduce unduly restrictive limitations placed on those working in the private sector while ensuring that appropriate safeguards are maintained. I would be happy to write to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, about those details and circulate them to other Members of the Committee because the detail is often reassuring and helpful.

Accepting the amendment would not only perpetuate existing unwarranted differences in operational practice between the public and private sectors but introduce an extra difference. We assume that it was intended that only those meeting the requirements set out in an SI would carry out duties listed under the power given by the clause. The amendment achieves that result, but it also goes considerably wider: its wording would mean that every worker in a privately run prison would be required to meet those qualification requirements. Every such worker, irrespective of whether they were ever likely to have any contact with a prisoner, would be required to meet standards identified and described in secondary legislation. That is unnecessary and disproportionate. Moreover, it would deprive those running private prisons of the operational flexibility which is vital for the effective management of a significant part of the prison estate. Consequently, the amendment would undermine the very purpose of this clause, which is to deregulate an aspect of the private sector with appropriate safeguards—the emphasis must be on “with appropriate safeguards”—not to impose additional and weighty burdens on it. There are other, equally good reasons for resisting this amendment, even had it been drafted to achieve the intention which we assume those drafting it had in mind.

As I stated previously, the Government explained in another place why we believe that, although on the face of it a requirement that the Secretary of State make non-PCO grades who seek to perform custodial duties subject to qualification requirements may appear to offer assurance, in reality that would not be the case. As we stated then, no such restriction exists for the public sector. There is a 14-year record of quality delivery in private prisons; the staff performing those duties will not be doing so all the time—they will simply be part of their job, as is the case for OSG in the public sector. Finally there is no justification for the significant additional bureaucracy that the amendment would require.

In addition, the clause already limits the range of custodial duties that a non-PCO grade will be able to perform and submits those tasks to parliamentary scrutiny. The Secretary of State will have to specify in an order subject to the negative procedure the activities that a worker may be authorised to carry out, and we have explicitly excluded the use of force from this list.

Furthermore, an individual non-PCO has to be separately authorised at establishment level to carry out any task listed in such an order. Such an authorisation can only be given by a director where appropriate and can be made subject to limitations or conditions. In determining whether an individual should be authorised or whether any authorisation should be limited or made subject to conditions, we anticipate that a director may well wish to satisfy himself or herself that an individual has an appropriate level of experience and expertise to carry out the listed task in question. Any such exercise inevitably entails the consideration of the non-PCO’s qualifications.

The director will have in mindthe contractual penalties—including financial penalties—and reputational damage that operational failures in private prisons incur, then they will make a decision on the appropriateness of an individual for a particular task. I hope that that satisfies the Committee that the amendment is unnecessary, and that the noble Baroness will feel happy to withdraw it, although I understand why she has raised the matter and why it is important to have this discussion.

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: I am grateful to all those who contributed to this short debate. I am not entirely reassured by the Minister’s response, particularly her remark that the amendment might perpetuate differences. Given the robust assurances that appropriate training is already in place for all staff, particularly those involved with the management and searching of prisoners, children or adults, I do not understand how differences could be perpetuated.

I appreciate that a burden may be imposed on staff, but I would not call it an undue burden in the context of managing children. However, in the mean time, having listened to what the Minister said, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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