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Dr. Norman A. Godman (Greenock and Inverclyde): All Labour Members sympathise with the constituents of Members from the Borders, especially those who now face the breadline. May I remind them, however, that no Labour Member has been able to avoid this kind of thing? Thousands of jobs have slipped away from Inverclyde, because of the decline of the shipbuilding industry. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is right: there are no easy and quick solutions. That is why we can do without excitable outbursts from the so-called official Opposition spokesman.

May I tell my right hon. Friend, however, that Scottish Enterprise--and, indeed, local enterprise companies--must do much more to help indigenous industries and companies to prosper? Inward investment is important, but let us try to look after our own companies and industries, and let us try to avoid the traditional Scottish response to employment--migration, to which the hon. Member for Tweeddale, Ettrick and Lauderdale (Mr. Moore) referred.

Mr. Dewar: I think I can assure my hon. Friend--I suspect that I can speak for Scottish Borders Enterprise as well--that that organisation is extremely anxious to encourage the growth of small businesses, and existing businesses, in the area. I mentioned its own funding; I also mentioned European structural funds under heading 5b, which have generated significant additional money in the Borders. All these matters will be considered, but we are particularly anxious to see growth and stability within our boundaries as a result of our own efforts.

It is a cliche in debates of this kind, but it is often forgotten, that small firms supply the mass of employment opportunities. I imagine that that is as true in the Borders as it is in other parts of Scotland. We give a good deal of thought to trying to give people there the impetus, and the confidence, that will allow them to pursue their trade and commerce successfully.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton (Macclesfield): As vice- chairman of the all-party parliamentary clothing and textile group, may I ask whether the Secretary of State is aware that Dawson International, and the clothing and textile industries, are strategic concerns that are important not just to the Borders and Scotland but to the United Kingdom as a whole? There is not always an alternative employer to put in their place if, because of unfair competition and the monetary policy that is being followed, they have to declare substantial redundancies and leave large sectors of manufacturing.

Does the Secretary of State accept that using monetary policy and interest rates affects the exchange rate? Does he accept that interest rates are themselves inflationary, and are making it more difficult for manufacturing industry not only to invest but to compete? Will he

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intercede with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and ask him to review the high interest rate policy that his Government are following? It is inflationary in itself, and seeks to defeat the very policy that he wants to succeed.

Mr. Dewar: In a sense, I cannot charge the hon. Gentleman with the sins of the last Government, whom he would probably have criticised with similar vigour.

Mr. Winterton: I did.

Mr. Dewar: I thought that the hon. Gentleman had. I thought that I had heard familiar tones from the past.

Let me repeat that these are economic policies in the round. It is important to get the balance right. The hon. Gentleman knows full well the Chancellor's policy, and the present arrangements for managing interest rates, which were widely welcomed when they were introduced.

Of course the textile industry is an important sector of our economy, particularly--and still--in the Borders; but all British industry must cope with the present interest rates and the present circumstances. The textile industry has problems, possibly because of its connections with the far east, but also, perhaps, because marketing has not been as effective at the higher end of the market as it has been in other areas. It is certainly disappointing to note the number of redundancies at Pringle's, for example. It is sad that it has not been possible for the management of an up-market and respected brand name, given its product range, to compete as effectively as it might have done.

Mr. Ian Bruce (South Dorset): Will the right hon. Gentleman reflect on what he has said? Anyone who reads Hansard will assume that the Government's policy is to have a stable pound at DM3 or above. I once ran an electronics factory in Galashiels, at which a skilled and brilliant Borders work force of textile workers were trained as electronics workers. At the rate of DM3 to the pound, the electronics industry cannot expand, and it is losing jobs. The additional 1,500 jobs at Dawson International will not be sustainable at that exchange rate.

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the Chancellor of that situation? Will he please not ask the Chancellor for a stable pound, as manufacturers who want to go into the euro tell me that they want to go in at a rate of DM2.40 or DM2.60, but certainly not at DM3?

Mr. Dewar: I recognise the hon. Gentleman's point; it has been made about 15 times in the past half hour. It may not surprise the hon. Gentleman to know that the Chancellor is aware of that argument. I am happy to emphasise, although I do not know that it will help the hon. Gentleman, that we believe in stability. We also believe that the economy should be competitive, and that we should be in a position to earn enough revenue to generate profits to reinvest for a successful economy in future.

Mr. Martin O'Neill (Ochil) rose--

Madam Speaker: It is my impression that the hon. Gentleman came into the Chamber after the statement. Is that correct?

Mr. O'Neill: Yes, it is.

Madam Speaker: Then I am sorry, but I cannot call him.

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Local Government (Consultation With Young People)

4.1 pm

Dr. Ashok Kumar (Middlesbrough, South and Cleveland, East): I beg to move,

In the modern age, change is constant and fast. New institutions are constantly created to ensure that decision making harmonises with the people's will. However, decisions directly relevant to one group who make up a large part of the United Kingdom's population are often made without meaningful consultation. Children, and young people below the age of 16, are not given the right to be consulted over many decisions. Most legislation is framed in what can be termed a "protectionist" mode. The position for the child is that protection is on hand, but his or her innate ability to express his or her views is not always recognised. That is the basis of the Children Act 1989, and it was the starting point for the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.

