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17 Nov 2008 : Column GC53

17 Nov 2008 : Column GC53

Grand Committee

Monday, 17 November 2008.

The Committee met at half-past three.

[The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) in the Chair.]

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley): Before the Minister moves that the first statutory instrument be considered, I remind noble Lords that in the case of each order before the Committee the Motion will be that the Committee do consider the order in question. I should make it clear that the Motion to approve the order will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way. I also remind your Lordships that, should there be a Division in the Chamber, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008

Lord Tunnicliffe rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: This order covers the ratification of the 2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement. The agreement, approved on 27 January 2006, provides for the governance of the International Tropical Timber Organisation.

The objectives of the 2006 ITTA are to promote the expansion and diversification of international trade in tropical timber from sustainably managed and legally harvested forests and to promote the sustainable management of tropical timber-producing forests.

The ITTO is a small organisation. Its 60 members represent about 80 per cent of the world’s tropical forests and 90 per cent of the global tropical timber trade. It is based in Yokohama, Japan, and here I pay tribute to the generosity of the Government of Japan in hosting the ITTO.

The ITTO was established at a time when there was increasing concern about the fate of tropical forests and when it was recognised that, unless tropical forests could provide a significant income to the countries in which they were found, they would be cut down and replaced by agriculture.

The ITTO pioneered ways of measuring the sustainability of the management of forests, and this led to the development of certification schemes. Some 320 million hectares of the world’s forests have now been certified as sustainably managed. Most of these forests are in Europe and North America, where the governance of forests is strong, not least because the institutions, like our own Forestry Commission, are strong.

In Africa and Asia, only 0.1 per cent of forests have been certified as sustainably managed. Problems of poor governance and underinvestment in the capacity to manage and regulate forests have held back many

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tropical developing countries. The ITTO can help to build that capacity with the information, technical guidance and training that it provides, as well as with project funding.

Since it became operational in 1987, the ITTO has funded more than 800 projects at a cost of $300 million. Project funding has not always been well focused and had become out of step with the approaches to funding favoured by development agencies.

The 2006 ITTA recognises this and provides for new thematic programmes which will focus efforts on a small number of priorities, such as forest law enforcement and governance, forests and climate change, and community forest management and enterprises. In making available to its members up-to-date information about prices from around the world, ITTO’s market information service helps reduce the transfer pricing that used to plague the tropical timber trade.

ITTO has been responsive to the suggestions of civil society and private sector advisory groups by, for example, championing the development of community-based forest enterprises. It has been active in promoting the restoration of degraded forests as part of the Global Partnership for Forest Landscape Restoration, to which the UK Forestry Commission lends its support.

The 2006 ITTA remains focused on the sustainable management of tropical forests and the trade in tropical timber, but builds on previous agreements by focusing future work on new priorities and better ways of working. I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (2006 International Tropical Timber Agreement) Order 2008. 30th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Tunnicliffe.)

Lord Henley: I apologise to the Minister, first, for my own absence when he started to speak, and secondly, possibly more properly, for whichever of my colleagues was supposed to speak to the order. However, I have listened to most of what the Minister said and I do not want to pose any questions to him, for which he will no doubt be grateful. I welcome the order.

Lord Teverson: I welcome the Minister’s statement. Although it is technical, it represents a broad and important area of government and global policy on sustainable forests, rainforests and climate change. There have in the past been certification schemes for timber coming into this country which have failed many of the tests, but we now have new schemes—the Forest Stewardship Council and the Programme for Endorsement of Forest Certification—that have been much more successful. I was struck particularly by the Minister’s statistic that although the agreement has had a major impact in Europe and North America, only a pathetic 0.1 per cent of forests had been certified as sustainably managed in Asia, where the real challenges lie. We know that Indonesia’s deforestation accounts for something like 3 per cent to 5 per cent of total carbon emissions per annum. I am not sure about the situation in South America. Does the agreement have anything other than a cosmetic effect on what we are trying to achieve, and how can it be made better? It is a

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great and worthy initiative which we all want to make far better, but in reality it has such a marginal effect on sustainable forests that we should say, “Great, get on with this—but now we really need to get on with the real job”.

