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House of Lords

Wednesday, 16 January 2008.

The House met at three o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Whaling: Japan

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, we consistently voice our opposition to Japan’s so-called scientific whaling. On 8 January, Jonathan Shaw, the marine and fisheries Minister, met the deputy ambassador from Japan to express the United Kingdom’s outrage and to urge Japan to end its slaughter of whales. On 21 December, the UK, along with 29 other countries, also took part in a démarche calling on the Japanese to cease all their lethal scientific research on whales and to assure the immediate return of the vessels.

Lord Hoyle: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that very helpful reply. I hope he will pass on my thanks to his department for the work that it has done on this matter. What is the position of the two people from the “Sea Shepherd” who boarded a Japanese whaling vessel yesterday in order, they say, to present a letter to the captain stating that it was unlawfully whaling? They were, according to press reports, detained and tied to the mast. Will my noble friend ensure that any protests on this subject are made at the highest level; namely, the Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, we are in touch with both the Australian and Japanese authorities. We have noted the reports that crew members of the “Sea Shepherd” are being detained on a whaling ship. Obviously, we want to see these detained members handed over to the proper authorities, and hope that this can be achieved safely and without further delay. Japan has confirmed that the two men have been detained, but denies that they have been harmed or assaulted.

Lord Teverson: My Lords, at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission held last year in Anchorage, a motion was passed overwhelmingly calling on Japan to suspend indefinitely the lethal aspects of its scientific programme in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. It was made quite clear at that conference that the Japanese research project was not scientific and therefore broke the convention on whaling. Are the Government going to take any legal action within international fora to enforce that motion and get a redefinition of scientific whaling?

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Lord Rooker: My Lords, we have been attempting to do that for quite a while. Japan’s view that its whaling is scientific is quite preposterous. The latest check on the position in 2006 showed that of the almost 500 papers on whales posted on the ISI Web of Knowledge database, only 0.8 per cent came from Japan’s whaling programme, so it is not scientific in the sense of publishing papers. We continue with our work through the International Whaling Commission, and all United Kingdom foreign posts are constantly on the lookout for people joining—or not joining, as the case may be—the commission, because that is really where these decisions must be taken.

Lord Gilbert: My Lords, as my noble friend is certainly aware, Japan derives much support in these matters from the votes of some small countries—many of them, I am afraid, well known to be in the Commonwealth. It is perhaps only coincidental, but many of them get economic support from Japan. Will my noble friend at least investigate discussing with like-minded countries the possibility of setting up a fund that has a countervailing effect on Japanese economic transactions in that area?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my noble friend raises an issue that I am told is highly sensitive. Allegations are consistently made regarding new members who join the International Whaling Commission and their apparent economic connections with Japan, but evidence has been a bit short on the table. Nevertheless, we have recently renewed our efforts through a document Protecting Whales: A Global Responsibility, the foreword to which was signed by both the Prime Minister and Sir David Attenborough. It was sent to more than 60 countries in the past few months. We are also actively working, through like-minded countries, to make sure that membership of the International Whaling Commission is such that the moratorium is maintained. My noble friend Lord Gilbert’s concern is constantly raised, but evidence is in short supply.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, will my noble friend advise the Japanese Government of the success of the Icelandic Government in promoting tourism associated with whale watching? I understand that something like £10 million a year is brought in there from that industry.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. The figures for the southern hemisphere show that in 1900 it was estimated that there were 240,000 blue whales; yet in 1996, the estimate was 1,700. At the same time, estimates have been made that the whale-watching industry is worth a billion dollars a year globally. There are thus economic advantages to not killing whales, which, as we know with good reason, cannot be killed safely, quickly or humanely. There is economic benefit derived from preserving whales and letting their stocks rise again.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, could the Minister be a little more precise on the illegality? Is it the case that Japan is not observing the text of a treaty to which she is a party, or rather that she has chosen not to join that part of the treaty?

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Lord Rooker: She has, my Lords, which raises questions on what is scientific and why Japan needs to do it. As I said, it claims that the whaling is scientific, yet it publishes no papers—or not to the extent that others do on it—so it cannot put any facts behind the claim. The meat ends up on the market in Japan, so the allegation is that it is not scientific. No research or papers come out of it, although Japan claims that, scientifically, it needs to kill 1,000 whales to find out how they live. Well, while it is not publishing any papers based on its research, that killing is feeding back into restaurants in Japan.

Lord Clinton-Davis: My Lords, if it makes no sense whatever economically, why do the Japanese Government go on doing it? Is it not absolutely essential for them to do so?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the Japanese Government must answer for themselves. What they are doing is, frankly, indefensible, and we have expressed our outrage about it.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, notwithstanding the Minister’s reassurances, all the evidence from Written Answers suggests that the Government have not been using all the channels available to raise this at the highest level. As well as Defra, do not the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and even the Prime Minister need to engage in making it clear to the Japanese that their behaviour is not acceptable?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, that has been done and more. The Foreign Office has been involved, and we have contacted more than 60 countries within the past few months since, as I said, we republished that document with a foreword from the Prime Minister. Messages have also been sent to all our posts abroad. This has not been left just to the government department dealing with marine and fisheries; it is being dealt with at the highest level, across government and on an international basis. That is the only way we can deal with it.

