Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)




  1. Welcome to this meeting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. This is our first evidence session on the Committee's review of the reporting process on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Committee as part of its remit does have the opportunity to monitor the way in which the United Kingdom Government observes international human rights instruments, and of course on 19 September in Geneva there will be an examination of the Government's report under the Convention, so we are very pleased that you have joined us here today to give evidence to us about your view of the way in which the Government has made progress, or otherwise, with regard to compliance with the Convention. First of all, I think it is probably agreed that the Government has made some progress on child poverty, social exclusion and age-related services and looking at vulnerable children and health and equality, but Ms Willow, and any of the rest of you as appropriate, what would you say were the main improvements that the United Kingdom Government and then the devolved institutions in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, have made in the protection or enhancement of children's rights under the Convention since the concluding observations of the Committee in 1995?

  (Ms Willow) If we look at the principal areas of concern of the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1995, clearly as you have just indicated the main area of progress has been in the government's absolute commitment to end child poverty, they have said, within the generation and we are absolutely delighted that we now have a government that has made that promise to children. However, we are disappointed that to date we have not got a national strategy to end child poverty and the twenty year target which was set we do not feel is ambitious enough given the obligation of the convention of the rights of the child which, as you know, was ratified in 1991, so if you look at the twenty year target it will take us almost to 30 years after ratification to end child poverty, whereas the Convention places a legal obligation on countries to use all their maximum available resources to implement its provisions. We are the fourth wealthiest country in the world so we feel that, although we are delighted by that commitment, we think the 20 year goal is not ambitious enough. The other major development has been in government structures for children and the priority that children have been given by government. We do now have a Children and People's Unit within government so for the first time children and people have a higher profile and focus across government and a dedicated growing body of civil servants whose absolute focus is on children. Within that unit or joined to it we have a minister for children and young people but—and the "but" is there again—we were really disappointed that the minister for children and people was not a cabinet appointment so it is not a high level political appointment, and we think that has affected the profile and influence of that post. We are also concerned, although the unit is increasingly seeming more comfortable with the language of rights, that the unit has been in existence for nearly two years and has been fairly slow to embrace the Convention as the framework for policy and service development. When we hear the unit, or indeed the minister for children and people, referring to the Convention, it is always attached to discussions around participation: it is as if children's rights are only quoted in relation to participation. There are 40 articles in the Convention that give children a whole range of rights, including participation rights, so we want to hear more about the other rights.

