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Lord Quirk: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that while there was evidence of pressure from certain quarters to lower the age for consensual buggery for boys to the age of 16, there was little evidence--perhaps no evidence at all--that there was pressure to reduce the age comparably for girls to 16?
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I thought I had made it clear in my Answer, but perhaps I was not sufficiently explicit. It was made absolutely clear on the face of the Bill and in the Explanatory Notes that if one seeks to achieve equality before the law on sexual behaviour in this way, that equality will include both genders.
On the other point raised by the noble Lord, he will be well aware, as my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn has reported this on the many occasions that the subject has been debated in your Lordships' House, that a large number of organisations concerned with the sexual health of young people supported this measure.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that suggestion. The Listening to Women forums that we have undertaken are ongoing. My noble friend may be interested to know that the last one is due to take place in Cardiff later this month. I shall be happy to give any reports to the House on the consultative procedures that we undertake.
Baroness Young: My Lords, will the noble Baroness reconsider her earlier answers to my noble friend Lady Seccombe? She did not address the issue as to whether or not women's organisations were consulted on this. The noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, made it perfectly plain in his helpful letter that no women's organisations were consulted. If I understood the Minister correctly--I read the document to which reference was made--women's organisations were not consulted at all. The question is: how will women know that this change in the law is to take place? Most women do not read Hansard or follow the intricacies of legislation.
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, I can only repeat what I said before. My noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn--as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, pointed out--made clear in his letter to the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, that the part of the Bill on which consultation took place was that part relating to abuse of trust and not to the age of consent. The age of consent was an issue raised under an ECHR obligation on the Government. It was not put to either House of Parliament as an issue of government policy; it was put as a free vote and was therefore considered in that way.
I can only say to the noble Baroness that, as she would expect, I am very much involved through the Women's National Commission and other women's organisations with the opinion of women. In none of those organisations, nor in this sensitive, nationwide consultation which we have just finished, was that issue raised at all.
Lord Northbourne: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that this is not so much a matter of women's rights as a matter of public health? Does she agree also that anal sex, whether undertaken heterosexually or homosexually, gives rise to a much higher risk of infection and damage? Also, a young man or boy involved in such a case, if it is heterosexual
Baroness Jay of Paddington: My Lords, of course. I understand from my noble friend Lord Williams of Mostyn that the Home Office has been in close consultation with the Department of Health on this subject, as I would expect. The noble Lord and other Members of the House may be interested to know that the last time in which the sexual offences issue was considered formally was by the previous government in 1984. The recommendation produced to Parliament by the Home Secretary of that time was,
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, at the initiative of the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, a joint government/private sector taskforce has been set up to promote and co-ordinate the UK's response to the reconstruction work arising in Kosovo. All the private sector members of the taskforce are aware that they are on it as representatives of the UK business community generally, not of their own companies.
The taskforce has already met twice and a website at www.dti.gov.uk/ots/kosovo has been established. My colleague, Energy and Industry Minister John Battle, led a group of six businessmen to Kosovo on 28th and 29th June to assess the initial reconstruction opportunities. He hosted a post-visit conference on 1st July so the findings of the business mission could be disseminated more widely to UK companies.
Viscount Falkland: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that full and helpful Answer. Does he agree that what has to date been an Anglo-American campaign has now changed to what is de facto a European protectorate? One feature of that is that British names are not to the fore as perhaps they were during the campaign. The admirable Dr. Kouchner takes over as the United Nations representative and we are likely to see General Jackson replaced by a German general. In those circumstances, how optimistic is the noble Lord that the criteria and the judgments needed to decide who does
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not know that it is proper to draw an analogy between those who took part in the air campaign--after all, 19 countries took part in that campaign--and the opportunities for reconstruction work. This country can do what it has been doing; that is, ensuring that British companies are fully informed of the opportunities; that those who are commissioning work--the European Commission set up a reconstruction agency in Pristina to deal with European Union and World Bank aid--are fully aware of what British companies can provide. I do not accept the analogy of the noble Viscount.
Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, will HMG be encouraging all British enterprises and the taskforce that the Minister mentioned to co-operate with the relevant Balkan businesses by contracting out locally in the countries that not only were badly affected by the war but were also extremely supportive of the NATO cause? I refer to countries like Macedonia and Bulgaria.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the original Question concerned Kosovo and that was the Question I answered. It is well recognised that there will be reconstruction needs and therefore opportunities in other parts of the Balkans, including ultimately in Serbia and Montenegro, though that depends on political decisions which have yet to be taken. But the answer to the noble Baroness is that we aim to take an active part in reconstruction, not only in Kosovo, but also in the other Balkan countries.
Lord Monkswell: My Lords, bearing in mind the international reputation of British civil engineers in bridge building, will my noble friend advise the House that the Government will take all the action they can to ensure that British civil engineering firms win the contracts to rebuild the bridges over the Danube?
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the civil engineering industry is well represented on the taskforce. The membership of the taskforce was chosen by Nigel Thompson of Ove Arup who is the chairman of the taskforce. It includes a number of civil engineering companies. The priorities for the business mission which took place last week were supply contracts, project and facilities management and consultancy. The most urgent work appears to be in restoring the power and water supply systems.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I understand a French civil/military taskforce reached Kosovo before the formal end of the war? Our own taskforce may therefore need to develop a sense of urgency. Also, can the Minister say something about the involvement of the voluntary
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not know that we are competing entirely on dates, but the taskforce to which I referred was set up before the end of the air conflict. The noble Baroness is right that we have to involve the voluntary sector, NGOs and the DfID field office in Pristina, which is particularly concerned with relief for refugees. As regards emergency relief, it is working through NGOs.
I should also have said to the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that when it comes to housing, school and civil construction work, it is anticipated that a great deal of the work will be done by local resources.
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