Lord Tunnicliffe: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for his points. This is an important issue. Deforestation accounts for 17 per cent of world CO2, which is more than that from all the world’s transport emissions. It is crucial that we tackle it. Recent work has suggested that, by 2020, we could halve it with the right investment, and that, by 2030, we could probably go to a carbon-neutral forestry environment. Those are worthwhile objectives.

The agreement sustains and redirects the ITTO. That is important because the ITTO has achieved a number of things during the past 20 years. It is about creating standards to describe what sustainability is about and an information system that makes the world markets much more transparent. We need those as essential building blocks in the sort of very big initiatives that will be needed by the world as a whole to tackle this problem—and it is a problem that we must solve. For instance, the UK Government are working with the European Commission on a diligence regulation that will require traders in timbers to adopt certain standards in certificating reports, and so on. That can happen only on the basis of the ITTO’s work in the past. The basis of the ITTO’s work in future will be to maintain those facilities and to move to much more directed and thematic operations. So it is right to approve the order.

Although we should not underrate the value of the ITTO, bigger initiatives will be needed to tackle this large problem. Of the various carbon challenges, however, this is the most obviously solvable, provided that we get the right international momentum.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008

3.41 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach) rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: The draft order will confer the legal capacities of a body corporate and privileges and immunities upon the International Organisation for Migration—the IOM. The draft order also confers privileges and immunities on representatives of the states parties, the director-general and officials of the organisation. These privileges and immunities are conferred in accordance with the co-operation agreement with the IOM which was signed on behalf of the United Kingdom on 6 July 2006.

The co-operation agreement between the UK and the IOM is similar to other agreements entered into by the UK with other international organisations having their headquarters or other offices in the UK—for example the International Maritime Organisation, the Commonwealth Secretariat or the North East Atlantic

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Fisheries Commission. By conferring on the IOM the legal capacity of a body corporate, the order allows the IOM to have the legal capacity of a body corporate to assist with its day-to-day dealings in the UK—for example, to contract, acquire and dispose of immovable and moveable property and to institute legal proceedings.

The privileges and immunities to be accorded to the IOM and specified categories of individuals connected with the organisation are similar to those routinely granted to this type of international organisation with offices in the UK. The provisions in the order have been closely scrutinised by the relevant departments, such as Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and have been considered by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Merits Committee of this House. The privileges and immunities to be accorded to the IOM are the minimum necessary to enable the organisation to function effectively in the UK.

Noble Lords may have an interest in the extension of immunity from being sued and legal process to staff working for the IOM. I draw their attention to Article 10(1)(a) of the order, which limits the immunity for all IOM staff, except the Head of Office, to,

Article 11(1) of the co-operation agreement also states that the privileges and immunities provided for individuals,

Noble Lords will wish to be aware that the total number of IOM staff in the UK is currently 82. The order being considered today therefore does not provide a large increase in the number of individuals enjoying privileges and immunities in the UK, which is currently around 24,000.

The order also exempts the IOM and its staff from certain taxes; for example, income tax. Again, this is a normal provision with such orders, as exemption from taxation is based on the principle that no member state of such an international organisation should derive undue fiscal benefit from the funds subscribed to the organisation by all its members. Taxation of the IOM, or its staff salaries, would run counter to that general principle.

3.45 pm

Managed migration remains a key priority for the Government at home and overseas. The global environment is challenging: there are 200 million migrants worldwide, and the number is increasing. Our task is to make migration work for Britain, creating borders that are open to those who bring skills, talent, business and creativity, yet closed to those who might cause us harm or seek to enter illegally.