  2. I have no doubt Ms Turpie, Ms Williams and Ms Chamberlain will tell us the key issues that government administrations have embraced and those that remain to be dealt with.
  (Ms Turpie) In Scotland since devolution and the establishment of the Parliament I think there has been some very encouraging developments with respect to children and young people, and I would say that these include key pieces of legislation and structures within government, and this would include the Children in Scotland Act which enshrines many of the key principles of the UN Convention, the establishment of a Cabinet level position for a minister for education and young people, and a Cabinet committee on young people which is, in fact, chaired by our first minister. As well within the Scottish Executive we have the Department of Education which includes key divisions such as the Children and Young People's Unit. As well there has been the establishment of the cross-party group on children and young people. In terms of encouraging examples made in terms of practice, one example might be that recently the Standards in Scotland Schools Act 2000 has formally put into statute key rights for children such as their right to appeal expulsions from school and their right to be consulted on their educational plans. Another example would be the training the Convention has incorporated into the teacher training curriculum, and a last example would be the repeal of section 2(a) of the Local Government Act 1998 regarding restrictions placed on the sexual education of young people. These examples that I have mentioned certainly do reflect how Scotland has moved to incorporate key principles of the UN Convention and they have certainly been very welcome. However, there are a number of key areas that require on-going attention, for example, the very low age of criminal responsibility of Scotland which is currently eight. Young gypsy traveller children and young people continue to be examples of this group being denied rights and access to education, health and accommodation services. Another example might be the lack of sufficient mechanisms within government for child proofing, law and legislation, so those are just a few examples.
  (Ms Williams) Out of the Waterhouse Tribunal I think Wales had to look at children as a priority rather than necessarily wanting to put it high on the agenda, and out of that came the Children's Commissioner. That was a positive but it was also a negative in terms of the legislative process and I think the devolution settlement for Wales is particularly complex in relation to legislation on children, and will be an on-going issue. One of the things that I think is really important as far as the children's sector in Wales is concerned is how Wales influences legislation sufficiently, because there is a gate-keeping process in the sense in that the legislative structures do not lend themselves to having the full aspirations of the Assembly necessarily met, whether they be right or wrong, it is the process that is difficult. After Waterhouse, the young people said that they were concerned about their care within the Health Services, so there was a very strong positive that the Assembly commissioned the Carlile review for the protection of children within the NHS, and issues to be addressed coming out of that were that 80 per cent of children seen within the NHS are not really dealt with by people who have any knowledge of children whatsoever, child development and that sort of thing. There have been positives linked to participation in Wales and we are congratulating the Assembly very much on their participation strategy and the funding of an all-Wales initiative "Young Voice", "Wais Ifanc" which is an organisation of young people's peer organisations backed up at grass roots level by a requirement for local authorities to have youth forums, schools to have school councils and for all these plus projects of more socially-excluded young people—young carers and children from care—to feed into this all-Wales process, and that has been a very positive aspiration. However, we do feel on the reverse side of the coin that although the philosophy is there, the reality of how do you change a large number of people used to working in one way to work in a different way and the resourcing to go with that needs consideration, so it is very early days. We have praised the strategic approach towards pulling children and young people services together but it does come together and then separates out again according to different interests and different workloads of ministers. We too have a cabinet sub-committee chaired by the First Minister on children and there has been quite a lot coming from it—for instance, a statistical report very recently was requested by this sub-committee looking at children from a statistical point of view in Wales. On the legislative deficit that I mentioned before, in relation to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, perhaps the biggest issue in relation to the establishment of the Children's Commissioner was the lack of willingness to put the UNCRC into the primary legislation, and that was our main aspiration as the campaign group. It was a great achievement to have the Children's Commissioner but the only reference within the UNCRC is within the secondary legislation, that the Commissioner shall have regard to the UNCRC within his or her work—and that to us is not sufficient. Other countries have got it enshrined within their domestic legislation. On the youth justice issues then, to finish, in relation to Wales we have issues in that the Youth Justice Board has the remit over Wales, and so if you are looking at a child-centred approach to services, this inevitably takes the youth justice aspect of the young person out of the devolved administration's holistic approach, so it is a complex issue and we are probably going to talk about that later.
  (Ms Chamberlain) Since the United Kingdom Government's last report in 1994 probably the most important development in relation to protecting children's rights in Northern Ireland were the peace negotiations which culminated in the Belfast agreement of 1998, and I think all parties to that agreement need to be congratulated because it is the first peace agreement that recognises the need to pay particular attention to children's rights in the period after conflict in building peace. Since that date I think there have been a lot of very good statements of intent by the Assembly and the Executive about what they intend to do to promote, further and protect children's rights, not least in the programme of government which has recently reinforced what the Belfast agreement said about the values of equality and human rights being fundamental to the Assembly's work, and that the Executive is committed to promoting equality and human rights through strong legislation and effective public policies and strategies, not least the human rights of children. Most recently, of course, the Executive has bought forward proposed legislation to establish the office for a Children and Young People's Commissioner in Northern Ireland, and it received its Second Reading two weeks ago and will proceed to Committee stage in the autumn. Another example of progress that is being made is, of course, that section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act introduced an equality duty on all government departments and public authorities, and this included a duty to pay attention and impact assess legislation and policies which may discriminate against people because of their age, and this has very clearly included children, so all legislation and policies must now be impact-proofed to look at their implications for children from an equality point of view. The Office of the First and Deputy First Minister have assumed responsibility for the protection and promotion of policies and legislation as it relates to children's rights, and they have recently also stated that they are going to develop a ten year over-arching strategy for children. Consultation on that is due to begin in the autumn and should come before the Assembly after the next elections. Despite the progress that is being made, however, I think there are some key issues that need to be addressed in Northern Ireland. For instance, emergency legislation is still in force and still applies to children as young as ten; plastic bullets are still being used by the police and British Army in circumstances that put children in great danger, and in fact the new plastic bullet currently being used according to the Government's own research, if not properly used, is potentially more dangerous than those used in the past, and children are particularly vulnerable in situations where they are used. The Criminal Justice Children in Northern Ireland Order of 1998 currently operating regards 17 year olds to be still in a criminal justice system as adults not children, and despite the introduction of the Race Relations Order 1997, and it was not until 1997 that Northern Ireland had race relations legislation, traveller children and child members of other ethnic groups continue to experience discrimination in relation to education, health, social services and housing. So while there have been some advances made and I think some very clear statements of intent by the Assembly, we still have a very long way to go and I think it has to be acknowledged that the process of building a peaceful, just and stable society in Northern Ireland is not yet complete.

