15 Mar 2001 : Column 981

House of Lords

Thursday, 15th March 2001.

The House met at three of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers--Read by the Lord Bishop of Hereford.

Developing Countries: Labour Standards

Baroness Whitaker asked Her Majesty's Government:

    How they are helping to support International Labour Organisation core labour standards in developing countries.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the Government support core labour standards in developing countries in a number of ways: through bilateral partnerships, for example, addressing child labour and bonded labour; through the private sector by supporting ethical trade and socially responsible business initiatives; and by supporting and strengthening the work of civil society organisations in developing countries. The Department for International Development also works directly with the ILO, providing help to implement the declaration on fundamental principles and rights at work which define core labour standards.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that positive Answer. Is the noble Baroness aware that, for the first time in its 81-year history, the ILO has urged its members to take action in respect of Burma's use of forced labour, including alleged rape, beatings and sending porters out to test minefields? Can she further tell us what is the response of Her Majesty's Government to the ILO decision?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware of the ILO's decision. The Government have consistently taken a strong line in the ILO for action against Burma. We supported the decision of the international labour conference to invoke Article 33 of the constitution which, as my noble friend knows, was unprecedented in the ILO's history. It is a serious indictment of the Burmese Government's appalling human rights record. That government actively discourage UK business, other governments and international bodies from having direct contact with the Burmese regime.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, the majority of funding for the ILO comes from the Department for Education and Employment, but increasingly it is coming from DfID. Can the Minister tell the House why DfID is now paying more of the Government's share? Furthermore, can the Government be confident

15 Mar 2001 : Column 982

that the ILO directly contributes to a reduction in poverty as required under the International Development Bill?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, is quite right. The Department for Education and Employment takes the lead responsibility for liaison with the International Labour Organisation. However, the noble Baroness will be aware that the Government have been working actively to integrate activities across a range of areas. Since 1997 the Department for International Development has committed over £9 million to the ILO, mainly for the elimination of child labour. We are discussing a further four-year partnership. I can assure the noble Baroness that these activities are entirely in line with our priority of eliminating poverty across the world.

Lord Peston: My Lords, I am pleased to hear the Minister's remarks about support for the ILO. Is my noble friend aware that what lies at the heart of the problem are countries which have an antipathy to multi-party democracy and to the working of free markets? If that changed then many activities of the ILO would no longer be necessary.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that in the Globalisation White Paper published by the Government at the end of last year, we did a very careful analysis of globalisation and the impact that markets would have on assisting the development of countries in the developing world. We are well aware that it is important to have strong economic as well as development activity, which is funded through organisations such as the Department for International Development, if we are to meet our targets with respect to eliminating world poverty.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, when the Minister mentions our wish to do away with child labour, does she appreciate that in many countries families rely upon the income from those children? How can she reconcile that and what can be done to help? She mentions that this money is intended for that purpose. How can it be used to reduce, or improve, at least, the conditions under which children work, even if it does not do away totally with child labour?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are working in a number of areas which address the issue that the noble Baroness has raised. Yes, we are aware of the difficulty that exists in a number of families where the unpaid or paid labour of children is absolutely essential for the survival of those families. We are working to ensure that the very worst forms of forced labour are eliminated. We are working through our bilateral programmes in a number of countries to try to improve the economic conditions of families through programmes such as micro-credit schemes. In our education programmes in a number of countries we

15 Mar 2001 : Column 983

are trying to improve the access and quality of basic and primary education. So that that will be another route out of poverty.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, UN conventions are all very well, but there are many poor countries which simply do not have the apparatus in place for implementing such conventions, and sometimes not even to implement legislation. I speak from my experience in Nepal. Can the Minister confirm that her department is supporting non-governmental organisations, which are the only bodies sufficiently equipped to implement the conventions?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is quite right. In a number of countries the appropriate infrastructure does not exist. The noble Earl will be aware that we are working on this matter through a number of agencies in Nepal and that we have made recommendations to the government of that country. I agree with the noble Earl that the role of NGOs is extremely important.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether she is satisfied with the links established between the ILO and the United Nations Commission on Human Rights? For example, last year the ILO World Conference passed certain strictures on slavery in Sudan. How are such decisions fed into the proceedings of the UN Commission on Human Rights which are about to begin?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have been working extremely hard to ensure that all the different parts of the international system are well co-ordinated. Certainly, in the preparatory meetings which take place before the main meetings commence, relevant decisions which have been taken by, for example, the International Labour Organisation conference, would then be fed into a meeting relevant to the UN Commission on Human Rights. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that in all our dealings with the international system, we try to ensure that that co-ordination takes place. We do not want to see a number of different agencies working independently rather than joining together and pooling their resources.

Teenage Pregnancies

3.14 p.m.

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will study the progress made in the state of Illinois in reducing the incidence of teenage pregnancies, including Project Reality.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, our teenage pregnancy programme is based on evidence of what is likely to be most effective. We are aware of abstinence programmes in the United States,

15 Mar 2001 : Column 984

including Project Reality. However, a recent expert review found no robust evidence that these programmes are effective.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. Is he aware that, not only in the state of Illinois but throughout the United States, young people are receiving the message that it is in their own interests to abstain from sexual relations until marriage? Has this not had a marked effect on reducing teenage pregnancies and abortions? Is there not a strong case for putting in place similar programmes in this country?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I have studied a paper produced by the Resource Centre for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention in the United States. It undertook a review of the published studies in this area. The centre found that only a limited number of studies were sufficiently robust to stand up to analysis. Indeed, the only study sufficiently robust to enable a comparison to be made between one approach and another found that the programme did not delay adolescent sexual activity. Like many noble Lords, we are concerned about the level of teenage pregnancy in this country. An important part of our own programme is a strategy to help young people to resist having sex before they are ready. However, the strategy also involves helping teenagers to understand and avoid the risks of unprotected and uninformed sex. I believe that a rounded programme in this area is likely to be more effective.

Earl Howe: My Lords, does the Minister agree that, when a teenage girl finds that she is expecting a baby, it is important that she is able to gain access to advice about the options open to her? Can the Minister say whether the forthcoming Adoption Bill will contain measures to ensure that girls receive advice not simply about abortion, but also about the opportunities for adoption?

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page