Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): I warmly congratulate the Minister, as will the farmers in

14 Jul 1999 : Column 414

my constituency, which is the premier beef-producing area of Wales. The point made by Welsh Members about a dedicated abattoir is especially important now that an all-Wales co-operative has been formed for the meat industry. When the right hon. Gentleman visits my constituency to attend the royal Welsh show, will he pay particular attention to that point, because it is important that we are able to export Welsh beef direct from Wales?

Will the Minister also take note that, with the expiry of the calf scheme, cull cow values will still be immensely depressed and that the dairy industry is still being badly hit by that circumstance?

Mr. Brown: The points about the dairy industry have all been made to me and I am conscious of them, but I do not want to offer any false hope that somehow the calf processing aid scheme will be extended further. I obtained two extensions and can do no more. It comes to an end on 31 July.

The hon. Gentleman's point about a dedicated abattoir for the industry in Wales is a good one, and officials of my Department stand ready to work with the industry to help bring about that outcome if there is a will in the private sector to dedicate an abattoir to de-boned beef exports and, if it is deemed necessary, other animal processing for the domestic market.

Mr. Paul Keetch (Hereford): As the representative of England's premier beef industry, may I say that the Minister's decision today will be welcomed by Herefordshire beef farmers and the wider Herefordshire rural community? Does the right hon. Gentleman recall his visit to my constituency some months ago when he and I met Mr. Peter Symonds, whose family have been breeding Hereford cattle now for well over 300 years? Does he recall hearing Mr. Symonds express the fear that some of the imported meat on our shelves does not conform to the high standards that we now have in the United Kingdom--not just for beef, but for pigmeat, poultry and other meat? Will he review food labelling again, to ensure that we can be certain that the food that we buy conforms to UK standards, which are now clearly the highest in the world?

Mr. Brown: I remember the visit very well. I thank the hon. Gentleman for the souvenir photographs that he sent me afterwards, showing three magnificent creatures, one of very high value!

Of course I accept what the hon. Gentleman says, and I shall bear it in mind.

Mr. Paul Marsden (Shrewsbury and Atcham): I congratulate my right hon. Friend and his predecessor, his ministerial team and his officials on all their hard work. I think that they deserve far more credit than has been forthcoming from Opposition Members.

Will my right hon. Friend investigate the possibility of increasing the transmission of Government information directly to farmers, through the MLC, so that they know how to go about re-entering the critical beef export market which, before the ban, was worth about 30 per cent. of production?

14 Jul 1999 : Column 415

Mr. Brown: I thank my hon. Friend for his opening remarks. He makes a good point about the need to ensure that the quite complex mechanisms through which the scheme operates are explained properly, so that individual farmers can decide whether to take part. Although the date-based export scheme is slaughterhouse-led, I hope that, as it grows, the methods of operating it will become commonplace in the livestock industry, and will facilitate a steady increase in exports from the United Kingdom. I shall certainly discuss these matters with the MLC at 5 pm today.

Mr. John Maples (Stratford-on-Avon): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I gave notice of it to you, and to the Foreign Office.

This morning, the Foreign Secretary held a press conference on the Falkland Islands, and published an agreement that is vital to the islands' future dealing with access for Argentine citizens and the resumption of flights from Chile--flights that were only ever cancelled as a result of the Government's incompetent handling of General Pinochet's arrest. The Foreign Secretary has not done the House the courtesy of making a statement here, either before holding the press conference or at all. This is the third occasion this week on which the Foreign Secretary has failed to come to the House. We have become used to the fact that he does not expect to have to apologise, but it seems that now he does not expect to have to explain either.

I know how much you, Madam Speaker, deplore the practice of Government announcements being made to the press before they are made to the House. I hope that you will be able to prevail on the Foreign Secretary to make a statement tomorrow.

Madam Speaker: I think that the Foreign Secretary is wise enough to know when it is right to come to the House when there is new policy or a change of

14 Jul 1999 : Column 416

policy. I have not been informed by any Foreign Office Ministers that they seek to make a statement on the issue to which the hon. Gentleman refers.

Mr. Paul Flynn (Newport, West): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. You will recall that on Monday you made a clear ruling that all Members have the "privilege and the responsibility" of taking part in all the business of the House. It appears from Prime Minister's questions today that your ruling has not reached every Member. A number of questions suggested that some Members representing Scotland and Wales were "half" Members of Parliament, and should not take part in discussions and decisions on certain matters. Do you agree, Madam Speaker, that that could come about only as a result of the establishment of an English Parliament? Will you consider the matter further, and decide whether we need a clear written ruling to establish that all Members of this House are full Members of the United Kingdom Parliament?

Madam Speaker: I have no intention of being tedious and repetitive. What I said on Monday, or whenever it was, stands.

