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Mr. Forth: Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the problems is that commissioners, of whom we now have far too many in any case, feel it necessary to justify their existence, their salaries, their staff and their budgets? The great danger with this commissioner--and, in this respect, he will be no different from any other--is that he will inevitably set about justifying all those things and, therefore, will probably extend the remit and activities way beyond anything envisaged even by the enthusiasts for the Bill and the commissioner.
Mr. Leigh: My right hon. Friend is right. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre claims that the commissioner and the Bill are harmless, but that is not clear to me, and he did not really explain that to us. There were some fine words and a great peroration about looking after children, which we all accept, but he did not explain what is wrong with the existing system, where it is going wrong or what the commissioner will do. The fear is, of course, as my right hon. Friend says, that the commissioner will naturally want to extend his remit. That is how people in such organisations operate.
There is a very well-developed children's rights movement, and its aim is nothing less than the legal imposition of an entire philosophy that would affect the way in which we order our families. That may not be the hon. Gentleman's view, or that of any hon. Member in the Chamber--we are all very moderate and sensible people--but that is the view of some people in the so-called children's rights movement. Let me quote some of the things that they believe in:
Every family should be ordered on democratic lines with parental authority requiring the consent of the children;
Parents should be required in law to take their children's views seriously and children should be able to challenge breaches of this principle in court;
Schools should encourage a children's right ethos, and education on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child should be introduced into the curriculum;
All children should receive sex education in schools and parents should no longer have the right to withdraw their children from classes for any reason;
'Gender stereotypes' should be eliminated from schools and feminist thinking should be reflected across the curriculum;
The validity and legitimacy of homosexual relationships should be promoted in schools;
A Commissioner for Children's Rights should be established on similar lines to the Commission for Racial Equality and the Equal Opportunities Commission to promote children's rights and to ensure that children have effective means of redress."
Mr. Leigh: I happen to have footnotes for all those points of view--I did not make them up--and I can go through the footnotes, one by one. They include Martin Rosenbaum, writing in an article entitled, "Taking Children Seriously". The previous statement was from "UK Agenda for Children", produced by the Children's Rights Development Unit. The one before that was a recommendation produced by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The one before that was, again, from "UK Agenda for Children", and the one before that from "Children's Rights & Childhood" by David Archard. I did not make any of those up--they were all written by someone, and I will send them to any hon. Member who would like them. There are people who are making those arguments, and there is no point in denying it. We may think that they are flat-earthers, but they believe profoundly in their point of view. They believe that the rights of children come before the rights of parents, and we should be very worried about that.
Dr. Whitehead: If I wanted entirely to discredit the movement to curb the EU's power or get Britain to leave it, I could quote some very unpleasant people with policies that have racist and fascist undertones.
Mr. Leigh: Of course there are extremists in every organisation. I am trying to explain to the House that there are several people who support the views that I have quoted. At the beginning of my speech, I listed the groups that support the Bill. They do not think that their views are extreme. They do not think that it is extreme to ban parents from smacking their children. They do not believe that it is extreme to place homosexuality on an equal footing with heterosexuality in schools. They do not believe that schools should encourage a children's ethos. As far as they are concerned, they are not fascists, nasty people or anti-democrats.
Mr. Leigh: Yes. They will use the commissioner to promote their agenda. He or she may be a person of sufficient stature and strong will to resist that agenda, but if not, in 15 or 20 years we will have a very different ethos, and that worries me.
Mr. Forth: Does my hon. Friend agree that his argument demonstrates the wider point that, although almost any hon. Member can come to the House with a Bill and quote in its support any number of organisations, not even well-established and respected organisations have a right to legislate, and our job is to judge wider interests? Quoting supporters or even opponents of a Bill is only part of the story, and our judgment must have a much wider range.
Mr. Leigh: Yes, we must use our judgment and common sense. In this matter, our common sense should tell us that existing legislation, which has been extended considerably in the past 10 years, is adequate to deal with abuse of children. Contrary to what the supporting organisations argue, we do not need the Bill.
The whole children's rights argument is built on the assumption that children are born innocent and good--I agree with that to a certain extent--so it follows that children do not need direction from their parents; they do not need correction, physical or otherwise, and it is scandalous that anyone should dream of making decisions for them once they can speak and act for themselves. I believe that the children's rights movement is wrong.
Children need direction, and parents are in the best position to look after their children. The Bill is another attempt to chip away at the rights and responsibilities of parents. We must hold bureaucracy and social institutions accountable. Once they are passed, laws tend to achieve an awesome power in the hands of bureaucrats that Parliament never intended. For all those reasons, I oppose the Bill.
Mr. Kevin Barron (Rother Valley): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) on introducing the Bill. He has done the House a service by giving us the opportunity to debate the children's rights commissioner.
The hon. Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) said that deciding whether to create a commissioner is important for our treatment of children and that existing law on the subject is adequate. However, the wonderful gift of retrospection tells us that 30 years ago, a great deal of child abuse took place in schools and other institutions. That was accepted at the time and the law was considered adequate. Society has since judged that such abuse is unacceptable, and the House has, on occasion, voted to end practices that my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre mentioned, such as caning in schools. Humankind is constantly changing. The very point of the convention behind the Bill is to protect children throughout the world from all sorts of exploitation, and some such practices, such as sending children down coal mines or up chimneys, were banned in this country almost 200 years ago. We should never close our minds to the possibility of the need for legislation.
Unlike my hon. Friend, I have not worked with children, except in bringing up my own three. He said in an intervention that children's views are often disregarded, and I agree. I think of the children in my constituency, where leisure facilities and life chances, within the family and outside it, have not moved on much
Many children have nowhere to go at night. I despair because taxpayers spend billions of pounds, and have done for centuries, on public buildings that close at 4 o'clock in the afternoon when they are no longer needed for the use for which they were built. Agencies could intervene to make schools and other public buildings available to children for recreation.