Norman Baker

  3. It is a good shopping list you have given us there. I would personally like more information on the plastic bullet aspect, but perhaps not at the moment because of the timescale. Can I turn to the question of reasonable chastisement or smacking, or whatever it is called? We have had this campaign "Children are unbeatable" which has been going for three or four years, and we have the government saying from the Department of Health, "It would be quite unacceptable to outlaw all physical punishment of a child by a parent", so that is the government's current line as I understand it. I would like to ask, first of all, why you feel the government has responded in the way it has and, secondly, whether you believe their defence, if I can call it that, which is that their line is compatible with ECHR because ECHR is now absorbed in the domestic law is a correct legal view. Ms Williams, what is the Child Commission in Wales doing about it?
  (Ms Williams) I would like Carolyne to start, if I may.
  (Ms Willow) The first bit of the question was why has the Government chosen not to reform the law, and we would say it is because it lacks political courage and on this particular issue governments, as they have done in eleven other countries across the world, have to lead public opinion and have to take the principled decision to change the law and to go with it in an absolutely clear and straightforward way—ie, to remove the reasonable chastisement defence completely and prohibit all forms of corporal punishment, thereby not only upholding Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child but also giving children full and equal protection before the law. We do absolutely think, therefore, it is about political courage and senior politicians deciding that they ought to make that decision and carry it out for children. In terms of its compatibility with the European Convention on Human Rights, the government has suggested that because they introduced the Human Rights Act 1998 there is no need now to change the law. The Government says that children now have added protection, which was not available to the young boy in the A v UK case which led to the Government being instructed to change the law. However, since the Human Rights Act came into force, there have been several cases where parents or step-parents have gone to court and been acquitted of causing injuries to children where they have admitted using force so, where children have had bruises or have had other injuries and parents have admitted that, the judges have still decided it was a reasonable form of chastisement, so we do not see that as an acceptable reason for not reforming the law.
  (Ms Williams) I would like to report that within Wales, as we speak, the campaign has increased in its significance. Several of the ministers spoke at an event three weeks ago where we had the Save the Children director from Sweden who talked to us about how it exactly had worked in Sweden and she was very persuasive in the arguments that it really is not going to criminalise parents: that it is one of those instances where if you lead from the front you do change, a little bit like seat belts legislation or other sorts of law that have come in for the benefit of the population. Obviously Sweden has a different set of laws and culture and the focus on the child as a very important member of society is slightly different to the United Kingdom's history, but in relation to that the Children's Commissioner—and I think the Committee would like to speak to him again about that directly—establishing the office ha been a very big piece of work—spoke out in this meeting a few weeks ago and is quite clearly totally against children being assaulted in the way that adults are not allowed to be assaulted, and that is the basic rights issue. He and his office are part of the campaign but of course the Children's Commissioner in Wales does not have primary legislative powers. What we have developed, however, is a climate whereby a lot of other people, politicians and organisations, have signed up, including the Child Minders' Association, for instance, and in secondary legislation now it is not possible in Wales for a child minder to smack a child in their care.