Mr. Michael Connarty (Falkirk, East): On a pointof order, Madam Speaker. As the convener of the much-maligned Scottish group of Members of Parliament, I am, in fact, raising a different point of order. Have you had any indication that the Secretary of State for Scotland will come and bring the House up to date on the Kvaerner negotiations? We learn from today's newspapers that the Kvaerner shipyard on Clydeside has been saved, but further negotiations are needed to reverse the 241 redundancy notices that were given yesterday. Is there any way in which the matter can be brought before the House? That would enable me to commend the work of the Secretary of State for Scotland in saving the yard.

Madam Speaker: I have not been informed that any statement is to be made today. All Members who raise points of order about statements would be wise to look at the annunciator. It is always printed there by about noon, so that we are all aware of what is happening in the House.

14 Jul 1999 : Column 417

Children's Rights Commissioner

4.10 pm

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I beg to move,

The Government can be a great Government for children. We have commitments to end child poverty; we have the establishment of a national voice for children in care--a new national organisation for young people in care; and regional children's rights officers have been proposed for children who live away from home.

We have commitments on raising educational standards; we have commitments on the integration of children with disabilities; we have new measures to stop paedophiles from working with children; we have new overseas adoption laws; and we have new protection for children who give evidence in criminal proceedings on physical and sexual abuse. Quality protects, new deal and sure start--details were published yesterday--bridge the gap for 16 to 18-year-olds and are powerful evidence of the Government's commitment.

I could spend the next nine minutes listing the commitments, but they will be great developments only when they really seem to work, and they will really work only when we recognise the fundamental issue at the heart of all policy relating to children: the powerlessness of all children.

After all, children have no vote. They have hardly any voice. There are many worthy initiatives, but a voice depends on the good work and good will of thousands of people in different situations. Often, those people are officials working in the most obscure parts of the land--and often they are overworked--in situations where standards can differ. They are employed by authorities that can change, whose priorities can shift and whose good intentions can be dissipated under the weight of events. I know that because I have been there and worked in those situations. All hon. Members know that powerless people are often overlooked. Even in a well-developed democracy--even in the best-developed democracy--powerless people are easily ignored, unless they have a strong, independent, statutory voice at the heart of Government.

A children's rights commissioner is needed to promote consistently the rights and interests of all children everywhere in the land, ensuring the implementation of the fundamental human rights that are embodied in the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Such a commissioner is needed to enable the voices of all children to be heard in government, in local authorities, in statutory voluntary agencies and in private bodies.

When roads, public transport schemes, leisure facilities and all the mundane realities of development are proposed, more and more adults are, thankfully, involved in consultation. Surely, at this stage in our national life, we should consider whether children might have a unique perspective and something important to say about the issues that affect their lives so dramatically.

A children's rights commissioner is needed to ensure that children are aware of their rights and that they are able to complain. We protect children when we give them

14 Jul 1999 : Column 418

real opportunities to complain. "Children's rights commissioner" is a grand title for a very simple concept. All I am urging is that the Government should take a clear, hard and honest view of a fundamental problem, and take a common-sense approach to dealing with it.

Let us have an identified person who could draw attention to the impact on children of new Government policy--someone who could raise important issues in an annual report; assist with development of structures enabling children to participate ever more in the life of the community and in decision making; ensure that current complaint systems work well for everyone; and be the identified and identifiable person of last resort when a child knows that things are going wrong. That person should be the humane, sensible and knowledgeable person who could absolutely raise the roof when it matters. He or she should be someone steeped in sound principles, who listens to children and is fearless in standing up with and for children and young people.

A good Government can do so many things, but a great Government will heed the voices of children, and hear the sound advice of more than 100 child care organisations. It would take far too long to list all those organisations, but they include the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, UNICEF, Save the Children, Barnardos and the Royal College of Paediatrics.

A great Government would also implement the recommendations of the all-party Select Committee on Health, and learn from the success of similar posts--in Norway, Sweden, Austria and New Zealand. A great Government would recognise the strength of feeling on the issue among hon. Members on both sides of the House, including our valiant Independent Member.

The proposal is the epitome of concern for human rights and joined-up government. It is the key to ensuring that worthy intentions in respect of children really deliver the goods. The issue will not go away from the House. Whatever happens to the Bill, the issue will remain, and it will resonate in the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and, I very much hope, in the Northern Ireland Assembly, too.

A children's rights commissioner could transform the way in which we understand children and childhood. A commissioner could transform our democracy for the citizens of the future. The creation of such a post is profoundly important and would be profoundly good. I challenge a really great Government to accept the concept, and to implement it now.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Hilton Dawson, Mr. Martin Bell, Rev. Martin Smyth, Mr. David Hinchliffe, Mrs. Llin Golding, Mrs. Joan Humble, Mr. Andrew Rowe, Mr. Elfyn Llwyd, Mr. Bob Russell, Mr. Donald Gorrie, Ms Julie Morgan and Mr. Jonathan Shaw.

Next Section

IndexHome Page