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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Lord raised the issue of a modern disciplinary code. It is my recollection that that is in the report. As regards men and women working together, I agree that that is less likely to lead to a problem. But, I repeat, people can be extremely manipulative, convincing and devious.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a very interesting proposition. I am sure that it will be given proper consideration. As many of your Lordships who have worked with the voluntary sector will know, one of the problems is that it is liable to infiltration. I remember the shock I felt when I discovered that one of the Scout leaders in an area where all three of my children had gone camping with the Scouts was found guilty of child abuse, sexual abuse. I assumed that my children would tell me. Setting a framework in which children feel that they can speak about matters which may make them feel guilty is extremely important. I am sure that other noble Lords heard on the radio this morning the young man describe how, as a boy, he went to his head teacher and was further abused.
Baroness Blatch: My Lords, I thank the Minister. It has not been an easy Statement for the Minister to read out, certainly as a parent and mother herself. It is a shocking report. I am sure that any noble Lord who has listened only to the Statement will now read the report carefully.
I am not only concerned about those in a position of trust, who really cannot be forgiven for what they did and for the way in which they let down the children in their care. Paragraph 52.36 of the report states,
The Bill lowering the age of consent being read in another place, which makes it a criminal offence for anyone in a position of trust to have a sexual relationship with a boy or girl between the ages of 16 to 18, needs now to be strengthened to the effect that any person who has sexual relations with a young person in such circumstances will be considered to have acted criminally. The difficulty is that lowering the age of consent will make children all the more vulnerable to people who will always prey on them. There is a passage in the report that I hope the Minister will agree makes disturbing reading. It leads one to the conclusion that when the Bill comes before this House, it will need to be considerably strengthened or not supported at all.
I agree on one matter with the noble Baroness: that young people between 16 and 18, be they homosexual or heterosexual, may be preyed upon. We need only look at the problems of young female prostitution in the streets to see that. I believe that the noble Baroness is going to draw me into far too lengthy a discussion of those issues.
Baroness David: My Lords, I congratulate Sir Ronald Waterhouse and his tribunal on proposing that there should be a children's rights commissioner. A great number of us have wanted a commissioner for children's rights for a long time. I hope that the example set by Wales, if it carries out that recommendation, will be followed by England.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, in England it is proposed that a children's rights director should be established as a senior post within the national care standards commission. It will be a senior appointment concerned with promoting high standards and safeguarding the welfare of children within the remit of the commission. In Scotland, consultation is under way on the legislative programme for autumn, which will end in March. Proposals are being considered. There is no government initiative on a children's commissioner, although a memorandum is soon to be presented to the Scottish parliamentary committee. In Northern Ireland, work has begun on a Bill which sets out to achieve the same ends as in England and Wales. I hope that noble Lords will forgive me, but I believed it important to put that on the record.
The noble Lord said: The amendment is very much a probing amendment. I understand the first half of Clause 12(1), but I do not understand the second. I understand that Schedule 4 will have effect in parliamentary elections,
I have two problems. We rehearsed the first before the Statement. I shall not go into it again, but I simply mention it: it seems wrong that experiments conducted only in England should be rolled out in local government in Scotland. My stronger concern is that local government in Scotland is, of course, no longer the responsibility of this Parliament. It has been devolved. I have before me the Scotland Act 1998, which makes it perfectly clear in Part II, Section 3 of Schedule 5 that this Parliament has responsibility only for elections for membership of the Commons and of the European Parliament. There is one exception in local government terms, which is the franchise at local government elections. In fact, all the other matters concerning local government and local government elections in Scotland have been devolved.
My question is therefore: is this Parliament taking back a power which the Scotland Act gave to the Scottish Parliament? I suggest that the Minister is careful in his answer, because I warn him that if that may be done in this case by the executive, I shall use it as a precedent for amendments to other legislation on any matter devolved to the Scottish Parliament when such matters come before the House with regard to England and Wales. I should be grateful for some explanation of why this Parliament can legislate for something which we have devolved to the Scottish Parliament. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: The noble Lord, Lord Mackay, is indeed a canny Scot. He has played close attention to the script. I am delighted that that is the case. I am absolutely over the moon that he has been fully converted to the good cause of devolution. He is protecting, as he rightly should as a Scot, the rights of the Scottish Parliament.
I believe that I can set his mind at rest. Elections to the other place are, as he says, a reserved matter. It is right that provisions relating to absent voting at parliamentary elections in Scotland should be included in the Bill. As the noble Lord has informed us, the conduct of local elections in Scotland is a devolved matter, and quite rightly too. Accordingly, when preparing the legislation, we consulted the Scottish Parliament about whether provisions relating to Scottish local elections should be in the Bill.
Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: I am deeply grateful to the noble Lord for that explanation. I just wonder idly why, in the interests of having a uniform system in the United Kingdom, the question of student fees is not coming back here. I certainly thank the noble Lord for that explanation. It would appear, as the late Enoch Powell said, that power devolved is power retained. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.