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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendments Nos. 35 and 36:

"(1) This section applies where notice of a patient's case under section 2 and notice of the proposed discharge day under section (Duties of responsible NHS body after notice under section 2)(3) have both been given (and are in force)."
Page 4, line 17, leave out subsections (2) and (3).

On Question, amendments agreed to.

The Deputy Speaker: My Lords, because Amendment No. 36 has been agreed to, I cannot call Amendments Nos. 37 to 39 or 47.

[Amendments Nos. 37 to 41 not moved.]

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendments Nos. 42 to 44:

    Page 5, line 8, at end insert—

"( ) The references in subsections (5) and (7) to services "decided under" section 3(3)(b) or (4)(b) are, in a case where the decision in question has been altered under section 3(6C), to any services specified in the altered decision."
Page 5, line 14, leave out paragraph (c).

    Page 5, line 24, leave out subsections (9) and (10).

On Question, amendments agreed to.

[Amendment No. 45 not moved.]

Baroness Andrews: My Lords, I beg to move that the further consideration on Report be now adjourned. In moving the Motion, I suggest that the Report stage begin again not before 8.45 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.


7.46 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley rose to ask Her Majesty's Government how they will respond to the report on the United Kingdom's treatment of children published by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on 4th October 2002.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am delighted at last to have the opportunity of debating in your Lordships' House the report by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the UK's performance in relation to its children. I am grateful to the Minister and the select band of noble Lords who will speak on this important subject tonight. I am sure that we shall have quality if not quantity. I must state my interests. I act as a parliamentary ambassador to the NSPCC. It is an unpaid position, but I am grateful to the charity for all that it does for children and for the very useful information that it provides to me and my fellow ambassadors.

The UK signed up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child 11 years ago, with all-party support. In doing so, it agreed to be legally bound to implement

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the full range of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights of children. Since it was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, the convention has become the most ratified of all international human rights treaties and it has been accepted by 191 states. The convention's principles and standards are binding on all those who have ratified it and, in order to monitor progress on implementation, the UN has set up a committee of international experts, which reports on signatory countries approximately every five years.

The latest investigation was conducted last year and in October the committee produced an extensive report. While it recognised those areas where progress has been made on the issues of concern raised in the previous report in 1995, there were many areas where it felt that insufficient progress had taken place.

The issues covered by the convention fall into many departmental portfolios. However, since she is now the de facto Minister for children, I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to answer most of my concerns. Before I turn to specifics, there were a number of fundamental issues that concerned the committee. It commented that the rights, principles and provisions of the convention should be incorporated into all domestic law and that, although the devolved administrations had ensured that, it had not been done state-wide in the UK. In order to address that, the committee recommended that a permanent body be identified whose role it is to ensure compliance with and implementation of the convention as well as dissemination of information and training about children's rights. It must be overtly and primarily the role of such a body to implement the convention. I wonder whether the noble Baroness the Minister can tell me whether there is any intention to set up such a body or to allow any existing body, such as the Children and Young People's Unit, to evolve into it. There is also clearly a need for a children's commissioner for England but I believe that other noble Lords will address that issue.

The experts were concerned that in the UK we do not have a "rights based" approach to policy development and the convention has not been used as a framework for the development of strategies at all levels of government.

It seems to me that in the convention we have a model which, if rigorously adhered to when developing policies, would give British children the best possible chances in life. However, the opportunity of using it is often missed. Policies based on adult systems and aspects which affect children are often added at the end of the process rather than at the beginning. As good policies are evidence based, we need quality information about the status quo, but it seems that we do not properly monitor the implementation of the convention. We do not even know how much we spend on our children. The committee recommended that budgets must be transparent to allow analysis of the proportion spent on children and the maximum amount possible allocated to identified priorities.

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In order to identify those priorities the committee recommended that we establish a nation-wide system to collect data about children under 18 so that we are clear about the current situation and can develop a national plan of action. It often concerns me that the Government take a broad brush approach and many children are left out of the equation. For example, the concentration of Sure Start, excellent though it is, on the 50 most deprived wards leaves many children in the most deprived sections of society out in the cold because they live in pockets of poverty in otherwise affluent areas.

There were many specific concerns raised by the committee. I do not have time to address them all so I shall focus on five. First, the committee repeated its criticism of 1995 saying that it "deeply regrets" the UK Government's refusal to remove the "reasonable chastisement defence" often used in the courts by adults to defend physical violence against children. The convention requires states to protect children from "all forms of physical or mental violence". The committee requires the Government to do that "with urgency" and,

    "to promote positive, participatory and non-violent forms of discipline and respect for children's equal right to human dignity and physical integrity".

