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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord raised the issue of a modern disciplinary code. It is my recollection that that is in the report. As regards men and women working together, I agree that that is less likely to lead to a problem. But, I repeat, people can be extremely manipulative, convincing and devious.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, does the Minister agree that sometimes prisons have better

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facilities and safeguards than care homes for children? Does she further agree that there should be a board of visitors--consisting of interested people who love and care for children, such as mothers and retired people--which would be able to go into care homes to defend the children and to watch out for child abusers, as we did as members of boards of visitors to prisons.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very interesting proposition. I am sure that it will be given proper consideration. As many of your Lordships who have worked with the voluntary sector will know, one of the problems is that it is liable to infiltration. I remember the shock I felt when I discovered that one of the Scout leaders in an area where all three of my children had gone camping with the Scouts was found guilty of child abuse, sexual abuse. I assumed that my children would tell me. Setting a framework in which children feel that they can speak about matters which may make them feel guilty is extremely important. I am sure that other noble Lords heard on the radio this morning the young man describe how, as a boy, he went to his head teacher and was further abused.

Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank the Minister. It has not been an easy Statement for the Minister to read out, certainly as a parent and mother herself. It is a shocking report. I am sure that any noble Lord who has listened only to the Statement will now read the report carefully.

I am not only concerned about those in a position of trust, who really cannot be forgiven for what they did and for the way in which they let down the children in their care. Paragraph 52.36 of the report states,

    "We draw the attention of Parliament also to the abuse suffered by B between the ages of 16 years and 18 years, in circumstances which appear to have made him question his own sexuality for a period. Much of the later abuse was not inflicted by persons in a position of trust in relation to him and there can be no doubt that he was significantly corrupted and damaged by what occurred".

It is clear that people who are not in a position of trust specifically relating to those young people were in fact guilty of abusing them.

The Bill lowering the age of consent being read in another place, which makes it a criminal offence for anyone in a position of trust to have a sexual relationship with a boy or girl between the ages of 16 to 18, needs now to be strengthened to the effect that any person who has sexual relations with a young person in such circumstances will be considered to have acted criminally. The difficulty is that lowering the age of consent will make children all the more vulnerable to people who will always prey on them. There is a passage in the report that I hope the Minister will agree makes disturbing reading. It leads one to the conclusion that when the Bill comes before this House, it will need to be considerably strengthened or not supported at all.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, in reply to the noble Baroness, Lady Blatch, in my experience I have never seen any evidence that there is

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a greater percentage risk of boys and young men being abused by homosexuals than of girls and young women being abused by heterosexuals. In my experience--and, I know from the noble Baroness's work, in her experience too--far too many vulnerable young people are outside the framework of a responsible professional adult and out in the wider community where they are prey to people. The support and aftercare of children who have been in care is extremely important in that context.

I agree on one matter with the noble Baroness: that young people between 16 and 18, be they homosexual or heterosexual, may be preyed upon. We need only look at the problems of young female prostitution in the streets to see that. I believe that the noble Baroness is going to draw me into far too lengthy a discussion of those issues.

Baroness David: My Lords, I congratulate Sir Ronald Waterhouse and his tribunal on proposing that there should be a children's rights commissioner. A great number of us have wanted a commissioner for children's rights for a long time. I hope that the example set by Wales, if it carries out that recommendation, will be followed by England.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, in England it is proposed that a children's rights director should be established as a senior post within the national care standards commission. It will be a senior appointment concerned with promoting high standards and safeguarding the welfare of children within the remit of the commission. In Scotland, consultation is under way on the legislative programme for autumn, which will end in March. Proposals are being considered. There is no government initiative on a children's commissioner, although a memorandum is soon to be presented to the Scottish parliamentary committee. In Northern Ireland, work has begun on a Bill which sets out to achieve the same ends as in England and Wales. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me, but I believed it important to put that on the record.

Representation of the People Bill

5.55 p.m.

House again in Committee.

Clause 12 [Changes relating to absent voting at elections in Great Britain]:

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish moved Amendment No. 118:

    Page 14, line 13, leave out (", Wales and Scotland") and insert ("and Wales").

The noble Lord said: The amendment is very much a probing amendment. I understand the first half of Clause 12(1), but I do not understand the second. I understand that Schedule 4 will have effect in parliamentary elections,

    "in relation to England, Wales and Scotland".

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I have no problem with that. It seems correct that any changes at parliamentary level, which I hope will be through primary legislation, will apply throughout the whole country. However, I have difficulty with sub-paragraph (b), which establishes that Schedule 4 will have effect as regards local government elections in Scotland.

I have two problems. We rehearsed the first before the Statement. I shall not go into it again, but I simply mention it: it seems wrong that experiments conducted only in England should be rolled out in local government in Scotland. My stronger concern is that local government in Scotland is, of course, no longer the responsibility of this Parliament. It has been devolved. I have before me the Scotland Act 1998, which makes it perfectly clear in Part II, Section 3 of Schedule 5 that this Parliament has responsibility only for elections for membership of the Commons and of the European Parliament. There is one exception in local government terms, which is the franchise at local government elections. In fact, all the other matters concerning local government and local government elections in Scotland have been devolved.

My question is therefore: is this Parliament taking back a power which the Scotland Act gave to the Scottish Parliament? I suggest that the Minister is careful in his answer, because I warn him that if that may be done in this case by the executive, I shall use it as a precedent for amendments to other legislation on any matter devolved to the Scottish Parliament when such matters come before the House with regard to England and Wales. I should be grateful for some explanation of why this Parliament can legislate for something which we have devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is indeed a canny Scot. He has played close attention to the script. I am delighted that that is the case. I am absolutely over the moon that he has been fully converted to the good cause of devolution. He is protecting, as he rightly should as a Scot, the rights of the Scottish Parliament.

I believe that I can set his mind at rest. Elections to the other place are, as he says, a reserved matter. It is right that provisions relating to absent voting at parliamentary elections in Scotland should be included in the Bill. As the noble Lord has informed us, the conduct of local elections in Scotland is a devolved matter, and quite rightly too. Accordingly, when preparing the legislation, we consulted the Scottish Parliament about whether provisions relating to Scottish local elections should be in the Bill.

Perhaps if I read to the Committee the text of a resolution passed by the Scottish Parliament, the noble Lord may be satisfied on that point. It states:

    "That the Parliament endorses the principle of ensuring consistency of absent voting arrangements for parliamentary and local elections in Scotland as set out in the Representation of the People Bill and agrees that the relevant clause to achieve this end in the Bill should be considered by the UK Parliament".

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There we have it--the agreement of the Scottish parliament that in order to achieve consistency the matter should be considered in this Bill in the UK Parliament. It is for that reason, and for no other sinister purpose or reason, that the Bill includes provisions relating to absent votes at Scottish elections. On that basis, I am sure that the noble Lord will want to reconsider his amendments.

6 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation. I just wonder idly why, in the interests of having a uniform system in the United Kingdom, the question of student fees is not coming back here. I certainly thank the noble Lord for that explanation. It would appear, as the late Enoch Powell said, that power devolved is power retained. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 12 agreed to.

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