Mr Woodward

  4. I would like to turn to the issue of asylum seeking children, and I am very conscious of the time so I will be quick. What examples are there of the impact of the United Kingdom's reservation under the CRC on the welfare and rights of asylum seeking children in Scotland, Northern Ireland, Wales and England?
  (Ms Turpie) There is some evidence that agencies and local authorities are assuming that asylum seeking children are not entitled to full rights under the Children in Scotland Act, and this obviously has a direct influence on the provision of support that would be available to these vulnerable children and their families. Examples of this might be access to special education. Although it is acknowledged that some local authorities, particularly in Glasgow, are making a concerted effort to provide for these children they are doing so from already limited resources, so it is felt that if there was a more positive image promoted in public and if the government agreed that these children were entitled to the same rights as all other children, this would streamline and help make the provision of services to these children more effective. It would allow as well for their entitlement to be understood by local authorities and other service providers. Many aspects of the treatment of asylum speakers and refugee children fail to respect their right to enjoy the Convention rights without discrimination, discriminatory levels and the nature of state financial support they would receive which would be 24%—less than destitute families, their access to adequate accommodation and use of detention centres as well. So those would be the key areas from Scotland's perspective.
  (Ms Chamberlain) I am not going to give evidence on this issue because there are so few asylum seeking children in Northern Ireland.
  (Ms Williams) Within Wales we do not have many but we regard them as the children who are in more than double jeopardy, triple jeopardy. They are out of most systems and mostly excluded from access to health and education. It is an issue where it has become more difficult rather than easier for them to be integrated and have a proper childhood in Wales.
  (Ms Willow) We do not believe that the Article 22 reservation is the main driver or the main cause of the Government's discriminatory treatment. We see that it ought to be removed, however, but we are not naive enough to think that if the reservation was removed overnight we would see more humane policy and practice towards asylum seeking families and children but we think it would help to build a new mindset towards these very vulnerable families and children. Just to add to what Jennifer said in relation to discriminatory treatment that is enshrined in law, we have already heard about the discriminatory access to state financial support. Although the government in its 2002 update tries to reassure people that benefits to children are at the same level as non asylum seeking children, benefits of course to their parents are not at the same level, so on average an asylum seeking family receives 24% less and it is not really a good enough excuse to say that the children in that family get the same amount because when you go for a weekly shop then what you have in your purse counts for everyone. Other examples include the proposal to house asylum seeking families in accommodation centres, and the area of particular concern that NGOs have is the proposal to exclude asylum seeking children from mainstream nursery and education provision. We see that as extremely discriminatory and a form of segregation that will only foster more hostile public attitudes, and probably more hostile political attitudes towards these very vulnerable families. Other examples are that we are extremely pleased that three years after the voucher system was introduced the government acknowledged that it was inhumane and divisive, but we are still concerned that asylum seeking mothers, for example, do not have access to milk and vitamin vouchers, even if they have HIV Aids and they should not be breast feeding. Although the compulsory dispersal scheme only applies to over 18s at the moment, you will know that the government has said they will consider whether it should apply to children too, and although at the moment it only applies to adults it means that teenagers who arrived in this country at 15, 16, 17 are facing the terrifying prospect of, when they reach 18, all the people, the places, the support services they have come to rely on and know disappearing so they do not know where they will be placed or who they might be placed with. There is also the problem of unaccompanied minors not receiving the care from social services that they are entitled to so, for example, an Audit Commission report in 1999 reported that 41% of unaccompanied minors, including under 15 year olds, were being placed in hotels or bed and breakfasts in London. That is a huge problem of children arriving in this country on their own, absolutely in need of the best support we can offer, being placed in places that expose them to people and to challenges that really would be the last thing you would offer in a decent and humane country.