I have repeated that plea many times in this House. It is unbelievable to me that, in a society that claims to be civilised, the most vulnerable do not have equal protection under the law of assault. Given all the research that shows the damage to brain development and subsequent mental and physical health and sexual function done by violence itself and the stress associated with violence, I find it hard to understand why the Government are so adamantly opposed to implementing that part of the convention. Given what we know about the link between the experience of physical abuse as a child and the cycle of future violence against children when the victim grows up, why will the Government not put a full stop to it right now?

The second matter that I would like to highlight is the committee's concern about the Government's refusal to withdraw their reservation on Article 22 of the convention with regard to immigration. We do not treat asylum seeking children well in this country. Many of them are detained with their families outside the general community; they have access to only 76 per cent of the benefits available to other families and often have no access to the normal health, welfare and educational facilities that resident children have. When they turn 18 unaccompanied children are dispersed to other parts of the country just when they are settling down, away from the only friends they have. That does not help them to settle down quickly and become part of the community. All those matters were criticised by the committee and I wonder whether the Minister will tell us how the Government plan to address them.

The third area of great concern to me is that the committee felt that the UK's record on the rights of young offenders has worsened since 1995. In this country we lock up more children and criminalise

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children at a much earlier age than anywhere else in Europe. With an age of criminal responsibility of 10 in England and eight in Scotland, we are well below the average of 13 across Europe. The committee urged the Government yet again to raise "considerably" the age of criminal responsibility and yet recently in your Lordships' House, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, confirmed that the Government have no such intention. I ask the Minister what can possibly be the justification for that? It treats children inappropriately and leads to ridiculous paradoxes in the law such as the proposals in the current Sexual Offences Bill, which claims that 12 year-olds can understand enough about rape to be guilty of it, but not enough to be able to consent to sex.

The report regretted that children are still detained in the same penal facilities as adults saying that, where it is absolutely necessary to detain children, they should always be in special facilities. However, the experts recommended that detention is used as a measure of last resort and for the shortest possible period of time, with advocacy services and an equal statutory right to education, health and protection services. Sadly the prison system is failing to protect the children in its care. There are far too many cases of children who are abused and attacked in prison and 14 children have committed suicide in prison since 1995. Most could have been avoided if the right facilities had been available.

Fourthly, this country is the fourth richest in the world, yet almost one in three of our 13.5 million children is living below the poverty line. Although some progress has been made to take children out of poverty, there is still a long way to go as the committee identified. It asked for a review of the policies that give 16 to 18 year-olds fewer benefits and social security allowances than adults and a lower minimum wage. It also urged better efforts to address the causes of youth homelessness and all possible measures to accelerate the elimination of child poverty.

Finally, on the health front there were several recommendations, some of the most important being those about the high level of teenage pregnancies and the lack of support for teenage mothers. Mental health was another particular area of our health services picked out as needing major improvement. Mental health is the third most common health problem in the country and, if we can treat it when people are young, we can save an awful lot of human misery. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what is being done to improve mental health services for young people.

We do not own our children. We have the privilege of caring for them, loving and guiding them while they are young. However, we owe them the best possible policies based on all the knowledge and expertise available to us. The UN committee is made up of 10 of the world's greatest experts on child development, education, health and welfare. We should listen to what it has to say and put it into practice. I challenge the Government to show their commitment to our children by implementing every recommendation in

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the report. After all, we have signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and we should implement it without any reservation.

7.57 p.m.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on her tenacity—I believe she has tried four times—in securing this debate. I also congratulate her on a stimulating and challenging introduction. I look forward to the Minister's reply as I know that she too is genuinely interested in issues related to children and has led many initiatives both in health and education. I should declare an interest in that I am the co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children and a trustee of the Trust for the Study of Adolescence which I shall mention later. Rather than go through the many points in the UN committee's report, I shall concentrate on what I think are some important themes, and I shall support the notion of a children's commissioner.

We have heard the Government put a great deal of emphasis on the well-being of children. There are many initiatives—the setting up of the Children and Young People's Unit, Sure Start, Connexions, Quality Protects and the Children's Fund to name but a few. However, while much good work is being done, there is a lack of cohesion. The child needs to be the focal point. Confusion at a local level among professionals and families can mean that operating systems are a focal point rather than the child. Today I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me that effort is being put into co-ordinating services. During a debate in your Lordships' House a few weeks ago, co-ordination between health and social services in delivering for children was discussed. As I said then, many reports, both from the Government and the voluntary sector recognise co-ordination as a huge problem.

Turning to my themes, it seems to me that we simply do not know enough about some basics with regard to children as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. For example, do we analyse at a national and local level? What proportion of different departmental budgets are being spent on children as a whole? Do we have, for the countries of the UK, data on children as a whole—their health, their habits and their education?

