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UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Volume 736: debated on Thursday 22 March 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when they will implement the commitment made in December 2010 that new legislation and policy will be assessed against the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

My Lords, the Government take their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child very seriously and are implementing the commitment made in December 2010. The Government have used the home affairs clearance process to consider the implications of their proposals for children’s rights. The Minister for Children has also written recently to all government departments to reinforce this commitment, and departments are being given further guidance and support on the UNCRC in preparation for the next legislative Session.

I thank the Minister for that response. However, does he agree that, despite that commitment, since 2010 only one Bill out of 11 has been scrutinised and child-proofed? Could he say what the barriers to such scrutiny and child-proofing are, particularly in light of the progress made in Wales and Scotland?

I agree with the noble Baroness that we need to make sure that the commitment that my honourable friend made in December 2010 is fulfilled. As we prepare for the next legislative Session, part of the way in which we do that is through some of the processes that I outlined. Specific guidance is being prepared by the Cabinet Office, and will go to all departments, on making sure that they take specific account of the UNCRC requirement when considering legislation. There is also a very snappy guide called the Guide to Making Legislation. Therefore, I hope that we will be able to move in the direction in which the noble Baroness wants us to move.

Does the Minister agree that the convention gives children the right to protection from violence in all places of learning, both secular and religious? What is his department doing to ensure that?

The Government are working to ensure that children can be educated in an orderly way in all schools. As for making sure that they are safe from violence in those settings, the noble Baroness will know that we are keen to do that in a number of ways. We are taking new measures on behaviour, and guidance on them is going to schools. All schools will want to make sure that they deliver on that commitment.

My Lords, on the Government’s intentions in relation to adoption and accelerating adoption, will the Minister confirm that, however laudable that objective might be, adoption should always be confined to cases where it is in the best interests of the child, taking into account the child’s anticipated life, and should never be regarded as a soft option for a local authority, which might otherwise be saddled with a care order for very many years?

I am sure all noble Lords would agree that we want to make sure that adoption processes are delivered in the best interests of the child. As the noble Lord says, the Government are keen to try to accelerate the process because we know that the average length of time it takes for a child to be placed in adoption is more than two and a half years. If it is the right thing for a child, we are very keen that that process should happen as quickly as possible in a sensible way, and to try to address the great disparity in practice between different local authority areas.

My Lords, would the Minister be so kind as to return to the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey? She specifically asked what the barriers were to the proper scrutiny of Bills that have already been passed into law. I am not sure that the Minister gave us an answer to that question.

Forgive me if I did not deal with that. I do not know that there are barriers in the sense in which the question was put. We need to make sure that post-legislative scrutiny takes these factors into account; and that, while legislation is being drawn up within departments, the requirement to take into account the UNCRC obligations is taken properly into account, and that Ministers and departments are aware of that. Another factor that will help is the new powers which we hope will be given to the Children’s Commissioner, if we can get a legislative slot to do so, which will make the Children’s Commissioner more independent of my department and accountable to Parliament rather than to the department. That will also have a role in shining a spotlight on this.

My Lords, has my noble friend noted the number of cases being reported of children being taken from their own parents on a very extraordinary basis of reasoning? Bearing in mind that it is always best if children can have a home with their parents, does he accept that this is a serious matter that worries many of us?

I am aware of the issue and of my noble friend’s concerns about it. Clearly if one can be certain that the parental home is the right place for a child to be, that is obviously where one would want them to be: in a loving family. I know that my honourable friend Mr Loughton, who is responsible for adoption, takes those concerns seriously.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm whether the instructions from the Cabinet Office will also include impact assessments in the post-legislative study of the impact of Bills such as the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which has been going through this House?

I will need to check to find out precisely what areas that guidance covers. When I have an answer, I will reply to the noble Lord and tell him what I am able to.

My Lords, may I follow up the point made by my noble friend Lady McIntosh with a particular example? The Children’s Commissioner recently concluded that the Welfare Reform Bill contravened the UN convention in a number of ways. For example, she argued that the benefit cap risks children suffering unjustified discrimination. In those circumstances, will the Minister explain how the Government took that message on board and went about modifying the legislation to bring it back into line with the convention, because being a signatory does not seem to make much difference to the way in which the legislation eventually pans out?

My Lords, the Government believe that the Welfare Reform Bill is compliant with the UNCRC. We know that those issues were debated at length in this House and concerns were expressed about the effect of the benefit cap. The Government said that transitional arrangements would be put in place to deal with some of the concerns that noble Lords expressed, and they have committed to having a report a year on as to the effect of the benefit cap. However, our core position is that if we can help and encourage more people into work, that will be good for those families and for their children.

Will the Minister allow me to clarify my earlier question? I was referring not to bullying by other children but to violence and ill treatment by members of staff. I particularly had in mind certain madrassahs and Christian fundamentalist Sunday schools where the treatment of children is not up to the standard that we would expect in this country.