I am aware that these matters are often defined by statute law. Under such legislation, the powers given to others to act for minors are in the best interests of children, and my Bill does not seek to amend or alter those arrangements. However, vast areas of local authority spending and decision making profoundly affect the life styles of young people. I submit that those areas fall under that part of the UN convention that states:

These are broad issues, and I am indebted to the hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), who initiated a debate on 9 June in which he called for a youth parliament. The hon. Gentleman made many salient points, including one on children's right to make their voices heard. He said that a youth parliament should

    "set its own agenda, centred on what the young wanted to discuss, not issues foisted on them by an older generation."--[Official Report, 9 June 1998; Vol. 313, c. 876-77.]

I concur totally. I hope that the apparent cross-party support for measures to involve the young in the setting of social policy will encourage Ministers to take these issues forward.

The hon. Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent dealt only with national issues, but such an agenda could also be set for local matters, which affect young children immensely. It is not only education, spending on schools or the new opportunities for post-16 training that are emerging, but the type and format of leisure provision, road safety, and crime and the fear of crime. All those things affect the young boy or girl as much as, or more than, the voting adult.

In support of the Bill, I cite some original research carried out in my constituency by the Children's Society, in close co-operation with Redcar and Cleveland council and local schools. It took the form of a survey of children's attitudes to local services in a number of small ex-mining villages in the rural east of the borough. It was carried out last late last year by a small dedicated team of researchers.

The findings were graphic. The survey was striking for the maturity of the views expressed, and for the positive way in which local children wanted to make concrete

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suggestions for bettering their home environment. They pointed to the need to ensure that parks and open spaces were well managed and, perhaps more importantly, provided the right facilities for the right age group. In that context, it is interesting to note that article 31 of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child calls for the right to play space for children within the community.

The children highlighted the problem of vandalism and their fears about bullying. They considered road safety on routes to and from school. We must get that right if we are to cut unnecessary use of private cars in home-to-school transport. Children are often the group out on the street the most. Their knowledge and suggestions could be directly useful as a factor in cutting road accidents. They noted that land use planning decisions often affected them the most deeply. After all, they will have to live with the results of bad or inappropriate planning decisions far longer than anyone else.

The study found that children were sometimes baffled by local authority decisions. For example, the local authority had recently had to dismantle some play equipment for health and safety reasons. The decision was never explained to local users of the facilities. When they found out the reason, the information came second hand, often from adults who knew about the issue only at second or third hand.

The children interviewed saw that as a cloak of secrecy laid over matters important to them. Why do we not ask children for their views on leisure and infrastructure? We consult designers, engineers and architects when we consider public provision for new buildings or other public facilities, and we often involve adult users, so why not young people too? Such consultation could help to change adults' views about children.

We are too often subject to moral panic in considering children's attitudes. Each year, there seems to be more legislation that seeks to deal with children within the confines of discipline or the framework of the criminal law. At the age of 13, a child can be put into a secure unit; at 14, sentenced for a serious crime; at 16, be expected either directly to work for a living or to make serious preparation for a career. All those activities are the concerns of adults, but we expect young people below voting age to bear the brunt of their effects and personal impacts.

Of course we are concerned about children's rights, but we do precious little to ensure that they can be exercised within the ambit of the democratic process. I am pressing for something modest that can be done easily.

I want local authorities to be formally requested and empowered to consult local children through recognised channels about their annual budgetary plans, in much the same way as they are required to consult local business interests. That is an integral part of article 12 of the UN convention on the rights of the child. I would expect the consultation to be directed primarily at secondary school age children, but there is no reason why the views of younger children should not be sought.

That could be done through adults who have responsibility for them, such as primary school teaching staff. However, we must ensure that it is the children's voice that is heard, and that the role of intermediaries is limited to that of facilitators. In my area, there are youth councils which are independent of, but supported by,

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the local authorities and by schools and colleges. That network of youth councils needs to be extended to more meaningful discussions. With my Bill, we now have an opportunity to do that in more general areas of social expenditure and provision.

There are also broader and longer-term benefits to be gained. An increase in the active participation of young people in the democratic process and debate will ensure that room for structural conflict between young people and adults in society is reduced. The Bill will also increase the overall accountability of local authorities for the way in which expenditure decisions are made. Involving young people at an early stage will make them more conscious of the need to take greater responsibility for their environment, and help to build better citizens for tomorrow. I hope that the House will agree to give my Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Dr. Ashok Kumar, Fiona Mactaggart, Mr. Lindsay Hoyle, Mr. Alan Campbell, Dr. Ian Gibson, Ms Jackie Lawrence, Dr. Phyllis Starkey, Mr. Barry Sheerman, Mr. David Chidgey, Mr. Peter Luff, Mr. David Prior and Mr. Andrew Rowe.

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