I know that we have data in different government departments, but children do not come in departments, but as a whole. Reports, such as the key data series on young people from the Trust for the Study of Adolescence and the recent report, The Well Being of Children in the UK from the University of York and Save the Children are extremely helpful. That latter report calls for,

    "the collation of country level monitoring of child well-being into a routinely produced comprehensive report on the well-being of children in the UK".

Such information would, if comprehensive and accessible, be extremely useful to those working with children and young people and their families.

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Other themes in the UN report deal with adequate participation of children in society—sensitivity to their needs, their rights and entitlements and their best interests as paramount. I think that we have got better at listening to children. Many organisations and government departments have focus groups for young people. Many schools have school councils. We have a youth parliament. But it all sometimes feels disjointed and tokenistic.

Issues relating to children should be analysed in every government Bill and the costs and implications set out in relation to action needed in order to implement the Bill. The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children has done some of that analysis, as have children's organisations, but centralisation of knowledge would be more powerful. Again, it is about placing children at the centre of legislation. They matter a lot, perhaps more than anything.

I had the pleasure last week of attending the meeting jointly organised by the All-Party Group for Children and that for families, where the Children's Commissioner for Wales and the ombudsman for Norway spoke about their roles and responsibilities. Hearing them reinforced my view that England needs a children's commissioner, who is independent of government. Wales and many other countries have one. Northern Ireland will have one. As much as anything, such a post says that children are important; it demonstrates that children are taken seriously; that they have rights and entitlements; and that their best interests are paramount.

The idea of a children's commissioner for England has been mooted for some time by children's organisations, for example UNICEF, Save the Children Fund and the NSPCC. Both the Norwegian ombudsman and the Welsh commissioner emphasised the need for independence. Both emphasised that the office should be made known to children so that they could actively relate to the commissioner, for example by being able to meet him or her and being able to telephone his or her office directly.

The Norwegian ombudsman reflected that children did not want tokenism, they want a real adult to represent their rights, not someone pretending to be young by wearing a baseball cap back to front. How long, until we in England embrace the concept of an independent commissioner for children who will co-ordinate activity, share information about children and collaborate with government departments, the voluntary sector, families and children to promote not only children's welfare but their entitlements and their rights?

8.3 p.m.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I begin by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on initiating this important debate. Perhaps I may also congratulate the Government on the many initiatives that have been developed since they came into office to improve the lives of children and on their targets in relation to poverty, education and child health. It is within the framework of equal

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access to opportunities that all our children will reap the benefits of our society. But noble Lords would not expect me to say that without also saying, "There remains much to be done".

I should like to take a few minutes to draw attention to areas that are not only the subject of the UN report but also the focus of concern for many organisations working for children in the UK. Today I had the privilege of chairing a conference for the National Society for the Protection of Children reviewing the legislation relating to children in family proceedings with particular focus on the Children Act 1989 and its relationship to the convention. I do not hold such a position as an ambassador; I just help out.

With the NSPCC conference fresh in my mind, I wish to bring your Lordships' attention to an area where we are not meeting the human rights of young people, where we would all be at one in our belief that we should be meeting the need, the right, enshrined in the convention: the right to family life. What surprised me today was the response from many young people in care who told of the way in which they were being deprived of this basic right. Together with the Who Cares? Trust through the Who Cares? magazine, the views of young people in care were sought through a questionnaire—700 young people responded.

I commend the report to your Lordships. It has direct messages from this group of young people. Not only is the right to family life enshrined in the convention, but the Children Act 1989 guidance and regulations emphasise the importance of maintaining contact between child and family members and other important people in their lives unless this is identified as being clearly contrary to the child's interests. Sixty per cent of the respondents to the questionnaire said that they did not see enough of their fathers. More than one-third of the sample did not see enough of their mothers or siblings. A substantial proportion did not see enough of their friends. Half did not see enough of their previous carer. These children are either not being listened to or their wishes are being overridden, or there is simply not enough time in the system allocated to ensuring that these basic needs are met.

It was interesting that where social workers were there to help such children, they clearly made a difference. I cannot pretend that achieving family contact is easy, but in the words of the NSPCC report, in these days of high-speed low-cost options available to enable contact, is it really necessary for children separated from their families to be as isolated as they clearly are? Some still find it difficult to reach a simple helpline such as Childline as phones are still not available in some homes and institutions. It does not have to be like that. In the words of one young woman, "I think being in care is brilliant and I wouldn't change anything". I wonder what the Government would propose to have every child in care able to say that.

Another astounding fact was that 50 per cent of the children did not know the name of their local authority—their corporate parent—and that is after several years of the Quality Protects programme.