Civil Service Bill

3.14 pm

Lord Sheldon asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, as set out in the Governance of Britain Green Paper, the Government are committed to taking forward legislation to enshrine the core principles and values of the Civil Service in law. The legislation will form part of the Constitutional Renewal Bill and will be published in draft for consultation soon.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. I am very pleased to hear that she is still determined to introduce this Bill, which we hope will

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not be very long away. Is she aware that one of the Prime Minister’s first announcements was that he intended to introduce this Bill, and after eight years the undertaking has finally been accepted? We now want to know when the legislation will come before the House and before Parliament generally. It will need to deal with the impartiality of the Civil Service, stiffened by the force of law, and with the role of special advisers, which is an important part of what I hope to see in the legislation that comes before us.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as I have indicated, the legislation will put in statute the basic principles and values of the Civil Service—its political impartiality, its ability to serve any Administration, selection on merit through fair and open competition and the role of the Civil Service Commissioners. It will, indeed, make provision for the appointment and role of special advisers.

Lord Maclennan of Rogart: My Lords, I also welcome the Minister’s indication that the Bill is at last to see the light of day. Can she, however, say whether it is the Government’s intention that it should cover issues of ethical regulation, particularly in regard to some of the matters raised in another place by the Public Administration Select Committee on post-service employment?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the noble Lord was kind enough to indicate that he was going to ask this question and I am grateful to him for doing so. I cannot at this point get into the detail of the legislation. It will be published for consultation as part of the Constitutional Renewal Bill. However, I offer him the opportunity to talk with me about the particular issues that he is keen to see within the Bill, so that I might feed them in.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom: My Lords, does political impartiality extend to public servants in uniform? It has been marked under the Government that chief police officers and senior military officers have been used to promote government policies. Will this be covered in the Bill and is it desirable?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, if the noble Lord would like to give me evidence of what he has indicated, I would be extremely grateful and very interested. The purpose of the Question was to look at the Civil Service legislation and I have indicated that it will be published. He can look for himself when he is able to consider the process for consultation.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, what was the secret of the success of Northcote and Trevelyan in getting legislation on this subject on the statute book so much more swiftly than the present Government?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, unfortunately, as the noble Lord knows, I am unable to ask them. However, I hope he will welcome what is proposed, especially when he sees it and is able to add his voice to the process of consultation.

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Lord De Mauley: My Lords, there have been a considerable number of well publicised incidents of lax security in government departments recently. Can the Minister assure the House that the forthcoming Bill will reinforce the obligations of the Civil Service to protect people’s privacy?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the Cabinet Secretary has already been very involved in ensuring that the issues that the noble Lord rightly raises have been understood properly within the Civil Service, within all government departments and by all Ministers. I hope he will agree that it is appropriate for the Cabinet Secretary to continue to make it clear that we wish to see people’s information protected. The right way to do that is to make sure that the procedures in place are followed thoroughly.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, will the Bill cover the Diplomatic Service, which, as the House knows, comes under a different Order in Council?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I have no information on that at this time. Might I notify the noble Lord when I do? As I said, the Bill will be open for consultation shortly.

Lord McNally: My Lords, is not the answer to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that Northcote-Trevelyan only had to persuade a Liberal Government, a much easier task when putting forward radical reform?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Do me a favour, my Lords.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords—

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Armstrong!

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I think it is the wish of the House to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong.

Lord Armstrong of Ilminster: My Lords, is the Minister aware that some of us would be happy to relieve her of the constant and unrelieving pressure for a Civil Service Bill if she on behalf of the Government, and the Leader of the Opposition on behalf of the Official Opposition, were to give firm undertakings that they would observe and honour the core principles and values of the Civil Service?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I will not speak on behalf of the noble Lord opposite except to say that we value the core principles of the Civil Service. I have the highest respect for the civil servants whom I have had the enormous privilege of working with over the past six and a half years.

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Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, should not the Bill—or any Bill coming in—require all people seeking appointment to the Civil Service to provide a reference from their former employer, prior to their being appointed?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I suspect my noble friend is alluding to something about which I know absolutely nothing. The usual procedure when seeking an employee is to seek references. I have no idea whether the Civil Service has a different procedure, nor indeed should I as a Minister, but I have no doubt that the procedures followed by the Civil Service are exemplary.


3.21 pm

Baroness Uddin asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Children, Schools and Families (Lord Adonis): My Lords, we welcome the work of the Autism Awareness Campaign. Decisions to open new special schools are taken by local authorities, but we are providing significant additional resources for the training of teachers for specific learning difficulties, including autism. We also support the National Autistic Society, the TreeHouse Trust and the Council for Disabled Children in establishing the Autism Education Trust, focusing on service improvements, and we are supporting the TreeHouse Trust in building the National Centre for Autism Education.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, I declare an interest in that I serve on the board of Autism Speaks, which is jointly working on research into autism in the UK, USA and Saudi Arabia.

I thank my noble friend for that considered reply. Does he accept that, while significant numbers of parents are satisfied with the progress that has been made in this area, huge numbers of parents and carers across the country are still frustrated at not achieving satisfactory and cohesive educational services? Will he and his colleagues in the department consider looking at a taskforce on how these particular services can go forward and increase joint working across government as well as across the NGO sector?

Lord Adonis: My Lords, I will consider any suggestion put to me by my noble friend. We work closely with organisations seeking to promote the interests of children who are on the autistic spectrum. That is why, for example, we are promoting the inclusion development programme, which is a targeted training programme for teachers and includes awareness of conditions on the autistic spectrum. We are also investing significant additional sums in education for children with special educational needs, including children who are on the autistic spectrum.

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