The IOM is headquartered in Geneva. It was founded in 1951 as an intergovernmental organisation to resettle European displaced persons, refugees and migrants. Its mission now is no less important than it was then—to ensure that those forced from their countries by the horror of war can be provided with immediate practical solutions, humanitarian assistance and resettlement or return.

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The IOM currently has 125 member states, with a further 16 states and 74 international and non-governmental organisations holding observer status. It has offices and operations on every continent, with 5,600 staff members serving in more than 400 field locations in more than 100 countries. It is dedicated to promoting humane and orderly migration in partnership with Governments and migrants. As a key partner for Governments and non-governmental organisations it helps support and facilitate return and reintegration arrangements, running suitably structured projects in priority countries.

What does the IOM do for us? In close partnership with the FCO, the Department for International Development and the UK Border Agency, it makes a significant contribution to government objectives in supporting managed migration for the UK and in the wider international context. For example, it has been essential in developing and delivering the Government’s assisted voluntary return programmes. Since 1999, these programmes have enabled the return to their countries of origin of over 18,000 failed asylum seekers, and of over 2,600 illegal migrants since 2004. It has supported capacity-building in migration and border management for Ethiopian immigration authorities and recently assisted stranded migrants in Libya to return home to Ethiopia.

The IOM delivers reintegration assistance in countries of origin for foreign national prisoners returning under the facilitated returns scheme. This UK Border Agency programme has returned over 2,000 foreign national prisoners since it was introduced in October 2006.

The IOM is also a key partner in the delivery of the Gateway Protection Programme under which, working with the UNHCR, the UK Government accept and resettle refugees from camps abroad. It delivers the logistics of the programme, including medical screening, documentation and transportation. The organisation has also provided emergency assistance to vulnerable populations in Zimbabwe; information campaigns to prevent irregular migration in Afghanistan; enhanced border-control capacity in Cambodia; and emergency shelter and non-food item projects—such as clothing, bedding and household items and medical kit—in Burma in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

The IOM is funded through contributions from member states. We contributed around $55 million in 2007 for operational programmes and approximately £1.35 million as our assessed contribution to IOM’s core budget, which is its administrative budget.

The order will allow the UK to comply with its international obligations in giving full effect to the privileges and immunities agreed in the co-operation agreement of which I spoke. This will enable the IOM to continue to develop its strong partnership with the UK. We are satisfied that the order is compatible with the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights, and I beg to move.

Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the International Organization for Migration (Immunities and Privileges) Order 2008. 30th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Bach.)

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Lord Henley: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for that clear exposition of the order but perhaps he could underline one point. In his introduction he made it clear that the order is intended to offer immunities and privileges only to IOM members based here in the United Kingdom for acts that are done, as he put it, in accordance with their proper duties, and that it is not intended for the personal benefit of individuals. The order does not offer the same sort of cover in terms of immunities as that enjoyed by full-scale diplomats based in the United Kingdom. I therefore take it that the order extends only to the 82 individuals working for the organisation here and not to members of their families or any others.

The Minister said that some 125 countries are members of the IOM, but he thought that more might join in due course. Is it likely that the number of people employed by the IOM in the United Kingdom will increase over the years, or will it remain at a relatively small figure for the foreseeable future?

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: This order takes me back to a Bill on international organisations that we considered in 2004—the first Bill that I was involved with. I should declare an interest, though I do not believe that it gives rise to a conflict of interest here. I was an officer of the staff association of the Commonwealth Secretariat, one of the organisations which the Minister mentioned in his explanation.

I have absolutely no qualms about our membership of the International Organisation for Migration or doubts about its usefulness or ability to resolve several areas of interest to us as a country. I was extremely pleased that we rejoined the organisation in 2001. My problem with introducing such statutory instruments is the plethora of international organisations granted this status. The Minister said that we routinely grant this status, and he is right; new organisations come along and we just grant it.

I should like to say a word or two about privileges and immunities.

The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley): There is a Division in the Chamber. The Committee therefore stands adjourned for 10 minutes.