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One of the committee's recommendations is that the Government should carry out large-scale public education campaigns and programmes on reducing child death and child abuse. This debate gives me the opportunity to put on record my thanks on behalf of all those involved in the "Stop It Now!" programme, which I chair, for its partnership with government departments—in particular, the Home Office—that will result in awareness programmes being developed, first in pilot areas and then in the wider community. "Stop It Now!" works with schools, local groups, professionals and, indeed, abusers. We have provided a variety of materials and are now working on a leaflet to advise parents of children who abuse other children. I hope that the Minister and her colleagues will continue that partnership, which goes far to meet the expectations of the UN committee.

However, like my colleagues, I cannot congratulate the Minister on the position of children in the juvenile justice system. Children are being sent into detention in far greater numbers than in other European countries. Indeed, Anne Owers, Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons, speaking at the Sieff conference last September, compared the juvenile justice system in England and Wales unfavourably with that which existed in Sudan years ago, which has dramatically improved.

In our advanced society, our children do not go into detention as a last resort, as the convention recommends. If we are to continue that policy, those children should at least be given the full protection of the Children Act 1989. Local authorities seldom see them; needs assessments do not take place; and they are ignored by area child protection committees. Following the successful challenge to the Government's position by the Howard League for Penal Reform, will those youngsters have more of their human rights met?

I should have liked the opportunity to raise the chaotic situation existing in the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service, but perhaps all I can do in the available time is to ask the Minister when waiting time will be reduced before children will receive the representation to which they have a clear human right. Indeed, when will Section 122 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 see the light of day?

There is no doubt that the Government care about children—I have witnessed that—but are we to have a children's commissioner? I was not always convinced that that would be the best way forward for England, with our complex regions and high population. What convinced me was the Laming report. If we must have such complex structures to meet our children's needs, why not just have a commissioner for children and have done with it? At least then someone with no other agenda would be looking after children and the Government would have someone to respond more effectively to the issues raised by the UN convention committee.

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8.10 p.m.

Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate on a most important subject, and for the excellence of her introduction.

I declare two interests: the first as the chair of the National Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders' committee on children and crime; the other as the independent chair of the Welsh Assembly government's recent review on the safety of children in the National Health Service.

On the first, I merely echo what has already been said about the age of criminal responsibility and the criminal justice system. Our committee's reports speak for themselves. I wish that the Government—who have focused well on social exclusion in some areas—were a little more brave in this one and focused on the fact that the children who appear before the criminal courts are generally excluded and that we need to include them, not concentrate on crime and punishment, which are often a blunt instrument.

On the second interest, I simply draw attention to the excellent work done by the Welsh Assembly since we produced our report with 150 recommendations—almost all of which are being put into practice and, I believe, have strengthened the position of children's safety in the NHS in Wales, compared with England.

I want principally to speak on a subject that all noble Lords who have spoken have mentioned: the possibility of having a children's commissioner in England. I start my comments from the Welsh perspective.

When I chaired the Assembly review that I mentioned, I spent some time with Peter Clarke, then the new Children's Commissioner. He is doing an excellent job in Wales. I do not suggest that the same be provided in England, because he is underfunded; he has insufficient capacity to undertake case work; and his budget is pathetically poor for his amount of work. In my view, far greater value for money could be achieved if his office was properly funded. With his abilities and his team, he could achieve so much more he could achieve so much if he were able to do the job to the full.

One of the most valuable conclusions of the UN committee is that we should have a children's commissioner in England. However, I urge the Government to avoid using terms such as a "Children's Czar". Quite apart from the use of such language giving a misleading view of history, it also provides a completely naive view of the needs of children. I deprecate reading such language in the newspapers. A sort of Uncle Mac in boots just will not work.

On the other hand, I urge the Government not to establish an enormous bureaucracy, which would simply lead to the children's commissioner shuffling a forest of what I suspect might come to be known as pied paper. Rather, I suggest that they should take account of three elements in setting up a children's

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commission for England. A children's commissioner should be answerable to these Houses of Parliament through a children's commission, via a Minister.

First, there should be a structure. It needs to be a regional structure. Wales has an ideal critical mass for a pilot study—2¾ million people. It is unrealistic to translate that to 50-odd million people without setting up a structure. I would like to hear a commitment from the Government, not only to set up the structure, but to take the time needed to do it properly and to provide the money needed to do it properly.

Secondly, I urge that a children's commission in England should have the powers it needs to do the job properly. At the root of that is responding to children. Children in Wales ring up the Children's Commissioner, who has a help-line and is accessible. The starting point should be access for children and explanation available to them so that they are empowered to take their own rights in their own hands. That means that he must be able to respond to those rights; he must have the people to do the casework; and he must have enough resources to be able to take cases to court, including judicially reviewing local authorities and government. So powers are very important.

