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Lord Falconer of Thoroton moved Amendment No. 41:


"(3) In promoting equality of opportunity between disabled persons and others, the Commission may, in particular, promote the favourable treatment of disabled persons.
(4) In this Part "disabled person" means a person who—
(a) is a disabled person within the meaning of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (c. 50), or
(b) has been a disabled person within that meaning (whether or not at a time when that Act had effect)."

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 9 [Human rights]:
 
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Baroness Howe of Idlicote moved Amendment No. 42:


"( ) In determining what action to take in pursuance of children's human rights, the Commission must have particular regard to the importance of the Convention on the Rights of the Child."

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, Clause 9(3) rightly requires the commission to have particular regard to the European Convention on Human Rights, but that treaty was not drafted with children in mind. Even within the confines of civil and political rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child is much broader. It includes, for example, children's right to have their views given due weight in Article 12; disabled children's right to active participation in the community in Article 23; children's right to appropriate information in Article 17; and, even more crucial, children's right to protection from all forms of violence in Article 19. Incidentally, I note that the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, has been inadvertently left off the amendment, and I regret that.

Those supporting the amendment believe that there is a special case for including by name the Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is no more ratified human rights treaty in the world, as, I am sure, your Lordships will agree. No fewer than 192 states have ratified it and, in so doing, have agreed to implement fully all the rights of all children. The convention gives children a comprehensive set of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights.

Human rights bodies, including the European Court of Human Rights and the parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights, use the convention as their benchmark for determining children's human rights issues. Domestic courts increasingly refer to the convention when considering matters affecting children. As the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, would have said—she sends her apologies for not being able to be with us this afternoon—the convention's clear guidance would be invaluable, particularly at a time of so much change in children's services in this country. I should also add that the Local Government Information Unit also supports that approach. It says:

The Committee on the Rights of the Child, the international treaty-monitoring body for the convention, strongly urges that legislation refer explicitly to the convention, even when a broadly based human rights body serves children.

Your Lordships will remember that last year, during debates on Part 1 of the Children Act 2004, the House made strenuous efforts to create a rights-based Children's Commissioner for England, for England's 11 million children. That was to be in line with the rest of the UK and Europe. Although, I am glad to say, the legislation was improved considerably as it passed through both Houses, sadly it remains "rights-light" and second class in that respect. While commissioners
 
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in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland must promote and protect children's rights, the general function of England's commissioner is narrowly defined as being,

Noble Lords will understand, therefore, that children in England especially, but not exclusively, very much need the new commission to promote and protect their human rights.

5.15 pm

Self-evidently, babies and children are uniquely vulnerable to having their human rights violated. As the Joint Committee on Human Rights said in its report of May 2003, making the case for a rights-based children's commissioner:

Can any of the exiting equality bodies confidently claim that they fully serve the needs and interests of children, or that children are included in the organisation's priority setting and decision making? With the commission we have a new opportunity to weave children's issues throughout the fabric of the organisation.

This amendment is essential. We must ensure, first, that children are central to the commission, not an add-on, and, secondly, that the commission will take a broad approach to children's human rights, having regard to all the articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the general comments and concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child. It is to the Convention on the Rights of the Child that children's rights advocates look to transform children's lives. I hope that the Minister will agree that we can and should ensure that that is achieved by the explicit inclusion of the convention in the Bill. I beg to move.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I have added my name to this amendment and support warmly the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote. For me there are four principal reasons why the Convention on the Rights of the Child must be referred to by name in the legislation establishing the new commission.

First, the convention is the world's most widely embraced human rights instrument, according to Kofi Annan—he should know. Somalia and the US are the only two eligible countries that have not yet ratified it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, reminded us at Question Time only today. In 2002, at the second world summit for children, the importance of the convention in transforming children's lives was reasserted by some 180 nations, including the United Kingdom. The convention sets the standard for a good childhood. It is the document for promoting and protecting children's human rights.

Secondly, the convention is probably the most comprehensive treaty of all, encompassing children's economic, social and cultural rights, as well as their
 
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civil and political rights. There is currently no equivalent treaty for any other sector of the population.

Thirdly, children are uniquely dependent and vulnerable, and easy to ignore. Having the convention written into the legislation will be a constant reminder that the new commission must work for children and their rights. The commission will need to consider fully children's needs in all its planning and priority setting, and children, just like adult stakeholders, will need to be consulted on and involved in the governance of the new institution. Without that one reference to children, I very much fear that they will be left out in the cold.

In November 2002, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the international treaty monitoring body for the convention, issued standards for national independent human rights institutions for children. It said:

The committee urges the creation of specialist, rights-based commissioners for children or an identifiable commissioner or children's rights division within a broad-based human rights bodies.

It is in the light of that statement that I turn to my fourth reason. Children in England do not have a rights-based children's commissioner, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, has just reminded us. Despite our best efforts in this House, Part 1 of the Children Act 2004 left the other House with five references to children's rights removed. The legislation says that the commissioner must have regard to the convention, as does the legislation for the other three UK commissioners. But the Government have always been very clear. The commissioner is not, and never was meant to be, an independent human rights institution for children. When the appointment of Professor Al Aynsley-Green was announced on 2 March, the press release did not once mention rights or the convention. The Secretary of State, Ruth Kelly, declared,

There was not a single mention of rights.

So it is to this new commission that we must look for children's human rights to be promoted and protected. But we cannot leave that to chance or good will; if Parliament wants children to be served by this body, we must ensure that the legislation says so.


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