Baroness Whitaker

  5. It is very good to see one or two young people in the audience among the public. I would like to turn to a very small group of children, our oldest indigenous minority: gypsies and traveller children who have been suffering discrimination not only because they are children but because of their racial origin for centuries. I think Jennifer Turpie referred to the absence of measures to deal with their rights and also Sheri Chamberlain said they suffered discrimination. Could you tell me whether there have been any proactive measures taken to secure the rights of gypsy travelling children and, in your opinion, are there enough of the right caravan sites for them? It is also a question, is it not, of access to regular education and health care.
  (Ms Chamberlain) There have been two major initiatives to try to improve the lot of travellers in Northern Ireland, the first being the enactment of the race relations legislation in 1997 which recognised Irish travellers as a minority ethnic group so they are now covered by that race relations legislation. The second initiative was their inclusion as a priority group in the government's promoting social inclusion initiative, which meant there was a task group set up by government to look at ways that services to travellers could be improved, but it has had very little progress to date. It is a small group: we have approximately 1,700 travellers living in Northern Ireland but a very unusually high proportion are children and that is because life expectancy of travellers in Northern Ireland is 20% below the rest of the population. In addition, travelling children under the age of 10 are ten times more likely to die than children from a settled population and they also have very much higher rates of hospitalisation than children in the general population, and we have not seen any change in those figures. The conditions that the travelling community are forced to live in in Northern Ireland are appalling. In fact, one of the sites in Belfast has been described by two members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child who have visited as being third world conditions with no access to water, sanitation or electricity, and those conditions have been existing now for a very long time with no improvements. It also appears that lower standards are accepted by statutory bodies in relation to travellers. For instance, the health and social services did not comply with their own regulations when examining a portakabin for use as a playschool by traveller children. So where they reckoned the facility would not meet regulations for a settled community, they were prepared to pass it for use by travelling children. The other point is educational attainment. 92% of children in Northern Ireland have not attained any GCSEs, and the traveller children in west Belfast are accommodated in a recently, specially established primary school so they remain segregated from other children despite the fact that segregation remains illegal under the Race Relations Order 1997. A report into one school attended solely by travellers highlighted issues such as the tolerance of lower attendance levels, lower attainment levels and lower standards of facilities by education authorities, yet there still appears to be a lack of concern on behalf of governments in relation to these issues. In fact, the response to recommendations arising from the Promotion of Social Inclusion initiative have still to be published. There still remain insufficient numbers of adequately appointed sites for those communities whether they are settled or in transit.

  6. How many traveller children are there in Northern Ireland at any one time, do you estimate?
  (Ms Chamberlain) I cannot give you the exact number but I think something like 60% of the population are children.

  7. That is a horrifying picture.
  (Ms Chamberlain) The average life expectancy in the travelling community is 40 and that is why you have such a high percentage of children, so I think 60 is on the low end but I will provide the Committee with the exact figures.

Mr McNamara

  8. And the mortality rate for children?
  (Ms Chamberlain) Children under the age of 10 are ten times more likely to die than children from a settled population.

