Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those well-intentioned words. Will he confirm that, while the world archaeological sites from Italy to Cambodia are being looted, it has taken the Government more than two years to decide to do nothing and to turn their back on the UNESCO Convention? Will he also confirm that the United States Government have found it possible within the framework of the UNESCO Convention to prevent the import of looted antiquities from, for instance,

29 Feb 2000 : Column 449

Cambodia? Therefore, is it really so difficult for the United Kingdom Government to take a similar measure?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I acknowledge and apologise for the time that it is taking to consider these matters, but they are extremely difficult. Perhaps I may give one example of the problems with the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Under British property law, a seller who does not have a title means a sale to which the buyer has no title. However, under the convention, the true owner would have to pay compensation. That would require a shift in primary legislation which would be difficult to achieve and might not be desirable.

As I understand the position, the US Government have not adopted one part of the convention because that would be difficult. Within the context of their own law, they have adopted parallel measures to achieve as much as they can from the convention. That is the alternative approach at which we are now looking.

Lord Strabolgi: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that, as a result of the Government not having ratified the convention, this country is losing to other countries important artefacts from the bronze age and other early periods as a result of illicit exports and smuggling, notably to the United States? What do they propose to do to stop the flow?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, my noble friend is right to complement the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, on the pillaging of sites in countries such as Cambodia and Italy, by drawing attention to the pillaging of sites in this country. We take the view that our export licensing conditions are perhaps not perfect but better than many others and would conform to the convention. However, if we are to achieve what the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, wants, we would need a new criminal offence on importing stolen goods or goods which had been illegally exported.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the point raised by my noble friend is important but difficult? Is not the answer to set up a committee to investigate the matter, as did the Waverley Committee on the export of works of art? It is of world importance and Britain might be able to give a lead in getting a sensible solution to a crucial question for the future of world heritage.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the noble Lord is right to draw attention to the difficulty and goes some way towards excusing the Government from the accusation of delay by the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, which we acknowledge. Whether it would be right to set up a committee rather than to have the work done by government departments--and more than one department would be concerned--is another matter. The problems raised by the Waverley Committee still exist in the sense that one of the implications of adopting the UNESCO Convention

29 Feb 2000 : Column 450

would be that there would have to be an inventory of nationally important cultural objects and that might be difficult to achieve.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, can the Minister comment on the 1995 Unidroit Convention, which is closely related to this convention and which we also have not signed? It deals specifically with stolen and illegally exported cultural objects--crimes which are growing apace in the world.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, on 7th February, two days before the announcement to which I referred in my Answer, the Government announced that they had decided not to sign the Unidroit Convention. It has fewer difficulties than the 1970 UNESCO Convention, but there are still major problems with reconciling it with British law. That is why we are looking to an alternative approach which might not involve signing either the 1970 convention or the Unidroit Convention, but might still provide the protection that is quite properly demanded by noble Lords.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, for as long as I remember, I have fully supported my noble friend Lord Renfrew in pursuing this important question. When many countries have signed and ratified the convention, what does "look again" mean? Is it, as my noble friend Lady Trumpington said years ago when answering the Question as a Minister, that the scope is too wide?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I hope that I have made it clear that we, too, support the objectives of the noble Lord, Lord Renfrew, and are grateful to him for pursuing the matter. One of the problems is that the definition of "cultural property" which would be involved in the conventions is dangerously wide and might have unintended consequences. However, the difficulties to which the noble Baroness draws attention are very real and I do not believe that there will be an easy or quick solution to them.

Prison Governors

2.59 p.m.

Lord Hurd of Westwell asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How many governors of Her Majesty's prisons were, during 1998 and 1999, transferred to other positions after less than two years in post.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Bassam of Brighton): My Lords, during 1998 and 1999 a total of eight governing governors transferred to other positions after less than two years in post. In seven cases those governors moved to a higher category establishment and in the eighth case

29 Feb 2000 : Column 451

the governor moved up to head the Prison Service's training services on a short-term basis until the arrival of a newly recruited head.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, which obviously I shall need to study. However, can he confirm, for example, that Her Majesty's Prison at Glen Parva has had five governors in three years and Chelmsford one governor each year for six years? Those are not extraordinary but quite common examples. A great deal of good has been done in the Prison Service in recent years, but will the noble Lord agree that it is difficult to run a prison effectively under those circumstances? What can the Prison Service do to slow down what in many cases is a dizzy and very damaging merry-go-round?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I believe that the noble Lord is probably correct in his statistics, although clearly we need to look at them more closely. I believe that the process is working properly. An accelerated promotion scheme exists within the service and that is very important. In part, that may explain part of the problem with which we are dealing. It is important that we bring forward bright people in the service and, on the other hand, maintain the right balance by ensuring that we retain experienced people in post. However, by and large we believe that we have the balance right. The chief inspector is happy with the way in which appointments operate within the Prison Service. Unfortunately, there will be occasions when difficulties are caused in some prisons by governors taking new jobs and moving on perhaps rather more quickly than we should like.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, presumably the figures given by the noble Lord do not include the temporary secondment of governing governors to posts at area level, such as was the case when the governing governor at Wandsworth was removed recently, as he will recall. Does the Prison Service accept the recommendation by the chief inspector that one should not take governing governors away from a prison without providing a replacement? Can the noble Lord give an assurance on that point?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am happy to give an assurance because the director-general, Martin Narey, has made it very clear that he intends to take note of and follow as strictly as possible the Chief Inspector of Prisons' comments, observations and criticisms. I am sure that the noble Lord will be aware that during the recent changeover of power at Wandsworth there was no gap between the departure of one governor and the arrival of another. However, I believe it is worth stressing that in most prisons in most circumstances the number two will be fully capable and well able to act in the governing governor position. We have extremely experienced governors who can carry out that important work.

29 Feb 2000 : Column 452

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, I doubt that Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons will be happy when prisons such as Wayland, Rochester and Wandsworth, as my noble friend pointed out, have been without a prison governor for six months. In the case of Swansea the period has been even longer. Why do we take away some of our best people, leaving prisons without prison governors when problem prisons need good people?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I thought that I had made it clear that we do not, as a matter of practice, leave our prisons without good governors. Because of the governor grades--that is, Governors 1 to 5--within the Prison Service and within each prison, there is always a range of governor experience that can be drawn upon and governors can be moved into the primary position. It is most important that we have a broad base of experience within the Prison Service. Of course, that is not to say that we should not do all that we can to ensure a smooth transfer of office from one governor to the next. For that reason, we now pay much more attention to succession planning.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page