Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 37-39)




  37. Welcome, Minister. It is a pleasure to welcome you to this meeting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. Welcome to you, Ms Efunshile, it is good of you to appear before us. You will know, I am sure, that the background to this session for us is that it will help to conclude the first of the themed parts of our inquiry into the case for a human rights commission which has focused on children particularly and as to whether or not there is a case for a commissioner for children's rights. Also, it gives an opportunity to discuss with you the government's compliance with and implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, following the UN Committee's concluding observations which were issued on 4 October. That is the background to today for us. Now, we noted that the UN Committee welcomed the progress which had been made by the government in advancing children's rights and interests. They refer to the Human Rights Act and other legislation; efforts to reduce child poverty; the establishment of the Children and Young People's Unit and things like SureStart, Parent Line and the increasing participation of children in government, local authorities and civil society. Given that the principal target of government policy is the commitment to reduce and eventually eliminate child poverty, aside from that what would you say might be termed their economic and social rights and to what extent do you acknowledge a deficit in these enjoyed by children in the UK at present?

  (Mr Denham) Firstly, Chair, can I say how pleased I am to be in front of the Committee with, as you said, Althea Efunshile who is the Director of Children and Young People's Unit. We welcome the chance to give evidence on the UN Convention. I am pleased that you, with the UN, have acknowledged the very significant commitment we have made, for example, to tackling child poverty. So far as other rights are concerned, of course the enactment of the ECHR into domestic law applies to children and I think enshrines in law many significant rights which are found, also, within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. If you look perhaps at where we have prioritised work, certainly in my time as the Minister for Children and Young People, it would be around Article 12 of the UN Convention, the right to be heard. We have put in place over the last year a very substantial programme of work aimed at ensuring that central government encourages the participation of young people and consults much more widely and effectively with young people in the formation of policy that is going to affect young people. I suppose my reflection on that would be doing that work probably indicates that we would say that the right of young people to be heard is an area where there is a considerable amount of work to be done, and that is one of the issues we have been addressing over the last year.

  38. With regard to the civil and political rights of children, we have children detained still with adults and they are remanded still with convicted prisoners. Would you characterise the overall strategy of government policy as including a commitment to widen the human rights of children, bearing in mind what I have just said?
  (Mr Denham) I think I would say that we were trying to do two or three things at the same time. Our policies towards children and young people are aimed at improving the outcomes for young people, that is whether it is reducing poverty or improving health or education success or emotional well-being. Certainly that is what we indicated last year when we began the consultation on the overarching strategy for children and young people which we hope to publish in the not too distant future. We start with an emphasis on outcomes, I think. We have a deep belief that we are unlikely to achieve those outcomes unless we respect the rights of young people and, for example, the right of young people to be listened to and to influence policy seems to me to be inseparable from getting policies for young people right. We are unlikely to get policies which are effective and achieve the right outcomes for young people. We need to promote the rights of young people in order to produce the overall outcomes which the government is seeking. Thirdly, there are areas, clearly, where young people need rights, as it were, in their own right but we do see rights and positive outcomes for young people as very much going together not as two separate strands of government policy.

  39. I am sure the Committee will be very pleased to hear the emphasis on the right of children to be heard. This was something particularly raised with us by children who gave evidence in front of us earlier this year. Could you tell us whether departments have a budget for this, whether any money has been put into consulting with children and giving them the right to be heard? We know such initiatives cost money.
  (Mr Denham) Yes, they do. That would be the responsibility of individual governments. As you know, the main domestic departments all agreed in November last year a set of principles for the participation of young people in policy making. I think all those departments have published the way in which they intend to work now, naturally we expect departments to resource that from their own resources just as we would expect departments to resource any other consultation whether it was Green Papers or aimed at any other section of the community. Our aim here is to mainstream good practice and participation rather than see it as a one-off exercise. I would not have thought it would be appropriate to try and fund that centrally. An element of the work of the Children and Young People's Unit though is supporting departments in introducing good practice and giving them advice on how to go about doing it.

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