Baroness Whitaker

  9. Are there any model caravan sites? Do they know how to do it properly at all?
  (Ms Chamberlain) Not as yet. We have some difficulties at the minute in that Belfast City Council were to rebuild the site in west Belfast at Monagh, and there has been some difficulty in relation to that. The site was begun and it was found that it was dangerous in terms of the way they were building it so they had to stop, and there has been an extensive public inquiry into another site, a transit site that was going to be built in Craigavon for which the lottery had given a large grant as well as the Department of the Environment, but the public inquiry has not yet come to a conclusion on that.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill

  10. Since, as you rightly said, racial segregation is unlawful, why has there been no challenge, if there is a racially segregated school? There is a remedy, is there not?
  (Ms Chamberlain) Yes, but there are some difficulties in relation to what traveller parents in particular feel they need to do to protect children, because children in settled schools can sometimes have a very difficult time and some traveller parents would choose to send their children to a school that has been providing for them for some considerable time because they believe the children are better protected, and it is part of the culture of travellers not to change things. But there have been challenges made in relation to the Department of Education who are looking at the situation at the minute.


  11. Can I ask the rest of you, given the time constraints, just to raise new issues?
  (Ms Turpie) Although different I am sure we would certainly share a lot of the concerns and examples so I will not go over those, but from Scotland's point of view last year the Equal Opportunities Committee of the Scottish Parliament conducted quite an extensive inquiry into gypsy traveller and public sector policies which clearly illustrated and acknowledged the level of racism experienced by gypsy and traveller families in Scotland. Some examples might include access to health care and education. There was an estimated 80 per cent of non attendance of secondary students from that community, as well as suitable caravan sites which I will not go into the details of. What I will say is that what came out of the inquiry in the report was that they called upon the Scottish Executive to take immediate steps to develop a national strategy to address the diverse needs of this community, and the response from the Executive was disappointing. It indicated that they felt there were already sufficient existing policies throughout various offices within Scotland to meet the needs of what that report was saying, and what NGOs are saying is that that, in fact, is not sufficient. What we would be looking for is something that is more comprehensive, such as the national strategy on particular issues raised in that Committee.
  (Ms Willow) There has been no repeal of the section of Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 which removed the duty on local authorities to provide caravan sites to gypsy travellers and that provision had been in law since 1968, so that is one concrete measure the Government could take.
  (Ms Williams) There is a consultation out at the moment in Wales on the sort of recommendation that Carolyne has mentioned in terms of a strategy to address the issues, and a multi disciplinary approach to it as well is what a lot of organisations are putting into their responses.

Mr McNamara

  12. On Northern Ireland you raised a list of points, plastic bullets and so on, as specifically affecting children. Can I ask you about the effect of children under emergency legislation and the way the security forces have regard to them and treat them? Have you had concerns about that?
  (Ms Chamberlain) We continue to have concerns about the emergency legislation still applying to children. Under the emergency legislation 10 year olds can be detained without charge for 78 days, access to solicitors can be denied for 48 hours, there is no right to have a solicitor present during interview, and the child has no right to the presence of an adult. Our view would be, with the peace agreement being in place, that there is no need for emergency legislation still to be on the statute books, and certainly not to apply for children. That is the view we took for some considerable time even before the peace agreement was in place. The big impact it has had on the relationship between young people and the police and British Army is I think fairly well known. There is a huge alienation between young people from many communities in Northern Ireland, whether they be nationalist or unionist or republican or loyalist communities, in relation to the way in which Northern Ireland has been policed, mainly because of the situation we have found ourselves in over the last thirty years, but not helped by the fact that the police have got emergency powers and can stop and question young people in whatever circumstances they want by application of the emergency legislation.

  13. We know the way paramilitaries on both sides tend to use children in particular situations, but there have been accusations and rumours that the police in particular have used children as informants and agents particularly when they pick them up for joy-riding. Have you any evidence of that or is it just rumour?
  (Ms Chamberlain) There is a lot of anecdotal evidence that young people who have been picked up by the police have been asked to help the police in other ways. There is also a lot of anecdotal evidence on how various of the armed groups have used children as lookouts and in other ways as well. I have no specific evidence but there have been a number of inquiries by international bodies that would suggest that this has happened.

