Latest from our Blog


Maggie Jones on why it is time to make trade in ivory products the new white elephant

Today sees the House of Lords give a Second Reading to the government’s Ivory Bill. Legislation that seeks to ban the trade of almost all items containing elephant ivory – with exemptions for musical instruments made prior to 1975 where the content is less than 20%, and some rare and important antiques and museum artefacts. Anyone found guilty of the offence could be land with an unlimited fine or up to five years in jail.

Action to tackle the international trade in ivory is welcome but long overdue, with around 100,000 elephants killed by poachers between 2010 and 2012. And despite international efforts, each year continues to see around 20,000 killed for the illegal ivory trade. Approximately 55 every day – an unsustainable rate that means elephants are likely to be extinct in the wild within two decades.

UK politicians, NGOs and activists campaigning for an ivory ban have taken their lead from African nations’ calls for tougher legislation here to help reduce the global demand. So this Bill represents a significant strengthening of our current loophole riddled restrictions. While the trade in raw ivory has been illegal since 1989, buying and selling products made before 1947 has not. Such measures were supposed to end the demand for newly harvested ivory and thereby reduce incentives to poach, but they have been largely futile.

A study of records under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has suggested the UK was the largest exporter of legal ivory between 2010 and 2015. Domestically, illegal ivory is openly traded on internet auction and social media sites, as regulators have no means of determining when it was produced. Traffickers have also become increasingly creative in their efforts to launder new ivory into the legal market, using artificial stains or ageing techniques. Consequently, illegal trade has boomed.

Ivory is an emotive topic for conservationists and antique dealers alike, and Labour believes the exemptions in the Bill strike the balance between being robust and pragmatic. We will support this legislation and work constructively with the government to ensure it comes into effect as soon as possible. But we also hope, that the scope of the Bill will in due course be extended to protect hippos, walruses and narwhals.

The clock is ticking, and the survival of many thousands of elephants lies in the balance. A ban on the domestic ivory trade will not by itself end relentless poaching but it will help stem demand. Moving forward, it is critical that governments around the world unite to tackle the illegal trade by addressing corruption, improving law enforcement and giving greater support to “elephant communities”. The only value ivory has must be on a living animal.

Baroness Maggie Jones of Whitchurch is Shadow Defra Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @WhitchurchGirl

Published 17th July 2018


Antiques rogue show

Maggie Jones on why it is time to make trade in ivory products the new white elephant


Glenys Thornton on a government Bill with implications for the human rights of people in care

Today in the House of Lords, we have the Second Reading of the government’s Mental Capacity (Amendment) Bill which seeks to amend the Mental Capacity Act to replace a framework known as the Deprivation of Liberty safeguards (DoLs). A framework that impacts on those who lack the mental capacity to consent to their caring arrangements, whether in hospital, a care home or another setting.

DoLs have been widely criticised as excessively bureaucratic and costly, while at the same time offering inadequate protection of human rights. Following the Supreme Court’s ruling on Cheshire West and Chester Council, a broader definition of ‘deprivation of liberty’ came into force. There are now over 230,000 DoLs applications in England and Wales each year, leading the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) to express concern that local authorities are ‘having to work out how best to break the law.’ And then there is the almost £2.2bn a year impact on the public purse – 2% of the NHS budget.

With serious criticism of DoLs made across Parliament, a wide consultation by the Law Commission between 2015 and 2017 led to the recommendation of a new framework called Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS). This offered a more flexible and less bureaucratic means of authorising deprivation of liberty, channelling resources into situations where there are conflicts or concerns about care arrangements. It also included proposed amendments to the Mental Capacity Act’s ‘best interests’ test and promoted supported decision-making to bring it closer to the requirements of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD).

Having appeared to endorse most of the Law Commission proposals (including the name of the scheme), the government’s Bill has removed many of the important safeguards suggested. There are therefore, serious questions about whether it will do the job it sets out to or move the UK further away from compliance with the CRPD. That could have major implications for the human rights of hundreds of thousands of people with dementia, learning disabilities, brain injury and mental health problems. And none of this is helped by the current lack of an Equality Impact Assessment alongside the Bill. 

