HL Deb 27 July 1978 vol 395 cc941-4

3.16 p.m.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question which stands in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government, as the General Assembly of the United Nations Resolution 31/169 of 21st December 1976 proclaimed 1979 as the International Year of the Child, what action is to be taken in regard to Resolution 20 (XXXIV) adopted by the Commission on Human Rights at its 1472 Meeting on 8th March 1978.


My Lords, the Secretary-General of the United Nations has requested Governments to communicate to him by 31st October 1978 their views on Resolution 20 (Session XXXIV) of the Commission on Human Rights, concerning the question of a Convention on the Rights of the Child. Her Majesty's Government are at present preparing their reply.

Baroness VICKERS

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that reply. May I ask him whether he does not think it is essential to consider having an International Year of the Child in view of the fact that, in the other place the other day, it was stated in reply to a Question that there were 24 children in prison with their mothers and 16 babies in prison and borstal? Does he not think that this is very unfortunate, and that we should look into this matter to see whether we cannot make other arrangements?


Yes, indeed, my Lords. It is that kind of incidence of bad treatment of little children and their mothers which will figure very largely, I hope, in the national and the international activities which the International Year of the Child is designed to promote.


My Lords, would my noble friend agree that the British Government must take the initiative in this? We have too many battered children in this country and too many children whose rights are not considered, and this is our opportunity to do something that will show the world that Britain does love its children.


My Lords, I very strongly agree, and I am very glad that these points are being ventilated as a result of the initiative of the noble Baroness in asking this Question. We are making substantial sums and accommodation available to the United Kingdom association which is co-ordinating the work of the non-Governmental organisations—the voluntary organisations—which have a splendid record of fine work in this country, as the House knows. I am looking forward to the International Year of the Child in 1979 achieving substantial results, not least in the directions mentioned by the two noble Baronesses who have spoken.

Baroness ELLES

My Lords, in view of his earlier reply, can the Minister say whether the Government are supporting the idea that there should be a Convention, as a change from a Declaration, and that the Government would therefore be obliged to ensure that legislation in this country was in conformity with the terms of the Convention?


Yes, certainly, my Lords. There is a draft Convention, as the noble Baroness knows, and the Secretary-General has invited the views of all countries on it. We are now collating the views of the various Whitehall Departments—my own is not the only one involved in this, of course—so that, in good time for 31st October, which the Secretary-General has laid down, we shall be putting forward an answer to the Secretary-General which I am absolutely confident will be positive.


My Lords, is the Minister aware that Mr. Macnamara, the President of the International Bank, has asserted that there are 290 million children in the world who have no schools to go to? In view of this lamentable fact, will the Government urge Mr. Macnamara to make larger loans to developing countries during the International Year of the Child for the provision of schools, and will they consult Mr. Macnamara about the provision of the necessary funds?


My Lords, it is very probable that there are that number of children in the world who are not in receipt of, or in prospect of receiving, basic education. This House yesterday debated via the European orders which we took through the House certain provisions whereby soft loans throught the IDA will, we hope, be made available in very substantial quantities for purposes of advance in such countries. I would not for a moment rule out educational, and child educational, projects from the ambit of the proposals that we discussed yesterday. I welcome what my noble friend has said.


My Lords, the year 1979 being the Year of the Child, will my noble friend use his influence with Her Majesty's Government to stop the vulgar publicity and the network of cash that has surrounded the magic of the creative [...] of a child through a wonderful breakthrough of gynaecologists that may help women who are childless? Rather than that it should be vulgarised, will he see that the publicity is stopped?


My Lords, my noble friend has asked me at least two questions of tremendous import. I must resist the temptation to discuss with him the merits of any scientific breakthrough, as he called it. I have my views on this which may not be very much at variance with those of my noble friend; but I do not think that this is the place, and certainly it is not the time, to go into this adequately.

As to the question of publicity, there again, I think we all broadly share the concern and reservation which my noble friend has indicated. I hope that our hearing this concern expressed may lead those responsible themselves to attain a decent reserve in regard to certain matters from time to time.