  14. Finally, under the proposed Northern Ireland Bill on Human Rights, do you feel that there is sufficient attention paid to the interests and rights of children?
  (Ms Chamberlain) As we understand it at the minute there is on-going consultation and the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission are drafting their advice to the United Kingdom Government on the scope of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland. The children's sector in Northern Ireland have made very strong recommendations which have been accepted by the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission at this stage of their drafting of that advice that the UNCRC is incorporated into the Bill of Rights, that a Bill of Rights be wide-ranging in its application, particularly in the light of the need within Northern Ireland to build peace on the foundations of justice, equity and paying attention to human rights of everybody, not least children. We would also say that children have been in a vacuum for the last thirty years as a result of direct rule being imposed. It means that our policies and legislation in relation to protection of children's rights and promotion lag very far behind the rest of the United Kingdom, and that is another reason we think children's rights should be paid particular attention to within a Bill of Rights, but there is a debate as to whether the Bill of Rights is going to be very narrow in scope or a broad, all-inclusive Bill of Rights and I would just ask the Committee to consider whether they might impress on the United Kingdom Government how important it is that the Bill of Rights not be narrow in scope. If we are to build a just society with children growing up both to know what their rights are and to respect the rights of others, then we need to build that into the Bill of Rights.

  15. Is there a specific policy, a decision by Save the Children in Northern Ireland, that plastic bullets should no longer be used in maintenance of public order?
  (Ms Chamberlain) We believe the need to use plastic bullets should be reviewed immediately, and we have been calling for it to be reviewed for some considerable time. We consider plastic bullets to be particularly dangerous when children are in the vicinity of, or in circumstances where they are being used.

Baroness Prashar

  16. My question really is about involving children's NGOs in the reporting process, and I would like to hear from all of you what is the relationship between children's NGOs and the government in relation to monitoring the rights of the child.
  (Ms Willow) The Children's Rights Alliance for England is the alliance of children's NGOs that are committed to the fullest implementation of the convention on the rights of the child, so we are the natural organisation in England to be connected, although not exclusively, with government and to be working with government on monitoring and promoting and implementing the Convention. For several years we have had positive relationships with individual officials. That has now developed into a more positive and formal relationship with a group of officials at the Children and Young People's Unit in terms of both the reporting process to the Committee on the Rights of the Child and also in the follow-up once the publication of the concluding observations occurs, so NGOs and the Children and Young People's Unit will be looking together at what action is required following those observations. So the relationship is getting warmer but there has not been a parallel warming of relationships with government ministers, certainly for our organisation. There is a continuing struggle seeking dialogue and discussion about children's issues from a children's rights perspective, or when a children's human rights organisation presents problems, which some of our colleagues in organisations that are perceived to be more welfare-based do not experience.
  (Ms Turpie) In terms of the reporting process in Scotland, the Children's Issues Unit of the Scottish Office commissioned the Our Lives project which was a Scotland-wide consultation exercise that was carried out by Save the Children in Scotland. In that I think it is worthwhile to know that there were 271 questionnaires filled out by young people and, of these, 66% said they had never heard of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, so I think this is quite telling in terms of how this information is getting out to young people. I will probably leave my comments there because I am quite new to this so I cannot really comment on what has gone on in the past, but my understanding is that there are some good relationships between the two.
  (Ms Williams) Unlike Jennifer I have been around some time and I was involved in the last two alternative reports. As a result of the first alternative report the government when it produced the latest report did invite a representative from each of the jurisdictions on to the group which comprised civil servants from a range of departments, but the function was very limited and we felt that we needed to say we were not part of the process and we were there to give some advice about how to contact the sector, and a lot of the advice was not taken, to be frank. I think within Wales, therefore, the then Welsh Office sent a junior civil servant to give input and I think the issue in Wales is that nobody there was co-ordinating this whole process at a sufficiently high level, so the reporting process at that point was limited. When the NGO sector complained about it we were given I think it was £20,000 to consult with some children, so at the stage at which the report was made that was the position. Since the Assembly came into being it improved greatly but there was total lack of co-ordination across the UK, and really I think the NGO's would say we feel there has been a very strong view of children's issues since the Assembly but the report is limited.
  (Ms Chamberlain) I would share my colleagues' views on the lack of co-ordination and the lack of involvement by the devolved administrations, and before devolution of the departments with responsibility in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They may have been consulted with but they certainly were not involved in the compilation of the reports, and I think both in the first and the second report you can see clearly there was very little detail or content about the situation of children certainly in Wales and Northern Ireland and, to a lesser extent, in Scotland. I believe, in fact, Northern Ireland had more references in the Concluding Observations in the UN Committees first report than it did in the United Kingdom Government's first report. What I would like to mention too is the almost total lack of direct consultation and involvement of children and young people in the compilation of the report. Certainly in Northern Ireland there were no attempts by government to talk to children: in fact, it was Save the Children and the Children's Law Centre who provided the funds and the resources that enabled children and young people to input their views. In fact, our own report to the UN is based on the views of some 500 children whom we consulted with both by focus group and by questionnaire, and we also facilitated a group to put in their own reports to the UN Committee and, indeed, a group of three young people themselves submitted evidence to the UN Committee last month, so I think there needs to be great progress made on Government's ability to consult with children.

