The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 57, in clause 22, page 13, line 14, leave out or and insert and.
Steve Webb: Clause 9 is headed Provision of advice by Commission and consultation with others, and subsection (4)(c) states that the Secretary of State
must consult such children, or organisations working with or representing children, as the Secretary of State thinks fit.
The amendment would modify that to read, consult such children and organisations working with children. As the wording currently stands, it appears to be possible to draw up a strategy without consulting children; that is where we are coming from. One will be able to satisfy the condition in subsection (4)(c) by consulting only organisations that work with children, and not children themselves. All that we are trying to doit is clearly good practice to do thisis to make consulting children a requirement. I do not need to labour the point, as I am sure that the Committee knows where I am coming from.
There are two issues here. The first is about consulting children, and the second, a sub-issue, is about consulting children in poverty. It is important that actions on child poverty are not things done to people, but are things done with them and for them, and are shaped by those who are meant to be influenced. To quote from the UN Development Programme, people living in poverty
must be considered as the principal actors of development; they can no longer be seen as passive recipients; they are strategic partners rather than target groups.
In other words, this should not be a patronising, top-down, we-know-what-is-best-for-you measure. With children, that is a particular risk. However, parts of the Bill already ask children what they think. For example, for the child material deprivation indicators, children will be asked about their hobbies, such as swimming, from their perspective. That is entirely welcome, but we would like to see the Bill strengthened so that there is consultation not just with representative groups, but with the children themselves.
Mr. Stuart: I will not speak on the amendment, but I fully support what the hon. Gentleman says, and I hope that Ministers will take that on board immediately.
Steve Webb: I am sure that the Ministers will take the hon. Gentlemans support on board immediately; I am grateful for his support.
Save the Children endorses the amendment, and I think the Equality and Human Rights Commission might even have written italthough even I can draft delete or and insert and on a good day. An important point is being made: consultation with organisations is supplementary to, not a substitute for, consultation with children and families. One only has to run through some of the frameworks for consulting children and young peoplethe UN convention on the rights of the child, the Children Act 1989, the Every Child Matters programme, the national service framework for childrento see that all of them stress the importance of seeking and taking into account childrens views. Indeed, the UN convention on the rights of the child states that
parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
Obviously, the views of younger children will differ from those of older children.
I cannot help but feel that listening to the voice of a variety of children with disabilities will be particularly important. I suspect that all of us have attended fringe meetings at our party conferences that were organised by the Every Disabled Child Matters coalition. It produced a DVD that disabled youngsters had made. A parliamentary colleague and I were on a panel with disabled teenagers, who were able to hold up a card that said Jargon if we used jargon. I recall that meeting more than most; I hope that no one on the Committee has such a card. It was different to hear things from the horses mouth, rather than just from an organisation acting on peoples behalf.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman makes an important point: it is important to communicate directly with children. However, does he agree that communicating directly with them is not easy, and has to be done in a way that allows one to find out what they truly mean? In those situations, organisations that work with children can sometimes help facilitate the coming forward of childrens views. It is important to bear that in mind.
Steve Webb: Absolutely. I do not underestimate the difficulty of communicating with children, nor do I underestimate the contribution that childrens organisations
Andrew Selous: I support the amendment, and I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Beverley and Holderness. The amendment is important. We should not underestimate the fact that adults are not always good proxies for childrens views. As the hon. Member for Northavon said, the task may not be easy, and we need to talk to organisations that work with, for and on behalf of children. At my partys conference I saw a film produced by Save the Children called Wee Shotsboth Ministers may have seen it at a showing in Portcullis Houseand met children who live in poverty in Bradford, London and elsewhere in the UK. The amendment brings an extra dimension, and I echo the reference that the hon. Member for Northavon made to the United Nations words about doing things with and for people, rather than to them. The amendment is therefore sensible, and we will support him if he chooses to press it to a vote.
consult such children, or organisations working with or representing children, as the Secretary of State thinks fit
in preparing a UK strategy. Similarly, clause 22(6) requires the responsible local authority to
consult such children, or organisations working with or representing children, as the authority thinks fit
in preparing or modifying a joint child poverty strategy. The hon. Member for Northavon proposes to change the word or in those subsections to and to require consultation on national and local child poverty strategies to take place directly with children, as well as with organisations working with or representing children.
The Government fully appreciate the spirit in which the amendment has been tabled. Ensuring that childrens views underpin Government policies to improve outcomes for all children has been and remains at the heart of our approach. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, the participation of the child is one of the three key principles in the UN convention on the rights of the child and has been incorporated into English law since the Scarman judgment on the Gillick case. We have a long history of doing that where we believe it to be appropriate. Article 12 of the UN convention urges state parties to allow children who are capable of forming their own views to have a say on issues that affect them.
