§ The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (Mr. Tim Sainsbury)
The United Kingdom signed the United Nations convention on the rights of the child on 19 April 1990. We intend to ratify the convention as soon as possible.
§ Dr. Reid
Can the Minister explain why, eight months after the convention was signed, and 66 years after the declaration of the rights of the child was first accepted by the League of Nations, we still do not have a timetable for ratification in Britain? Why is it that countries such as Ghana and Vietnam can ratify the United Nations convention but we cannot? Does the Minister not consider that our children are entitled to have their rights under the convention—such as the right to a decent education, a decent standard of living and access to a decent health service—enshrined in law when the rights of other children in other nations are obviously being ratified?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
The hon. Gentleman must be aware that although 90 countries have said that they would sign the convention, only six have so far ratified it. The explanation is to be found in the fact that the convention covers important, wide-ranging and complex areas of legislation, and no fewer than nine Government Departments are involved. The Government take our obligations under such conventions extremely seriously and we will not ratify until we are sure that our domestic legislation is entirely in harmony with our commitments under the convention.
§ Miss Emma Nicholson
I welcome the Minister's declaration in principle on the ratification of the convention on the rights of the child. Does he think it appropriate that on our visit to the West Bank and the Gaza strip next week, the hon. Member for Vauxhall (Miss Hoey) and I should press the Israeli Government to look carefully at article 22, which deals with refugees, article 14, which deals with religious freedom, and article 38, which deals with children and armed conflict—especially as the purpose of our visit is to look closely at the devastating criticism of the actions of the Israeli army against the 292 children on the West Bank and the Gaza strip by the Swedish Save the Children Fund, which instigated the new declaration of the rights of the child?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware, as we all are, that—unhappily—there are all too many countries where the clauses of the convention do not appear to be well observed. Happily, in this country, many, if not most, of the aspects of the convention are already enshrined in law, including the matters of education and health to which the hon. Member for Motherwell, North (Dr. Reid) referred. That is not so in many other countries.
§ Miss Lestor
Is the Under-Secretary aware that since I first wrote to the Prime Minister about this matter in November, I have been referred both to the Under Secretary—he kindly replied that he was taking the matter seriously—and to another Foreign Office Minister who referred me to the Home Office? The process has been going on for eight months.
I am glad about the signing, but can we now be told who is the overall co-ordinator for the convention? Has the programme of consultation with every Government Department, which I was told was taking place, finished? Does the Minister think it likely that the House will debate the matter before the recess and that final ratification will take place?
§ Mr. Sainsbury
As I said in an earlier reply, the legislation is wide ranging and complex. Many aspects of the convention are already dealt with in our domestic legislation. We want to make sure that our domestic legislation is entirely in harmony with our commitments under the convention, because we take these matters seriously and we are determined to get them right. There are nine Government Departments involved and—inevitably, I am afraid—the consultations involve many lawyers because there are legal aspects to the matter. I am afraid that at this stage I cannot give a timetable; I can only confirm that we shall complete the work as soon as we possibly can so that we can ratify the convention.