  17. Have you built in any specific recommendations to government in terms of improving the input, and how do you yourselves involve children in your particular processes?
  (Ms Chamberlain) Yes, we have.
  (Ms Williams) As we speak there is a meeting in Wales bringing together the various parties: the Assembly, the Children's Commission, the NGO sector to look at from now on how this has got to improve because really it has not been good enough. It should not be regarded as suddenly they have to produce a report—it should be ongoing. From the Government perspective, we believe it is part of a process and it is really poor that in Wales and elsewhere children and young people have no idea the UNCRC exists. There has been one leaflet.

  18. How do you log children in your organisations yourself?
  (Ms Williams) Well, there are a variety of organisations. Mine is an umbrella body and we have many members who ask children their views, we have processes to gather that information. I also have young people on my board of management. We have focus and other groups. There is a whole range of areas. I believe in Wales the Assembly is good at that philosophy but sadly it has not yet actually adopted the UN Convention on the Rights of the Children in the Assembly as a whole. Therefore the priority of the UN Convention is quite limited in many respects.
  (Ms Willow) We have been working with four major children's organisations for several months to both ensure that we are co-ordinating well within the Alliance to disseminate information to the public and professional organisations about the Convention and about the concluding observations but also to make sure that we actively support young people in the process. One of the things we did early on was to get big organisations such as Barnados, Save the Children, the Children's Society and NSPCC to set aside a fund of money where children and young people themselves could decide how they could engage in the process. So in May there was a national event in England for 70 children and young people. That was completely organised by young people where they invited Mr Jaap Doek, who is the chair person of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, to come to London, to meet and listen to 70 children and young people. Sheri said that three young people went to the city of Geneva from Northern Ireland, there were probably about 15 children and young people in total from the four countries of the UK that went to Geneva. This was a way of bringing the Committee to the children. Just like Northern Ireland, CRAE supported also young people to write their own reports. I just want to add one further point about the Government's Report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child. In the NGO sector we absolutely do not want to be co-authors of their reports. We want our concerns to be reflected honestly and fully in their reports. The other major continuing problem is that each report shows a lack of engagement with the Committee's own guidelines for preparing reports so even the 2002 update does not follow the Committee on the Rights of the Child's reporting guidelines in its structure and the content of the report. Whilst we would not say that is more important than consulting NGOs and children it is all part of the package of taking it absolutely seriously, starting with the framework that has been set down for them which they have not as yet done.

  Chairman: Okay. Thank you very much for coming here today to give evidence to us to assist us with this very important part of our Committee's work. Thank you very much. We will move on now to the session with the NSPCC, Save the Children and the Children's Society.

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