Thirdly, he must be accountable. A children's commission can be accountable to Parliament through the means that I outlined. It must be a transparent process; otherwise it will inevitably become misleading and bureaucratic. So I urge on the Minister that it is now time to give a commitment to a children's commission headed by a chief commissioner with the structure, powers and accountability that I described. I say to the Minister that if, partly as a result of the UN committee's report and partly through what one can fairly see as developing government policy towards children, the Government can announce progress towards a children's commission, it will be seen as the greatest single contribution to the welfare and rights of children that any government have introduced since child labour was removed from the factories of this country.

8.16 p.m.

Lord Chan: My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on introducing this short debate on the treatment of children in the United Kingdom. I declare that I am a patron of the International Child Health Group of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. The UN report of the Committee on the Rights of the Child identified many issues requiring the Government's attention. But I shall focus on only three: first, the need for all national policies to incorporate children's rights; secondly, social exclusion of vulnerable children; and, thirdly, children of ethnic minority groups and looked-after children in schools and in private fostering.

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Like other noble Lords, I congratulate the Government on their interventions for the benefit of children. I also agree that they appear not to be co-ordinated and that, therefore, there is much to be done. One of the general concerns of the UN report was,

    "the absence of a global vision of children's rights and its translation onto national plan of action".

Clearly, government departments need to listen to children and young people to define their needs and perceived priorities. That implies that the impact on children of all policies drawn up by the Government should be assessed. Will the Minister tell us how the Government plan to implement that recommendation?

If voluntary-sector organisations such as Childline and the NSPCC listen to children, surely the time has come for the Government also to implement plans of action wanted by children. Among urgent children's issues gathered by voluntary organisations is the need to reduce and deal effectively with bullying in schools.

The Government's most recent initiative on social exclusion is aimed at ethnic minority groups, some of whom have younger age profiles than the majority population. For example, the 2001 Census of Population found that 38 per cent of Bangladeshis were under 16, and 55 per cent of the mixed group—one white parent and one from an ethnic minority group—were under 16.

Although Chinese and Indian pupils tend to achieve higher than the national average at GCSE, those from African, Caribbean, Pakistani and Bangladeshi backgrounds achieve significantly below the national average. Most of the ethnic minority children in inner-city schools are not achieving their potential.

In 2000-01, black pupils were more likely to be permanently excluded from schools in England than children from any other ethnic group. Children in that group, particularly the boys, were up to four times more likely to be permanently excluded from school. As a consequence, they are at risk of failing to achieve their educational potential. In February 2002, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation published findings on the needs of excluded young people in multi-cultural communities. Significant numbers of 16 to 17 year-olds were disengaged from education, employment and training. Many were unknown to the careers services, and a disproportionate number was from minority ethnic groups. Looked-after children were strongly represented in the sample. Nearly half of the study group had been excluded from school or had dropped out of education of their own accord at an early age.

Young people from ethnic minorities had often experienced racism in school and among those looked after in care. Mainstream agencies appeared to have been unable to respond adequately to racial diversity. Local voluntary organisations were often the only agencies in contact with such young people, and their help was greatly appreciated, particularly among those from ethnic minority groups. Although the underlying causes of that exclusion are complex and include the

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effects of social class, I ask the Minister to outline the Government's response to the issue highlighted by the UN report. In particular, how will we monitor vulnerable children who are exposed to discrimination? One commendable government intervention is the high profile initiative aimed at reducing truancy by targeting feckless parents who collude with their children's absence from classes.

The issue of private fostering affects large numbers of African children born abroad and sent here for education. At the Report stage of the Adoption and Children Bill on 23rd October last year, I drew attention to the estimated 10,000 children being cared for under private fostering arrangements. That is recorded in Hansard at col. 1398. The tragedy of Victoria Climbie emphasised, among other shortcomings of our social service and health systems, the urgent need to register all private foster parents. Will the Minister tell us of the Government's plans to register private foster parents?

In conclusion, I draw to the Minister's attention paragraph 24 of the UN committee's report. It says:

    "The Committee requests that specific information be included in the next periodic report on the measures and programmes relevant to the Convention on the Rights of the Child undertaken by the State party to follow up on the Declaration and Programme of Action adopted at the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, and taking account of...aims of education".

There are complex issues to be addressed for the benefit and welfare of all our children, and the Government should seriously consider the appointment of an independent commissioner for children.

8.23 p.m.

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Walmsley on initiating the debate. It is an important debate and, as she said, we have waited a long time for it. I echo the words with which my noble friend finished her speech. We signed up to the convention 11 years ago and it is about time that we implemented it in full. As Cherie Blair, the Prime Minister's wife, said, we are still not according full rights to children, as they are entitled.

The report by the UN commissioners is a shocking indictment of what has gone on in this country. We are—or we claim to be—the fourth richest country in the world, and we have had strong economic growth in the past seven years. Yet we still have about 3.4 million children—one in four—living in poverty. The figure is better than it was; recently published research by David Piachaud and Helen Sutherland indicates that 750,000 fewer children live in poverty. Nevertheless, one in four is still a shocking statistic.

