15 JUNE 2002, Page 12

What is the best treatment for the sad MPs who persist in abusing our children?


Newspapers reported this week that the all-party parliamentary committee on human rights questioned, in a committee room, six children, aged ten to 16, on the subject of 'children's rights'. Many readers would have wanted to know: how long have MPs been indulging in this child abuse?

It all started long ago with MPs kissing babies. For most of the parents of those kissed, that was worrying enough, though it must be admitted that some parents — those sinister 'party activists' — would actually offer their own children to be kissed, or procure children for kissing during 'walkabouts' at election time. But now the politicians are preying on children who are rather older.

The ring, calling itself the human rights committee, consisted of MPs and peers who were both male and female. As the Daily Telegraph correspondent, who observed its committee's activities this week, chillingly reported: 'Mrs Corston [the committee chairman, the Labour MP Jean Corston] asked Diana Savickaja, ten, from Hackney to explain what kind of discrimination and human problems children faced. Diana, sitting in a position normally occupied by a minister or a top civil servant, on a seat clearly too big for her, replied quietly, reading from notes.'

Note the age of the child — ten! That is an age when most little girls should he stealing liquorice allsorts from the cornershop, and having their pigtails pulled by their male contemporaries — laughingly kicking them in the testicles in return. Instead, an adult was luring her into behaving like a distinguished feminist columnist on one of our great liberal newspapers. It seems that we are letting our kids grow up to be a new generation of Yasmin Alibhai-Browns.

Fred Tyson Brown, aged 14, from Dorset, told the committee, 'I have compiled my own research on human rights.' Where did this child learn language like that? Certainly not from a normal school playground. There, the other boys of 14 would have compiled their own research on, say, the ten best World Cup fouls. Fred added that he had been reading UN articles 12 and 42. Who gave him access to such filth? Most boys of 14 would have been healthily reading Mr Richard Desmond's top-of-the-shelf publications. These human-rights-crazed politicians are destroying the whole idea of childhood.

Fred said that human rights should be taught in schools: 'We only ever learn about

misuse of drugs and sexually transmitted disease. We never learn about anything else.' Mine was the pre-drugs school generation, but half the fun of my own childhood was learning about sexually transmitted disease. One would have thought that Fred's Dorset classmates were more in danger from drugs and sexually transmitted disease than from their loss of human rights. But perhaps, compared with the rest of Britain, social problems differ in Hardy Country. Perhaps weatherbeaten Dorset farmers greet one another with cries of, `Mornin', Seth. I 'ear that up at village school another little fellah has gone to 'orspital with an attack of lost human rights.'

One of the MPs in the ring was Shaun Woodward, until the last general election Conservative MP for Witney, now Labour MP for St Helens South. His activities were described by Quentin Letts, my Daily Mail colleague in the parliamentary sketchwriting corps, who attended the occasion because he has a stronger stomach than I. Here is what he described: 'We entered the room to find Shaun Woodward (Lab, St Helens South) crouched in front of Gbemi Sodimu, aged 12, from Lambeth.'

My God! Mr Woodward had been caught in the act! The Mail man quoted him as assuring the child, 'You've nothing to worry about.' That's what they all say. Did Mr Woodward offer the child sweets? The Mail did not say.

Nothing to worry about, eh? When Mr Woodward is around, experience suggests that there is invariably plenty to worry about. He has been caught abusing two political parties. He could strike again. He should receive the attention either of counsellors or vigilantes.

But what is the best treatment for these sad MPs? There were a few signs that success will not always crown their activities. One of them asked that ten-year-old from Hackney, 'What kind of discrimination and human-rights violations have you experienced as a child?' She listed, among others, pupils being picked on 'because they don't have PlayStations'.

PlayStations, note; not human-rights stations, or all-party-committee stations. At last, a child who — despite the efforts of exploitative adult politicians — had not entirely, in the words of I Corinthians xiii 11, 'put away childish things'. There was hope for childhood yet. My wife and I watched England v. Argentina in a bar in Provence. Only about five other people were present during the match: the barman, a woman serving at tables, and three or four locals who came and went. As the game began, they did not know that we were from England, so I convinced myself that they were on Argentina's side — or at least that they were not siding with their fellow Europeans and democrats against a faraway country that not long ago had been a torturing dictatorship.

Certainly, the people in the bar expressed equal horror at both sides' fouls; a reasonable sign that their approval or disapproval was evenly distributed. But soon they realised our nationality and afterwards congratulated us on England's victory, perhaps because I had taken the precaution of justifying our use of their television for 90 minutes: I had consumed large amounts of the Alsatian biere a la pression, whose quality causes me — though France is erroneously unconsidered as a beer power — to prefer French bars to British pubs. In return, I wished him bonne chance contre le Danemark.

But I had already realised something significant: France was already losing interest in the World Cup. Even last time, when it was held there, she was not much interested until she looked like winning. Unlike in England, Germany, Holland and Latin countries, the football team's fortunes are not considered synonymous with the nation's. Argentina finds it hard to endure her team's defeat because, though once a prosperous and promising country, she now seems to have little else.

But France has been good at so many things that she does not have to rely on any one thing. Anatole France once lamented that his country was good at many endeavours but not supreme at any single one, in the way that Italy was supreme in the visual arts, and Austro-Germany in music.

But that is France's strength. She has not produced the very greatest painters, but she has produced Claude and the Impressionists; not the very greatest composers, but Berlioz and Debussy. And so on through all fields. No other people can boast so even a spread. She even produces, as I have claimed, good beer. She can endure her unexpected and total eclipse in the World Cup better than any other nation, for she can console herself with so much else. That is why France is a very, very great country.