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Children’s Rights

Volume 797: debated on Tuesday 30 April 2019

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government what plans they have to develop a cross-departmental action plan to address the conclusions and recommendations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child's assessment of the United Kingdom in 2016, in order to ensure that all public bodies act to protect and promote children’s rights.

My Lords, we remain strongly committed to delivering a framework of actions across government and with key organisations. We aim to continue to embed the importance of children’s rights in policy-making across Whitehall. We have successfully delivered the majority of actions, including establishing a UNCRC action group and launching a children’s rights training package and impact assessment template across the Civil Service. We are on track to deliver outstanding actions, including extending the UNCRC to Guernsey.

I thank the Minister for that optimistic response. Does he agree that children’s rights to health, education, justice, security and so on are of supreme importance? Does he further agree that although these areas do not come under one department but go across departments, only the Department for Education has a team of people working on children’s rights? Would it not make sense if every department had a team of people working on children’s rights so that they could talk to each other and develop a coherent plan? We have been criticised by the UN for not having such a plan. Is it not time for action?

My Lords, we do not agree with the substantial machinery of government changes recommended by the UNCRC but we work across government all the time. I have to draw on many government departments for most of the answers that I give to noble Lords in this House. We are well joined up and we continue to emphasise that through initiatives such as the Civil Service learning programme which we introduced last year.

Perhaps I may ask my noble friend for some specifics about the actions he mentioned in his first Answer. What exactly is happening and what concrete actions are being taken?

My Lords, the civil servants’ guidance that we issued at the end of last year was specifically aimed at supporting civil servants to join up. We created a template for civil servants to enable them to understand the children’s rights impact. We have revised the statutory guidance for working together to safeguard children and we have co-chaired a new action group with the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, CRAE, which brings together all of these issues.

My Lords, the Minister will know that the Committee has called on the UK to urgently review the asylum policy as the UK is the only country in the EU not to permit unaccompanied refugee children to sponsor their immediate family. Given that the Government are searching for legislation to pad out the parliamentary term, will the Minister speak to his colleagues in the other place to see whether they can make time to give the Refugees (Family Reunion) Bill—which has already been passed in this House—its long-awaited Second Reading?

I will certainly take the noble Lord’s suggestion back to the department for consideration. Let me reassure noble Lords that the numbers of children becoming looked after from unaccompanied asylum seekers has remained stable over the past three years. Under Section 20 of the Children Act 1989, local authorities have a statutory obligation to provide accommodation for unaccompanied asylum-seeking children.

My Lords, the UNCRC states that the best interests of the child must be paramount in all decision making and yet evidence that our Benches are collecting shows that the two-child limit policy is having a substantially negative impact on those families affected by it. In the light of the Government’s obligations under UNCRC, will the Minister undertake to commission independent research into the impact of the two-child limit policy on those families which are affected by it?

I think the right reverend Prelate might be referring to the limits under the working tax credits. When that provision was brought through last year it was put in place simply to ensure that parents whose financial position had improved did not have a legacy benefit they no longer needed.

My Lords, why have the Government refused to introduce a statutory obligation to conduct a child rights impact assessment for every law and policy relating to children, as recommended by the UN Committee?

My Lords, it is important to remember that we are making huge progress on child poverty generally in this country, and therefore that is where our focus is. We have seen some 650,000 children move out of poverty since 2010.

My Lords, if the number of asylum-seeking children in this country is stable, will the Minister explain why it has not been possible, so far, to take in the number provided for in the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, three or four years ago?

My Lords, the 2017 Conservative manifesto said:

“Britain should be the best country in the world for children”.

Yet, as other noble Lords have said, today the UNHRC’s recommendation on the child’s rights action group or strategy still remains unfulfilled. The same manifesto also said that child poverty would be reduced but, despite what the Minister has just said, it is going in the opposite direction. Adding insult to injury, last year the role of Minister for Children and Families was diminished from Minister of State to Parliamentary Under-Secretary. In the circumstances, how can the Minister come to this House and tell us that the Government are committed to the interests of children?

My Lords, I respectfully disagree with the noble Lord about child poverty. A child growing up in a home where all the adults are working is five times less likely to be in poverty than a child in a household where nobody works. In 2010, under the old Labour national minimum wage a person would have taken home £9,200 after tax and national insurance. Today, under the national living wage that person would take home £13,700. That is a dramatic increase in that family.

I note with concern the Minister’s bipartisan dissent on the UNCRC report. Does he in principle agree with my noble friend Lady Massey of Darwen that the Government should take very seriously the ability to provide the very best for children and children’s rights when they co-ordinate across departments, particularly when dealing with special needs children?

I agree with the noble Baroness. Indeed, as I mentioned, the framework of actions that we have been taking following the observations by the UN in 2016 have been along those lines. We are working with Guernsey to bring it into the convention, and that should happen in the next few months.