Not only do children live in poverty; our society is too often violent towards them. Many is the time when a child misbehaves in a shop that the parent's response is to clip him or her around the ear with a few choice expletives. That experience repeats itself. There are problems with children in school. These children,

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when frustrated, hit out violently. They lash out, they are abusive and their language, too, is not what one would want it to be.

The result is a vicious circle: the commissioners drew attention to the vicious circle of the high rate of pregnancy. They called for better parenting classes and better facilities for teenage mothers. Yes, we have Sure Start. It is working well. But, as my noble friend mentioned, Sure Start is in only the 50 most deprived areas. It is in the process of being rolled out, but it must be rolled out faster.

As regards exclusions, there is the incredible statistic that 16 per cent of exclusions are now primary school children. We know that excluded children are frequently out of school completely. That does not help with their integration in society. The problem of bullying is another issue to which the commissioners drew attention. We must develop within schools more programmes—for example, nurture groups—which help children develop trusting and loving relationships between themselves.

Furthermore, we are not listening to children enough. Every time there is an education Bill in this House, a group of noble Lords combines to ask the Minister to place on the face of the Bill the right of children to be listened to. That is vitally important. We have the facility of Childline. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, referred to schools councils and the youth parliament. But we do not automatically listen to children in this country.

Finally, a number of noble Lords have raised the matter of a children's commissioner. I, too, participated in the seminar last Wednesday when Peter Clarke from Wales and Trond Waage from Norway spoke about their countries' experiences. I was moved by what Trond Waage said. It was interesting that initially there was a great deal of distrust about his appointment. The vote in the Norwegian Parliament was 51 for and 49 against a children's ombudsman.

The arguments against were: why was he needed? Would his very existence not weaken parental authority? Was it not an unnecessary and expensive piece of bureaucracy? One can hear those arguments readily being touted around in this country. I was moved by what Trond Waage said that he did. It was summed up in the three words, "protection", "provision" and "participation". There should be protection for children in cases of child abuse, bullying and unfair treatment. Provision should be made for children by speaking up for them in legislation and ensuring that their interests are considered in the legislative process. Children should participate. They should be encouraged to contact the Internet parliament by telephone or on the website. He said that there was an active debate on the question of war in Iraq on his Internet parliament.

Clearly, children have trust in him and are willing to telephone him and talk about the problems that they encounter. Childline is good, but not good enough. Children's committees and Cabinet committees for children have been established. The Climbie inquiry showed how poorly co-ordination is working at the

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moment. The noble Lord, Lord Lamming, suggested children's trusts. Like others, I consider that that muddies the waters. It would be much better—and long beyond time—for us to establish a children's commissioner.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Cope of Berkeley: My Lords, this debate crosses so many departmental boundaries that I was keen to speak in it. We have had an interesting discussion and I am sure that we are all grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for introducing it. Our debate forms part of a process that will continue long beyond this evening.

In one sense it is rather odd to be debating today this particular United Nations report, at a time when the whole authority of the UN is under threat and its resolutions from 12 years ago are being flouted. But we must not be diverted on to that subject because the report on the treatment of our children covers important matters.

However, the report should be seen in context. It was issued with others on different countries, including Sudan and Israel, where I am linked with two charities involved in children's issues. I know a little of the position in those countries, which is much more difficult than is the case for any child in this country. However, real points have been made in the report and certainly we should not be complacent.

The first question raised both in the report and by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, was whether we should alter the law on reasonable chastisement. The Government have said no and I am inclined to agree with them. Many people, including myself, accept that the occasional smack from a parent should be allowed—although not, I hasten to add, as the first resort referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in her reminiscences from the supermarket. We are also all agreed that beating children is a most dreadful abuse which quite rightly deserves and gets, when convictions are obtained, long prison sentences. So the argument hinges on how to define what is reasonable, the subject of many debates in this House. I have not seen evidence that the law as it stands has been misused to prevent the conviction of child abusers and I do not think that it should be changed without further evidence or without considering substituting the wording for what might be called "more reasonable" terms. However, we all know the difficulties of changing legal wording.

The next question was whether we detain too many children and young people. Certainly it is wrong for young people to be sent to adult prisons. I accept that the Government are doing their best to avoid that, but in fact more young people are being detained now than was the case previously. However, in some cases detention is necessary. Given that, the point I want to stress is that we must try to make detention constructive and useful for the young person concerned. More effort must be made to include into the regime proper education, drug rehabilitation programmes and so forth for every young person.

