Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, perhaps I may express the Government's appreciation of all the noble Baroness's valuable work on this issue and on a number of other wider human rights issues. Her Majesty's Government do not just proceed by exhortation on this issue, although we urge other countries to sign up to their international legal obligations. We also try to tackle these issues through the way in which we tackle poverty in different parts of the world.

The noble Baroness mentioned Sudan and Burma. Since our useful debate in your Lordships' House in December last year, there has been a constructive resolution on Sudan which was agreed by consensus--that consensus included Sudan itself--at the UN Commission on Human Rights which took place in Geneva in April. That calls among other things for investigations into the practice of forced labour and means to eradicate that practice. We shall be working closely with our EU partners on the follow-up to that resolution.

The noble Baroness also mentioned Burma. The ILO report last year made recommendations for implementation by the ruling State Police and Development Council. We are working, again with our partners, to co-ordinate action through the ILO on the Burmese regime's response. Recently, the SPDC responded to that pressure by announcing the suspension of certain legal provisions governing the use of forced labour.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, have the Government considered imposing an import ban on

20 May 1999 : Column 403

artefacts known to have been manufactured wholly or partly by slave labour, or at least introducing a compulsory labelling scheme?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord raises a difficult point because the whole system of bonded labour, particularly the use of children in that way, is repellent and repugnant. But we have felt that the proper way to address this matter is through the focus that the Foreign Office and DfID endeavour to put on ending such labour practices as slavery and bonded labour. The Department for International Development is providing support for the ILO's programme for the elimination of child labour both in terms of the core funding and in terms of funding the south Asia regional and India country programmes. We are also providing £750,000 over the three-year period 1997-2000 for a programme run by the Save the Children Fund in Pakistan to tackle child labour, including the issue of bonded labour.

Lord Ashbourne: My Lords, will the Government take into the account the importance of the abolition of slavery when negotiating trade agreements with countries that have questionable human rights records?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I hope that the Government already do that. It is extremely important that we do not lose sight of such humanitarian considerations. It is the Government's belief that trade is very important. Trade may very often help the economic position of those who are most disadvantaged in certain countries. But the noble Lord is quite right: a balanced view has to be taken where we are certain that there are practices of slavery or bonded labour.

Baroness Strange: My Lords, bearing in mind the Government's principled position on an ethical foreign policy and on human rights, will the noble Baroness try to encourage governments in countries like Sudan, Pakistan and India which have laws against slavery to enforce those laws and to free all those people who are enslaved?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Government certainly pursue these issues. I was able to detail the issue of Sudan to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, a moment or two ago. The Government also pursue such issues with Pakistan, India and a number of other countries where we are concerned about their labour practices. It is extremely important that such issues are tackled not only by urging those countries to stop such practices but also by tackling the underlying poverty that gives rise to the practices in the first place. One of the most important ways in which we can do so is through the money that we are able to give in aid, particularly for the purpose of the education of women.

Lord Moynihan: My Lords, in addition to the ILO work outlined by the Minister, what priority are the Government giving to the need to combat one of the most pernicious and odious forms of slavery today,

20 May 1999 : Column 404

the trafficking in women and girls, which has become one of the fastest-growing criminal enterprises in the world, given that it is estimated that between 1 million and 2 million women and girls annually are forcibly moved around the world, usually for the purpose of forced labour, domestic servitude or sexual exploitation?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I agree entirely with the noble Lord. Sexual slavery, including forced prostitution and forced marriage, is abhorrent. It is a violation of women's human rights and it limits women's autonomy, their freedom of movement and their right to decide for themselves on the pattern of their own sexual activity. The statute of the International Criminal Court includes sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, rape and certain other serious sexual crimes as crimes against humanity when they are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against civilian populations. However, it is important also to recognise that much of the exploitation of women has its roots in poverty and the exploitation of that poverty. Women are particularly vulnerable to poverty and exploitation. In all our development programmes we work with host governments and other departments to make gender considerations an integral part of development policy and planning. We provide direct support to women's groups. We concentrate on women's education, on health, on sanitation, on sexual education and on the education of their children.

American Bulldogs

3.17 p.m.

Lord Hardy of Wath asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they will take immediate action to prevent the importation of American bulldogs.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, there are no plans at present to introduce a ban on the importation of the American bulldog. The Government are, however, keeping the situation regarding this type of dog under review, and to that end we are maintaining contact with the police and others.

Lord Hardy of Wath: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that a long time ago I asked a similar Question with regard to the pitbull terrier? The Government rejected the request and there followed horrid experiences, flawed legislation and considerable public expenditure? Is he further aware that this breed is a designer killer and is being imported for the purpose of dogfighting? That practice is the root cause of the problem and should be stamped out. Is my noble friend aware that action is desperately and urgently needed before a police officer, a dog warden or someone else is killed?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, those concerns have been widely expressed. I hope that it is of some reassurance if I give up-to-date news. On Monday 24th May--this coming Monday--the Kennel Club is

20 May 1999 : Column 405

hosting a seminar which will be given by the Metropolitan Police and directed solely to the problem of the American bulldog. Home Office officials will, of course, be present, as will representatives of police forces, the RSPCA, the National Canine Defence League, the Blue Cross and the Bulldog Breed Council, as well as representatives of the "dog press".

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, is the Minister aware, from his contact with the police, of their serious concern that these dogs, which have a record of inflicting serious, and in some cases fatal, injuries on grown adults, will be used by the criminal elements as violently aggressive bodyguards?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, the noble Viscount makes a most valuable point. I am aware of some incidents. For instance, the Metropolitan Police have seized three dogs which they believed to be bred or cross-bred from this particular animal. The first was indeed seized from a van where it was guarding drugs. It turned out not to be an American bulldog but a pit bull terrier. A second dog was also seized. That case has not yet come before the courts. A third dog was seized after it attacked horses and unseated a rider. The prosecution is ongoing and I should say no more about that.

Baroness Wharton: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that before any decision is taken to add the American bulldog to the list of proscribed dogs under the Dangerous Dogs Act, there will be consultation with appropriate bodies, and that an opportunity will be given for representations to be made?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: My Lords, that is an entirely reasonable request. There should not be any addition by way of prohibition without appropriate consultation. The noble Baroness will be one of the consultees. She is to be congratulated on vicariously steering through the Breeding and Sale of Dogs (Welfare) Bill. The Bill has completed its passage in another place and we hope that it will reach the statute book quickly. If it does, that will be almost entirely due to the noble Baroness's efforts.

Scottish Office Ministers: Responsibilities

3.21 p.m.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What are the specific responsibilities of the three junior Ministers at the Scottish Office.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Scottish Office (Lord Sewel): My Lords, the allocation of responsibilities among the three remaining junior Ministers at the Scottish Office was announced

20 May 1999 : Column 406

yesterday. It is as follows. My honourable friend Calum MacDonald is the Minister responsible for local government, housing, transport and home affairs. He will continue to have special responsibility for European affairs, and for Highlands and Islands issues and Gaelic. He is the House of Commons spokesman on matters across the range of Scottish Office business. My noble friend Lord Macdonald of Tradeston is the Minister responsible for business and industry and education. He is also responsible for women's issues and children. I am the Minister responsible for agriculture, environment, fisheries and forestry. I am also responsible for health, social work and for sports and the arts. I have specific responsibility for social inclusion and I am the House of Lords spokesman on Scottish affairs.

Ministers at the Scottish Office remain responsible for the functions of the Secretary of State for Scotland until the transfer of most functions to Scottish Ministers on 1st July. I apologise to the House for what is inevitably a detailed Answer to a specific Question.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page