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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 10:


On Question, amendment agreed to.

[Amendment No. 10A not moved.]

Clause 6 [National Care Standards Commission]:

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 11:


    Page 4, line 40, at end insert--


("( ) In the exercise of its functions the Commission shall give due consideration to the views of children affected by the provisions of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Amendment No. 11 is designed to ensure that the national care standards commission considers the wishes and feelings of children. I moved exactly the same amendment at Committee stage. I table the same amendment today because I am not entirely satisfied with the Minister's response. I hope that I shall receive a better reply today. The Children Act requires both the courts in private family cases and local authorities in regard to looked-after children to give due consideration to the wishes and feelings of children affected by their decision-making. It is, therefore, consistent under domestic law that the national care standards commission should be placed under a similar duty.

The consideration of the views of children is also a requirement of Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was ratified by the UK after the Children Act was enacted. The Government are due to report to the UN-based Committee on the Rights of the Child and would gain some credit if they had made some effort to implement Article 12 since they last reported. By this amendment the commission is not bound to follow the views of children but simply to give them due consideration. The purpose of the amendment is simply to ensure that the commission keeps in touch with the view of those it tries to help. The Government have continually urged local authorities to do that under the Quality Protects programme, and it is very difficult to see how they should not apply the same principles to the national care standards commission.

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At Committee stage the Minister appeared possibly to misunderstand the point of the amendment. I pointed out to the Minister, that in dealing with the convention, he had referred to Article 4 and not Article 12 to which I had referred. He said:


    "I assure the Committee that children's views will be at the forefront of the regulatory process, including inspection. Ensuring that children are listened to will be a crucial function of the children's rights director who will be a key senior appointment in the commission".--[Official Report, 10/1/00; col. 460.]

This possibly implies that the children's rights director will check that local authorities have listened to children, as is their statutory duty under the Children Act. However, the point of the amendment is that the work of the commission itself should be informed by the views of children, not just local authorities. So, for example, if the children's rights director were to develop standards relating to foster care or care in private health establishments, he or she would be obliged to ensure that the views of children in those placements were taken into account.

Clearly, the Government should practise what they preach under their Quality Protects programme which stresses the importance of children's participation. If local authorities under law and guidance are required to listen to children, so should inspection and regulatory bodies, in particular a body establishing a post called "children's rights director". Every children's organisation that I know of is keen that the views of children should be heard. I shall be very surprised if the Government cannot give a more favourable response than they did last time. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the noble Baroness has put the case eloquently for the amendment to which I have added my name. I wish to support strongly what she said. It is a question of consistency. If central government impose on local government duties through the Quality Protects programme then, through the commission, the Government should ensure that they adopt the same standard of consultation, and that they should have direct consultation. I do not think that it is too much to ask that the commission has that explicit duty. I ask the Minister to consider the amendment favourably.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords, I add my support to the noble Baroness's amendment for one reason. Over the years, it has been borne in on me that in homes and foster families one is dealing with some extremely disturbed and difficult children. One has the utmost admiration for the people who undertake the job of bringing them up and trying to turn them into responsible adults. One of the things one has learned is that if one treats people as responsible beings, listen to them and treat their views with respect, and make clear that that is one's attitude, one is likely to have a better response than if they are treated in what has been in some circles the rather more traditional way, saying, "Yes, we look after them, but the adults will decide what happens".

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Having a specific obligation to give due consideration to the views of children, as the amendment provides, means that the people concerned will have to talk to the children. I have re-read the speech that the Minister made in Committee. I recognise entirely the difficulty that the noble Baroness had with it. Of course all the things that we say, and the Minister said, are supposed to happen. But why cannot there be a specific requirement in the Bill--something to which people can point and say, "This is what Parliament has asked you to do. Please will you now do it"? I am sure that for those inspecting and those who have the responsibilities of the care of children it will make the task easier rather than more difficult.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there can be no doubt that listening to children helps to protect them from harm and low expectations. If children can speak up and be heard, abuse is less likely to happen. That is the lesson from so many inquiry reports that we have learned over the past few years. Children and young people demand and need to have a voice in all decisions taken about them--not just on the big issues such as education, health and their placement, but on the day-to-day issues for them such as pocket money, bedtimes, meals and so on.

The Government are committed to listening to children and to learning the lessons of past inquiries which have identified many of these concerns. Listening to children was a priority area for expenditure under year one of the Quality Protects children's special grant. We have also been organising a series of regional events at which Ministers, senior members of the Department of Health and other interested parties will be listening directly and talking to looked-after children. We are working with the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the Association of Directors of Social Services and a small project team of young people to plan these events, both now and in the future.

Perhaps I may say to my noble friend Lady David, that I am, of course, mindful of Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I have no disagreement with her that listening to children will be a crucial part of the national care standards commission's role. Ensuring that children's views are heard will be a key function of the children's rights director as a senior appointment within the commission. In the White Paper, Modernising Social Services, where the role of the children's rights director was set out, it was envisaged that the children's rights director would help the commission to give full and effective coverage of children's services and children's rights in its statutory regulatory responsibilities and in the reports it makes on the discharge of those responsibilities, ensuring that the views of children placed in the facilities and services regulated by the national care standards commission are given proper weight in the regulatory task, and report directly to the chief inspector of the Social Services Inspectorate any significant evidence relevant to the rights and safety of

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children gained from the commission's regulation and assessment of services for children which might help local authorities or other providers improve the services and support to children.

Building on that, there is no doubt that the commission will need to give due consideration to the views of all users of regulated services if it is to fulfil its role properly. But I am not convinced that we need the proposed amendment on the face of the Bill to achieve that. However, I assure my noble friend that we shall issue directions to the commission as soon as we can requiring it to give due consideration to the views of all users of regulated services, including children.

I hope that on that basis my noble friend will agree to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness David: My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Clement-Jones, and Lord Jenkin, for their extremely helpful support. Everything seemed to be going my way at the start of the Minister's speech. He seemed to recognise the need. I was hopeful for a really favourable response. I have received a half-favourable response, I think. He is not willing to put these simple two lines on the face of the Bill, but there will be directions. I am not entirely happy with that, but I shall be willing to read again what he said and see what comfort I can gain from it. I do not guarantee not to come back to this issue at the final stage of the Bill. For now, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


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