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Often young offenders come from highly unsatisfactory backgrounds and their period in detention can provide the opportunity to help them realise that they can be useful citizens, and give them the time to gain hope for a better life through new skills and education. I saw efforts of that kind being made in my former constituency in a young offenders centre where they tried out new schemes and different ideas proposed by the Home Office.

I do not think that it will help to put on local authorities a statutory duty to safeguard children in prison, which has been the effect of last year's court case. Prisons are already overseen by boards of visitors—they are to be reformed and renamed, but we know what they are—as well as by prison inspectors, the Audit Commission, Members of Parliament and so forth. Furthermore, local authority social services departments already have a great deal to do in carrying out their own duties.

We all know that the Government are missing their targets for reducing child poverty. The economic situation of the country is ominous at the moment. I shall not develop that except to say that it bodes ill for child poverty as well as for other objectives.

I shall not say much about sexual abuse and exploitation, not because those issues are not of the first importance and extremely worrying, but because soon we shall start our debates on the sexual offences Bill. We shall then be able to hold a more structured discussion than would be possible tonight.

The report was also rightly concerned about the level of teenage pregnancies. The decline in our society's values shows up in a truly awful way in this matter. In comparison with other European countries, our record is shaming. It seems obvious that lax and permissive attitudes towards sexual relations in our media and wider society contribute to the problem. Of course education in our schools, through doctors' surgeries and other health centres, is essential. Parental attitudes are also an important contributory factor, but many of the teenagers concerned have had little or no help from that quarter. Indeed, teenage pregnancies mean teenage parents, and that too often leads to another generation of deprived children and worse.

The report is about the rights of the child, but rights have no value unless someone else has both the duty and the means to confer them. After all, the great Education Act 1944 did not confer a right to education. It placed on local authorities a duty to provide schools and on parents a duty to ensure that their children attended. Whenever we consider rights, we must consider the duties which go with them.

The duties fall mainly on the Government, but some could be shared by the proposed children's commissioner. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, indicated that careful thought is required in designing how that office should function and in taking the discussion forward.

But duties fall also on parents. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, spoke of the right to family life. Parents should be the principal people on whom children lean. We should always frame our policies to

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support parents and families, and, indeed, to help provide substitute families through adoption and fostering when the actual family does not exist or cannot give support, as we discussed at length during the passage of a Bill not long ago.

We know that there is a strong link between neglect and deprivation and child criminality. The report helps us to see ourselves as others see us, as the poet has it. That is very important because our children, after all, are our future.

8.37 p.m.

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for initiating the debate. I associate myself with her remarks about the NSPCC. I pay tribute to her formal role, and to the informal role of the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, with that august charity. I am also grateful for the opportunity for your Lordships' House, as a body, to focus its mind on these important issues. The Government are committed to raising public awareness of the convention and its principles across the nation. Our debate will help in that task.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published its observations on the UK's implementation of the convention on 4th October. In doing so, the committee praised much of what has been done in the UK. It acknowledged the development of structures within government, including the role of the Minister for Children and Young People and the Children and Young People's Unit, which is, as a part of recommendation 13, the highly visible permanent body to which the noble Baroness referred.

The committee praised our commitment to ending child poverty and to increasing children's participation and our intention to publish an overarching strategy. It also highlighted some concerns, many of which, if not all, have been raised by noble Lords today and on which I shall focus my brief remarks.

The convention is necessarily wide-ranging. Its provisions relate to every area of a child's life. Despite being described as Minister for Children—a post I quite fancy—the responsibilities for implementing the convention lie across different government departments. Each department is aware of the specific recommendations and will take them into consideration.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, questioned the lack of a rights-based approach. The overarching strategy for children and young people will set out our agenda for children over the next 10 years and the outcomes for which we are aiming. It will be framed within the principles of the UN convention, which will give us a rights-based approach.

As noble Lords would expect, we have taken measures already. The Government have laid an explanatory memorandum in another place which has started the process of ratifying Optional Protocol II of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in

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regard to an issue we have not discussed in your Lordships' House—that is, under-18s in the Armed Forces. It is an issue about which noble Lords will be concerned.

In England we shall shortly be producing the overarching strategy for children and young people, which, as I said, takes the UNCRC as its framework. It will aim to improve outcomes for children and to ensure that they play a full part in society.

At the UK level, my right honourable colleague the Minister for Children and Young People is currently considering how we can co-ordinate implementation of the convention more effectively. That will be important in the lead-up to our next report to the committee in 2008.

I now turn to the specific issues raised. I agree wholeheartedly with my noble friend Lady Massey and with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, on the issue of the collection of data. We absolutely recognise the need to do this, and to do it as effectively as possible.

The national statistics education and training theme group, which has membership from all four UK administrations, will be looking at the extent to which information covered by the convention can be compiled and disseminated on a consistent basis. The committee welcomed the intention to publish what we describe as a regular state of children report on the key outcomes for children and young people in England as part of the forthcoming strategy.

