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The noble Earl said: This amendment, tabled in my name and others, returns to a theme which is now familiar to our Committee debates. The desired outcome headings for children as set out in subsection (2) surely cannot be looked at separately from the context in which most children are brought up; namely, their families. That emphasises the point made earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. What this amendment really says is that the importance of family life and individual family members must on no account be ignored when support services are being planned and delivered to children. On the contrary, their importance must be fully recognised, as indeed must the primacy of the responsibility borne by parents for their children.
What we cannot have, and I am sure the Minister will agree with this, is some sort of green light for a culture of interference in family life, however well meant, by statutory and voluntary bodies. This clause is extremely worthy and well intentioned, but it has the potential to result in over-intrusiveness and officiousness. As we say so often in these debates, there is a balance to be struck. Much will depend on the guidance that is to be issued, and we are still in the dark about that. But I hope that the general point I have made will be borne in mind. I beg to move.
Lord Northbourne: It is incredibly important to our society that children are brought up in families and that parents accept their responsibilities. This is another effort to make sure that that intent appears on the face of the Bill. Only if it is in the Bill can we be sure that it will not be changed by, say, regulation. Only when the provision is set out will it be taken seriously. This is a reasonably general and sensible proposal which I should like to support.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I wonder whether the general concern that family life has not been
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adequately addressed has arisen because we are considering these matters separately from Article 8 and our human rights legislation. I would not want anyone to think, having heard our earlier debates, that there is in any way a lack of respect for the sanctity of a loving and caring family. The concern that the words "family" and "families" do not appear often enough on the face of the Bill arises because we now have in place human rights legislation which, I hope, will underpin the importance of the family unit.
Lord Northbourne: I am sorry to intervene again. I shall be very brief. It is important for the appearance of things that the Bill should say what it means to say in this context. A legalistic and intellectual approach is not likely to get on to the pages of the tabloids, and it is those tabloids that parents will read. I am concerned that parents will feel demotivated, believing that they are being put upon by society when in fact we want to engage their enthusiastic support.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: Noble Lords will be pleased to learn that my speaking notes are getting shorter as we debate this issue. I recognise the point made by the noble Baroness about Article 8 and the importance of supporting the rights of families. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, while the appearance of things is all well and good, I should say that this is a legal document, written in legalistic terms. Perhaps that is the problem we face in trying to persuade the noble Lord that we have addressed his concerns. I do not intend to give up and I am determined that, by the end of our discussions on the Bill, he will be more than satisfied.
I reiterate once more that we share the Committee's desire to ensure that the clause reflects the important role of parents and families. It is an issue at which we will be looking carefully between now and the Report stage. In the mean time, I hope the noble Earl will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
(a) the need, where opportunities for disabled children are not as good as those for other children, to promote equality of opportunity between disabled children and other children by improving opportunities for disabled children; and
(b) the need to promote equality of opportunity between
(i) children of different racial groups, religions or beliefs, family status or sexual orientation; and
(ii) between boys and girls generally."
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 94 would ensure that in making arrangements for local co-operation to improve the well-being of children and young people, a children's services authority and its partners will focus on securing outcomes which reduce inequalities based on impairment, gender, race, sexuality, religion, family status or anything else that I have not thought of. The amendments would give stronger legislative effect to a key policy aim behind the Billnamely, to promote equity for the most socially excluded children.
Of course, cultural change will be the key to this and there is considerable evidence that such positive equality duties are effective in embedding equality principles in the work of public authorities. While local authorities already have positive duties to promote equality under race relations law, and are set to acquire complementary duties under a future revision of the Disability Discrimination Act, what is really needed in the context of children's services is a cross-cutting duty that takes full account of the multiple sources of discrimination that many children face. Disabled children in care, in residential schools, from black and ethnic minority communities, or religious minorities, will be best served by such a duty. Without such broader equality duties, children's services will remain hamstrung in dealing effectively with exclusion.
Local authorities and other agencies are increasingly familiar with the concept of equality impact assessments and there is already a good deal of practical advice and guidance in existence to support them in the proposed new duties. On disability, for instance, the LGA and Disability Rights Commission have worked together to produce guidance for local government on how to implement disability equality within local authority service provision. This can be complemented by guidance under the Bill and additional support from agencies such as the DRC.
Embedding equality in the new arrangements for children's services will ensure that the new inspection arrangements provide a means of monitoring improvement. Liaison and partnership working with local disability and other equality groups will, of course, be central to the effectiveness of such duties. Clause 6 includes a duty to promote co-operation between,
This could include voluntary organisations, as has been said already, and it would be helpful if the Minister could provide clear guarantees that children's authorities will be expected to consult and involve local disability organisations. I beg to move.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: I rise to speak to the amendment standing in my name, which is in this
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group. It is a probing amendment and has almost the same wording as the amendment of the noble Baroness. I am slightly concerned that we may not have got the words right and I am grateful to Children in Wales for having pointed that out to me. The wording is not as broad as that in the surrounding framework of legislation from within Europe.
The clause is about ensuring that at every point there is no discrimination and disability abuse, which very often takes place in terms of either mental, physical and, usually, motor-type disabilities. I am concerned that we do not forget those children who are disfigured, either through their genetic features or through accident, and who can be subjected to terrible discrimination. Such discrimination can be incredibly damaging, particularly when the disfigurement is newly acquired through accident.
In our previous debates we referred to equality of opportunity as the principle that has to run through everything, and I wonder whether or not that is the wording we should be looking for when we revisit this issue at a later stage.
I would just like briefly to draw the House's attention to two things. One is Article 13 from the European convention, which is very clear and contains a broader list than the one that we have in this amendment. The other is that in December 2000, the European Charter of Fundamental Rights stated that any discrimination,
"based on any ground such as sex, race, colour, ethnic or social origin, genetic features, language, religion or belief, political or any other opinion, membership of a national minority, property, birth, disability, age or sexual orientation shall be prohibited".
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