One of the most significant proposals is that care homes assume major new responsibilities for undertaking or coordinating assessments, and then providing information about residents who may lack mental capacity to statutory bodies. One local authority DoLs coordinator has told me: “I receive application forms from care homes, train care home staff and give advice about DoLS and MCA [Mental Capacity Act] issues. Based on these experiences, I have concerns that at present, despite honourable exceptions, care home staff do not routinely have the knowledge and skills to assess mental capacity and consider whether restrictions are proportionate.”

In other words, Ministers are putting at risk the whole DoLs process and the safeness of the decisions. That raises the suspicion that the government would simply like to transfer the burden, backlog and chaos of DoLs from statutory bodies to an unprepared frontline. Something that could see a further undermining of residents' rights, additional staffing in what is a heavily under resourced sector, and new forms of legal liability. Not to mention a huge human cost in suffering and anxiety.

This is a small Bill but one that may have enormous consequences, and therefore demands proper parliamentary scrutiny – and where necessary amendments that will make it fit for purpose on its own terms. Anything short of this will be selling short the human rights of many thousands of vulnerable people in our country.

Baroness Glenys Thornton is Shadow Health Minister in the House of Lords. She tweets @GlenysThornton

Published 16th July 2018

Thinking it through

Glenys Thornton on a government Bill with implications for the human rights of people in care


Doreen Massey on government cluelessness on the impact of cuts to early years services

Sure Start centres were set up as a Labour flagship programme under the late Tessa Jowell to support young children and their families, in order to provide a good basis for educational and social outcomes. They were developed in deprived areas and then rolled out to deliver play sessions, parenting support and help advise on education, health and employment. They mirrored the concept that a positive early years’ experience is vital to a healthy and happy childhood and to cognitive development.

Parents have variously described the centres as a “lifeline”, reducing isolation and giving practical advice. They were within “pram pushing distance” and served local communities. Many evaluations of effectiveness have shown the centres to have improved home learning environments via baby health programmes and child play services. Parent support programmes and social development initiatives have also been shown to be effective.

Despite positive outcomes and support from communities, Sure Start centres have suffered closures. As a Sutton Trust report shows, up to 1,000 have closed since 2009. Others have had a name change and are now called ‘hubs’, with Oxfordshire for example last year setting up 19 of the latter to replace the previous 44 centres. 

Other local authorities are proposing similar measures but such hubs are often not within ‘pram pushing’ distance. And these do not always just serve children and families, as they extend to other social services. They are also not necessarily open for the long periods which previous centres were. As there is no evidence to suggest that this reconfiguration of the centres provides better services, how can Ministers ensure good provision for young children in this mixed delivery of services?

When Sure Start centres were established, Ofsted inspected service quality and outcomes for young people, encouraging high quality provision and meeting diverse needs. Statutory guidance issued in 2013 recognised the importance of quality in improving outcomes for children and identified inspection as vitally importance to accountability. In 2015, the Department for Education announced that a new cycle of inspections should not begin as changes to existing arrangements were likely to be made.

A consultation on the future of children’s centres was announced but the date of this consultation has not yet been announced and inspections are on hold. Around 1,000 centres have not been inspected for over five years. So how can the government identify and encourage shared good practice? More importantly, how will it know how, indeed if, those most in need are being served?

Cuts to council budgets have hit many authorities hard. In the subsequent balancing of priorities, children’s services are suffering. So too are those vital experiences which contribute to social mobility.

Ministers say they are serious about improving life chances, particularly of children from deprived areas. But the opportunities to both help families become more stable and develop young children’s social, emotional and intellectual development have been reduced. Something made worse by the fact that the government is clueless over how, and to what standards, services are being delivered.

Baroness Doreen Massey of Darwen is a Labour Peer

Published 11th July 2018

An unsure footing

Doreen Massey on government cluelessness on the impact of cuts to early years services

More Blogs >

The Labour Party will place cookies on your computer to help us make this website better.

Please read this to review the updates about which cookies we use and what information we collect on our site.

To find out more about these cookies, see our privacy notice. Use of this site confirms your acceptance of these cookies.