The noble Lord, Lord Chan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Massey, raised the question of the co-ordination of services. I agree that this is critical. It is why we have moved towards the children centre model in terms of our early years provision and the children trust model in terms of the processes of bringing together education, social care and health in a way that will be more effective. The early years model will reach 650,000 children in our most deprived communities, but will be a model on which we can build right across the nation and will indeed mainstream some of the key lessons that we have learnt from the policies on Sure Start.

It is a particularly critical and important way of approaching the issue raised by the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, and the noble Lord, Lord Cope, of teenage pregnancies. The phenomenon of teenage pregnancy is a multi-faceted one. It is for government to work across government departments. It is important, particularly for the Department of Health and the Department for Education and Skills, to be clear about implementing the strategy, but we shall be focusing on this matter in the overarching strategy for children and young people.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, focused their attention on the issue of smacking. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that the distinction is absolutely critical between what goes on in a family home that would be described as reasonable and what is child abuse. We do not accept under any circumstances, nor would we wish to see committed under any circumstances, any form of child

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abuse. We are satisfied that our approach to this issue is in accordance with the convention in terms of the protection of children. We do not wish to divert from the attention that needs to be given to children who suffer from abuse. We must make sure that our focus is on those who are in need of our protection.

Within that, it is important to deal with the issues of parenting—raised graphically by the noble Baroness, Lady Sharp, in terms of what she visually had experience of. We are attempting to promote positive parenting. It is a fundamental part of the mainstream Sure Start programme. We also support organisations such as Parentline and the National Family and Parenting Institute, which do phenomenal work. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley and Lady Sharp, that we have 542 Sure Start programmes. These operate much more broadly across the country. Mainstreaming the principles of Sure Start is a fundamental part of this strategy.

A number of speakers focused on the idea of a children's commissioner. We are looking carefully—and I pay tribute to the work that Peter Clarke is doing in Wales—at whether this would be an appropriate role within England. In his initial response on 28th January to the report by the noble Lord, Lord Laming, Alan Milburn remitted consideration of the report's recommendations to the group working on the Green Paper on children at risk. I serve as a Minister on that group and I can tell the House that we are actively considering the matter. We shall publish our conclusions later in the spring.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, made a point about bureaucracy which is critical. I am sure that noble Lords will accept that a children's commissioner is not an answer to all the issues that are being raised. The matter is under active consideration and I will come back to the House on that. I am grateful for the views that have been expressed, which I shall feed back.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, spoke about the interests of asylum-seeking children. I accept that we are always looking for ways in which we can support them more effectively. But the level of support for children who are part of an asylum-seeking family is identical to the support that is provided for children in families on income support. We are examining carefully the issues of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children. Dispersal is not automatic. We generally try to find ways in which we can support such children and try to make sure that they are dealt with effectively. However, the noble Baroness's points will be passed on to my noble friend in the Home Office.

Noble Lords focused on youth justice. I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, with NACRO, an organisation I have known and respected for a long time. I agree entirely that we should make sure that our children are dealt with effectively. Although the age of criminal responsibility in this country is one of the lowest in Europe, I recognise that there is more to be done. Again, this is part of the work being done on the Children at Risk Green Paper. As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Cope, education and drug rehabilitation are critical in that respect.

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Noble Lords focused on education. The noble Lord, Lord Chan, talked about children in care, as did others, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth. A social exclusion unit report is due which looks specifically at greater support for children in care. It is an important issue; I am glad to see the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, in his place. He and I have debated these issues on many occasions, and I hope he recognises our commitment to supporting these children more effectively. I work very closely with my colleague Jacqui Smith in the Department of Health and we are focusing on what more we can do.

The Department of Health recently undertook a comprehensive review of private fostering which will be important to the noble Lord, Lord Chan. However, it is worth pointing out that Victoria Climbie was not privately fostered.

The noble Lord, Lord Chan, also talked about our ethnic minority strategies. It is very important in terms of the strategy just launched in education to support the children from different ethnic minority groups, particularly those from the Afro-Caribbean, Bangladeshi and Pakistan communities, who are not doing as well in the education system as we would like.

Finally, I agree that the level of child poverty in the UK is unacceptable. That is why the Prime Minister has made a commitment to eradicate child poverty within a generation, a government target of which I am very proud. We are making progress, not on every front but in important ways. There are 1.4 million fewer children living in absolute poverty than in 1996-97.

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, for initiating the debate and to all noble Lords. I am proud to be part of a government who have made a commitment to children and young people. I am pleased that the UN committee has recognised some of the progress that we have made, but we know that more areas need our attention. We work hard to try to make an improvement in every child's life. I believe we have made huge strides, and we will continue to do so to the best of our ability.

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