[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 3.52 to 4.02 pm.]

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: As I was saying before the Division interrupted me in full flow, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said that these privileges and immunities are granted routinely. In my experience, however, they are not routine. As employees of such organisations are often exempt from UK legislation, their working rights are severely diminished because they work for international bodies. Their rights and entitlements are different from those of their neighbours, the people they come to work with and live alongside. I find it extraordinary. Employees of these organisations cannot understand why the laws of the country in which they live do not apply to them and why they have lesser entitlements than others. The Minister commented on the rather generous contributions that we give to this organisation to cover operational and

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other core costs. Can he give a mild assurance that the Government will at least seek, through their membership of the board and their financial contributions, assurances that employment standards at the organisation will be maintained, or that there will be an attempt to bring employment standards into line with those to which we as citizens of the United Kingdom are entitled?

Finally, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, queried whether all 82 individuals will be entitled to these privileges, in particular an entitlement not to pay tax—I would argue that probably not all 82 will be entitled to it because it would apply to diplomatic status at a senior level—but can the Minister say whether only high officials of the organisation will be entitled to full diplomatic status and privileges, or all 82? If all 82 are entitled, that will have, if nothing else, a deleterious effect on the Exchequer.

Lord Bach: I thank both noble Lords for their contributions. There is nothing unusual about what we are doing as far as the IOM is concerned. The representatives who would come from another country to work at the IOM and the head of mission here are given status comparable with what could be described as that of a diplomatic agent. They enjoy most personal immunity and diplomatic privileges, but other members of the organisation have immunity only in respect of their official acts, so there is a distinction. That limited immunity includes exemption from UK tax for all 82. On the principle that I outlined when introducing the order, a member country such as ours should not have the advantage of gaining membership money—which is what, if they had to pay tax, it would be—from those employed by it.

There is no immunity from criminal offences. In answer to a question that has not been asked, people would have to pay the congestion charge and would be liable for parking offences if they ever breached parking regulations, which I am sure they would not.

I hope that that answers the questions. I take the noble Baroness’s point; she has great experience in this field. But the good news is that this organisation does an excellent job. We are proud to be members of it, and the order simply confirms what the agreement of 2006 suggested.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2008

4.07 pm

Lord Bach rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) (Amendment) (England and Wales) Order 2008.

The noble Lord said: The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 allows ex-offenders not to disclose spent convictions and thereby offers those who have criminal records but have turned away from crime a helping hand into employment. Research repeatedly shows

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that employment is key to reducing reoffending, and for this reason the Government are entirely committed to encouraging the rehabilitation of ex-offenders into employment. The Act also makes it unlawful to make an unauthorised disclosure of the details of such convictions.

However, hand in hand with this goes the need to protect the vulnerable and to assess a person’s suitability for work of a sensitive nature. The Act therefore grants power to the Secretary of State to exclude application of these general rules in relation to particular employers, bodies and proceedings. The rationale behind this is to ensure that employers and bodies offering positions, professions and licences of a more sensitive nature are able to assess an applicant’s full criminal history before making a decision. This power was exercised in 1975, when the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974 (Exceptions) Order came into effect. That order has been amended periodically to ensure that the criminal disclosure regime keeps pace with changes in employment and public risk.

The exceptions order sets out the categories of work to which the Act does not apply, including working with vulnerable groups and in certain other sensitive positions. In the positions and categories of work listed on the exceptions order, prospective workers are not entitled to conceal convictions, irrespective of whether they are spent, and the Criminal Records Bureau is permitted to release information on convictions, also regardless of whether they are spent.

This amendment order serves three substantive purposes, each of which is important and necessary. First, it updates definitions relating to childcare; secondly, it extends the scope of the exceptions order to cover cautions, reprimands and final warnings; and, thirdly, it adds a new category to the exceptions order, that of non-lawyer managers. I should like to address each of these in turn.

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