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Lord Burnham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but what is happening to the nuclear waste which is not being accepted at Drigg? If it proves, as is my information, that the amount of carbon 14 is grossly excessive, what will happen from the middle of March when the report is received?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, we do not at this moment know what the situation is at Drigg. However, it is believed that this matter will not have a significant effect on operations. In the meantime the resins are not being sent to Drigg. I have no reason to believe that the consignor will be prevented from sending wastes to Drigg in the future. However, I understand that

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should the consignor be prevented from sending wastes to Drigg in the longer term, he will be able to make arrangements to store them on site until a suitable disposal facility becomes available.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, am I correct in thinking that a Bill to bring nuclear energy plants under a greater degree of control is on its way? If that is the case, will that Bill, when it becomes an Act, be a means of dealing with this kind of problem?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I am not aware of any such Bill. I do not think there is a necessity to take any action of that nature on this issue. Obviously action is being taken to examine how this situation occurred and the fact that it was not spotted as early as it should have been. However, I do not think that that requires legislation.

Lord Craig of Radley: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that apart from this carbon 14 issue, the capacity of Drigg, radiologically speaking, will be full, even if the volume is not full, within the next 50 years? Will that require a further disposal facility to be started for low level waste?

Lord Sainsbury of Turville: My Lords, I do not believe that there is a time horizon constraint of that kind with regard to the operations at Drigg taking this kind of fuel.

Children's Rights

2.55 p.m.

Lord Northbourne asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have any plans to appoint a children's rights commissioner.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Government have made a number of commitments which will enable children's rights and safeguards to be kept under careful scrutiny. These include establishing children's rights officers in each of the eight commissions for care standards in England; joint reporting from all the inspectorates dedicated to children; and continuing the work of the ministerial task force on children's safeguards. The Government are not persuaded that it is desirable to create a national mechanism additional to the existing agencies and arrangements for ensuring that safeguards for children are implemented, and their voices heard.

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that women, who represent 50 per cent. of the vote in this country, have a Minister to look after their interests and that the working age disabled, who represent about 13 per cent. of the population, are about to have a disability rights commission to look after their interests? Is it not reasonable that children, who represent 23 per cent. of the population and do not have a vote, should have an

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ombudsman dedicated to their interests to whom they or their parents can apply for redress when they are let down by officialdom?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the Minister for Women has an important role in developing and promoting a whole range of women's issues in government. Dare I say that I think she does that job well? Of course, I very much share the concern of the noble Lord to ensure that children's rights come to the fore. However, one has to consider that as regards the services provided to children, statutory responsibilities go across a whole range of agencies both at national and local level. It is the Government's belief that we need a step by step approach to improving the delivery of children's services within the existing institutions and also in relation to the proposals that were enunciated in the social services White Paper published towards the end of the year. In that way we can give the right focus to protecting the interests of children.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, over the past two decades Members of both sides of this House and another place have played a significant part in securing arrangements which seek to protect children, including the establishment of commissioners, in several European countries. While one recognises that the Government's commitment to child welfare is undoubted, will my noble friend ensure that the experience in other similar European countries where commissioners have been appointed is monitored to ensure that we at least match the high standards which obtain there?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am happy to accept that we should continue to monitor the performance of children's commissioners in other countries. However, children's commissioners are not the only means to safeguard the rights of children. I believe that the Government's approach in taking decisive steps to improve the quality of services delivered to children, particularly within the remit of social services, is the right one. I draw my noble friend's attention to the proposed children's rights officers who, following legislation, will be established in each of the eight commissions for care standards. They will play a very important role in ensuring that the rights of children are fully taken into account.

Baroness Young: My Lords, will the Minister also consider the rights of parents, particularly the rights of responsible parents? Does he agree that if they were given more support, perhaps there would be less need for a commissioner for children?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness knows that the Government and I are very keen to support the role of parents. I do not believe that the concept of ensuring children's rights is in contradiction to family life, as I think the noble Baroness implies. Providing rights for children goes alongside responsibility. The more responsible children are, the more they contribute to family life.

Lord Bridges: My Lords, as a former chairman of the United Nations Children's Fund in this country, may

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I invite the Government to review their attitude towards this matter? We have, after all, signed and ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child and appointing a commissioner would confirm our commitment to the cause. It would be widely welcomed in the United Nations. I hope it will be done.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord raises the very important issue of the UN convention in relation to the rights of children. The Government are to provide a report to the UN about this country's progress on those matters. In formulating our evidence we are gathering together the views of at least 10 government departments in Whitehall and also those of voluntary organisations with a particular concern in this area. The Government's contention is that we would not necessarily achieve the objectives of the UN convention by appointing a children's commissioner. It is important that we show we are safeguarding the rights of children; I believe that we are.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, is the Minister aware of some of the horrific modern problems, such as child pornography on the Internet? Would not a commissioner help to highlight some of these problems? Would not fast-track European legislation help in this regard?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that all noble Lords recognise this particularly difficult issue. It is a problem well recognised by parents and the Government. But appointing a commissioner is not in itself the solution. These issues need to be dealt with by the current government departments and agencies. We should put the emphasis on making those departments and agencies work effectively rather than create another post which, in itself, could create boundary problems and duplication of effort.

Lord Jenkins of Putney: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there are cases which show that existing measures have not proved satisfactory? For example, there has been exploitation of children by parents, notably in entertainment and particularly in television advertising. It is precisely in that kind of area where the appointment of a commissioner would be particularly worth while. On reflection, does not my noble friend agree that that might be so?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing out a particularly difficult issue. The point I make, as I have done previously, is to say that merely appointing a children's commissioner does not necessarily solve the problems that have been raised. The Government's view is that we have to use our existing mechanisms more effectively. We need to develop the kind of initiatives that the Government are taking--particularly in the area of vulnerable children and children living away from home--to improve the quality and outcome of services and to ensure that the child's voice is heard.


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