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Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the Government are taking a role in relation to this issue, and have done so for some considerable time. The abduction of women and children is a serious and distressing issue to which we pay particular attention. Our ambassador raised the issue recently during the EU/Sudan dialogue meeting with the Sudanese Minister of Justice. It was for that reason that those discussions took place. We have a critical dialogue, which is bearing fruit.
I disagree with the comments of the noble Baroness in relation to the efforts that are currently being made by the Save the Children Fund and others. We are making our way forward. Approximately 560 abductees have been returned, and that is a good thing.
The Lord Bishop of Lichfield: My Lords, given today's press release from the Sudan embassy and the on-going and horrendous conflict between northern Sudan and southern Sudan, which I have witnessed at first hand, can the Minister say whether there is evidence of an enslavement dimension in the struggle as regards the south? If so, what can be done about it?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, this issue has been looked at very broadly. It would be wrong to divide the north and the south in the way suggested by the right reverend Prelate. We are bringing together civil society groups, government groups and the Churches--to which I pay tribute--to try to find a solution which will bring lasting peace to Sudan. Slavery is one aspect alone of a very difficult and complex issue. If we could solve the issue of peace, we would much more quickly solve the issue of abduction.
Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, if, as they insist, the Government of Sudan are not themselves encouraging slavery as an instrument of policy, is there any valid reason why they should not open up the whole of the country to aid workers and to human rights monitors? Will Her Majesty's Government urge them to do that? Until they do, can
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord raises a number of issues. Of course it is right that non-governmental agencies should be able to work safely in Sudan. The House will know that there has been a difficult and contentious dialogue between the Government of Sudan and the SPLA, both of whom--to put it at its lowest--have not behaved as one would wish them to on all occasions. We are trying hard to bring about change in this area. It is slow; it is complex; it is difficult and it is at times distressing--but there is a view that we are moving forward.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Government of Sudan have taken no action against the raids in which civilians are abducted into forced labour and slavery? Does she also agree with the workers' representatives at last year's ILO conference that, while some meek initiatives have been taken, there has been no real progress towards the abolition of forced labour and slavery? Therefore, in her bilateral conversations with the Sudanese, will she encourage them to revoke their refusal to allow an ILO technical mission to visit that country and advise on the further steps which could be taken?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I can reassure the noble Lord that Her Majesty's Government are taking every opportunity that they can to raise this issue with the Government of Sudan and that we are moving forward in that regard. The issue needs a multilateral approach as opposed to a unilateral one. We are encouraging all those who will join with us in this endeavour to try to make things better.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, while I agree with what the noble Baroness has said today--particularly in regard to a multilateral approach--will she return to the answer that she gave to the right reverend Prelate and agree that what is taking place in Sudan today is the deliberate seizure of women and children, in particular, as slaves as a weapon of war? Does she agree that there is a need to create safe havens in the Nuba mountains and in those areas of southern Sudan where the situation is particularly perilous? Does she further agree that the whole House owes a debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for the work that she has done in highlighting these massive violations of human rights?
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I endorse what the noble Lord said in relation to the good work carried out by the noble Baroness. However, I would add a note of caution. We know that there has been a lot of concern about the purchasing of slaves or of
Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, Sudan has had its difficulties. It would be quite wrong to so describe it. We have a critical dialogue with the Government of Sudan. We have to deal with real issues and we are inviting the Sudanese Government to join with us in dealing with those issues, and that will continue.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the government indemnity scheme successfully allows museums and galleries in this country to borrow works of art without having to pay for commercial insurance. We are constantly examining ways to increase public access to works of art and all items accepted in lieu are available for public access. I am aware that, since the scheme started in 1980, those items accepted in lieu have been indemnified at their original tax settlement value when on loan. I should like to look again at whether this puts loans unduly at risk and whether it would be possible to amend the scheme so that loans can be indemnified at current market value. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont, for bringing the matter to our attention.
Lord Beaumont of Whitley: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Minister for that Answer. I believe that when he considers the matter he will see that some way has to be found to make works of art more available. I wish the Minister well. I have no supplementary question to ask.
Lord Saatchi: My Lords, perhaps I may add from these Benches our agreement with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Beaumont of Whitley. I hope that the Minister will be able to follow up on his very helpful Answer.
The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord Falconer of Thoroton): My Lords, we acknowledge the importance of the joining up of government. We have in place training programmes to improve effectiveness in joined-up service delivery. There is an increased emphasis on the exchange of staff across departments, with an increase of 28 per cent in the past four years. There is a commitment that, by 2005, 75 per cent of senior civil servants will have experience in more than one department. From April 2001, the performance of the top 3,730 civil servants will be judged on a new competency framework which emphasises the importance of collaboration and working across boundaries. We have created cross-cutting units to join up policy development and we have supported this action with changes to budgets.
Lord Hunt of Chesterton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. However, should not the Government ensure that new recruits to the Civil Service learn more about government and Parliament? Perhaps they should follow the continental practice of having more extended Civil Service training, particularly as many people now entering the service have learnt very little about history, geography or politics at school.
Lord Falconer of Thoroton: My Lords, that is a wide-ranging question. The important point is that people who join the Civil Service should realise that their commitment is to the public service generally rather than to one particular department. That is something that we seek to emphasise both in the competency framework within which civil servants operate and in the training that they receive subsequently--the training being not departmental but frequently cross-departmental.
Baroness Buscombe: My Lords, while I accept and am supportive of a number of the key proposals for reform of the Civil Service, does the Minister agree that it is logical to expect that the development of e-government will mean smaller government? In that case, what steps are the Government taking to adjust recruitment levels across the Civil Service?
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