Taking into account the views of children and families living in poverty is central to the development of our strategies for tackling child poverty. During the development of the Bill, we commissioned Save the Children to carry out a series of consultation events with children and young people aged five to 19, seeking their views on the Bill, as well as on the Governments vision for meeting the 2020 targets. We have also commissioned Dr. Tess Ridge from Bath university, who gave evidence to the Committee last week, to research the experience of children and families living in poverty. Her report was published in July and will help to inform the development of the child poverty strategy.
We do not believe, however, that it will always be appropriate for the Secretary of State to consult children directly, as well as those organisations whose role is to identify and represent childrens views and interests. While we want to ensure that both the local and national strategies are informed by the views of children and young people, we acknowledge, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North implied in her intervention, that Government may not always be best placed to achieve this goal. In reaching the most disaffected children or those with complex needs, we want to work with those organisations that represent groups that do not usually take part in Government consultations, and that have the necessary specialist skills.
The hon. Member for Northavon suggested that the Government were failing in their obligations to take the views of children and young people seriously. I do not accept that. We have made the participation of children and young people a priority. The Childrens Commissioner and the DCSFs children and youth board play a crucial role in ensuring that the views of children and young people inform the development of policies. I have taken the trouble to check the obligations of the Childrens Commissioner for England, and they include the andrather than the orapproach that the hon. Gentleman would like us to take. However, the Childrens Commissioner differs significantly from the child poverty commission, because he has the function of promoting awareness of the views and interests of children, whereas the role of the child poverty commission is to advise on strategies to tackle child poverty.
Steve Webb: The Minister refers to the child poverty commission, but clause 9(4) imposes a duty on the Secretary of State, not on the child poverty commission.
Helen Goodman: I understand that, but in implementing strategies and seeking to meet targets, the Secretary of State tries to implement a policy that will be effective in another objective. That is different from being effective in representing the views of children to the world, which is the role of the Childrens Commissioner, and that is why we have handled their role differently.
Judy Mallaber: I am still a little confused as to what difference changing the wording, as proposed by the amendment, would make. The tenor of the amendment is not clear. Would the Minister explain further what she understands would happen as a result of the amendment?
Helen Goodman: My understanding is that in preparing a UK strategy, the Secretary of Stateor the local authorities, as set out in clause 22would have to consult children and organisations working with or representing children in every single case. As the provision is currently drafted, the Secretary of State has a choice about how best to secure the views of children and young people on the issues being considerednamely, drawing up a strategy to tackle child poverty.
I hope that hon. Members will accept my reassurances that we intend that the development of the national and local strategies should benefit from the views of children who have direct experience of living in poverty. In our view, clause 9(4)(c) and clause 22(6) make that intention clear, and the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Northavon is unnecessary. The important point is
Steve Webb: I feel that that was the answer to a different question. The Minister said that it is important to listen to children and that test groups have been commissioned to do research, which has informed policy. She said that Save the Children had undertaken a consultation in which it talked to children, which was good and worthwhile, but she did not want to make it a duty on the Government to do that again. If this is all so worthwhile, why would the Secretary of State want to retain the option of not consulting with children under the Bill as currently drafted?
Helen Goodman: The Secretary of State retains the option of doing it, but is not required to do it in every instance. I think there is a difference.
Steve Webb: I think it is the same thing. I cannot conceive of a Secretary of State wanting to draw up a child poverty strategy where he or she did not consult children directly, so I do not see why we need to leave that option in the Bill and I seek to test the view of the Committee on the amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 7.
Division No. 7]
The Chairman: In accordance with the practice of the House, I cast my vote with the Noes, so as to leave the Bill in its original form.
Question accordingly negatived.
Clause 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
( ) The Scottish Ministers must, on or before each report date relating to a Scottish strategy, lay before the Scottish Parliament a report which
(a) describes the measures taken by the Scottish Ministers in accordance with the Scottish strategy,
(b) describes the effect of those measures in contributing to the meeting of the targets in sections 2 to 5, and
(c) describes other effects of those measures that contribute to the achievement of the purpose mentioned in subsection (2)(b).
( ) The report dates relating to a Scottish strategy are each anniversary of the day on which it was laid before the Scottish Parliament, other than an anniversary which falls
(a) on or after the date on which a subsequent Scottish strategy is so laid, or
(b) after the end of the target year..
This amendment requires the Scottish Ministers to lay before the Scottish Parliament an annual report describing how measures taken in accordance with the current Scottish strategy have contributed to meeting the targets and to ensuring that children in Scotland do not experience socio-economic disadvantage.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2009||Prepared 30 October 2009|