2 Implementation of the UNCRC |
An implementation plan?
12. In December 2007, the Government published
its first Children's Plan, which aimed "to put the needs
of families, children and young people at the centre of everything
we do". It
set out the Government's plans for the next 10 years under each
of the Department for Children, Schools and Families' strategic
objectives. The introduction records that the Plan has been developed
with regard to the principles and Articles of the UNCRC. Annex
B states that "the content of each chapter relates to the
clusters of Articles of the UNCRC and takes forward the recommendations
of the UN Committee".
Beyond references to an understanding of human rights as part
of a child's education, however, the body of the Children's Plan
makes no further mention of the UNCRC, or of human rights.
13. In 2008, the Government published a one year
Progress Report on implementation of the Children's Plan.
The Progress Report was published after the publication of the
UNCRC's latest Concluding Observations. The Government described
the Concluding Observations of the UNCRC as a "helpful framework
for further action" and stated that the December 2008 update
to the Children's Plan "sets out England's priorities for
taking forward the UN Committee's recommendations".
This is provided in an Annex to the Progress Report which sets
out some of the UNCRC's recommendations alongside the Government's
priorities for action, in general terms.
14. We note that the Children's Plan relates
only to England. The Scottish Government has published an implementation
plan for consultation.
It has also established a stakeholders' group to monitor progress
in dealing with the UNCRC's Concluding Observations. The Minister
told us that "each devolved administration will address the
UN Committee's Concluding Observations as appropriate to their
15. Publication of the Children's Plan and Progress
Report has been widely welcomed.
However, they were not seen by some witnesses to be a sufficient
response to the UNCRC's recommendations. Some witnesses criticised
the Progress Report for only addressing a small number of the
UNCRC's recommendations and stated that they were not clear why
some recommendations had been prioritised over others.
A number of witnesses recommended that the UK Government should
publish a detailed UK-wide action plan on implementation of the
UNCRC, to include milestones and interim dates
and to be co-ordinated nationally, rather than by the four nations
16. We asked the Minister to explain how the
UNCRC's recommendations were prioritised in order to arrive at
the list in the Annex to the Progress Report. The Minister explained
that they reflected those areas which the Government had identified
within the recommendations where more could be done to further
implement the Convention.
The Minister suggested that the UK was responsible for "co-ordinating
our responses to the progress on the Convention" and that
she would be meeting Ministers from the devolved administrations
"to discuss a UK wide approach to addressing the Concluding
Observations and the possibility of devising a UK wide action
17. We welcome the publication
of the Children's Plan and Progress Report, including the Annex
pointing to the Government's priorities for implementing the UNCRC's
recommendations in England. We note the Scottish Government's
decision to consult on implementation of the UNCRC's recommendations
in Scotland and suggest that this is an example of good practice
which should be followed across the UK.
18. Although we recognise that
the devolved administrations have responsibility for certain areas
of children's rights, we note that the UK Government is ultimately
responsible for ensuring that it complies with its international
human rights obligations under the UNCRC. The role of the UK
Government is both to co-ordinate national efforts on implementing
the Convention and to report to the UNCRC on progress.
19. We agree with witnesses
that it is not advisable to leave implementation to each nation
to deal with separately. We recommend that the UK Government
devise a comprehensive and detailed plan for implementation of
the UNCRC recommendations across the UK. This should be completed
in conjunction with the devolved administrations and the Children's
Commissioners, and be subject to widespread consultation. Crucially,
the participation of children and young people should be actively
sought and facilitated at all stages in the process, including
during the implementation stage. In our view, such a Plan would
be beneficial to the Government, devolved administrations, service
providers and children and young people themselves. The finalised
plan should be published and subjected to regular monitoring and
evaluation. We recommend that the Government publishes annual
reports in order to monitor progress on implementation more regularly
than is required by the UN monitoring process.
Incorporation into law
20. The UN Committee has recommended that the
UNCRC should be incorporated into UK law,
a point echoed by numerous witnesses to our inquiry.
21. All four of the Children's Commissioners
called for the UNCRC to be incorporated into UK law. The Northern
Ireland Commissioner went as far as stating that "the biggest
problem facing the realisation of children's rights in Northern
Ireland is the absence of domestic legislation fully incorporating
children's rights in legislation".
The Commissioner saw the Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland
as an opportunity to incorporate the UNCRC into law. The Commissioner
for Wales remarked on the particular difficulties caused by devolution,
noting that "the danger
is we might find devolved
administrations moving at a different pace".
The Scottish Commissioner drew attention to the fact that the
Scottish Government was considering scrutinising all legislation
for compliance with human rights and possibly including a statement
on children's rights in policy memoranda accompanying Bills.
22. Children's England and the NSPCC suggested
that the UK needed to build a culture of respect for children's
to Children's England, this could be achieved by embedding principles
of children's rights in policy-making and practice and ensuring
a clear and common understanding of what children's human rights
also advocated increasing awareness of the Convention amongst
children, parents and professionals working with children,
through training, professional development and sustained Government
funding. The Equality
and Human Rights Commission and the NSPCC called for the principle
of the paramountcy of the child's best interests to be established
in all areas of UK law and practice.
23. Addressing the issue of incorporation during
debate on the Children's and Young Person's Bill, however, the
then Children's Minister, Beverley Hughes MP, said:
What matters most is giving children that good experience
of childhood and having a Government who progressively want to
go further to promote the well-being of children, rather than
confirming by referring to the Convention in every single piece
of legislation or going through the arduous process of incorporating
it all together in one big piece of legislation, which would frankly
be a fruitless task.
24. We asked the Minister to explain why the
Government considers that incorporating the Convention into UK
law would be "a fruitless task". In response, Baroness
Morgan stressed the Government's commitment to the UNCRC, but
argued that the Government implemented the Convention through
a number of separate pieces of legislation and did not consider
it necessary to incorporate the Convention into law in order to
honour its international obligations.
Pressing the Minister, we requested an analysis to show that
there are effective domestic legal remedies for potential breaches
of each Article of the Convention.
The Minister replied to this request in correspondence stating:
The question assumes that there is a direct legal
remedy which could be relied upon in respect of any breach of
the UNCRC. However, the UK meets its obligations under the UNCRC
through a combination of legislation, policy initiatives and guidance.
25. The Minister pointed to its commissioning
of "an updated high-level mapping of the legislation and
policy that supports the UNCRC in England" and promised to
provide us with this overview once it is available. We
look forward to receiving it.
She also noted that where UNCRC obligations are met through legislation,
the usual remedies applicable to that provision would apply, as
well as the possibility of challenging a decision of a public
authority for failure to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998,
judicial review or the use of complaints mechanisms.
26. In our previous Report on the UNCRC, we concluded:
We do not accept that the goal of incorporation of
the Convention into UK law is unrealisable. We believe the Government
should be careful not to dismiss all the provisions of the Convention
on the Rights of the Child as purely "aspirational"
and, despite the ways
in which the CRC is currently able
to exert influence, we firmly believe that children will be better
protected by incorporation of at least some of the rights, principles
and provisions of the Convention into UK law.
27. We note that whilst the European Convention
on Human Rights (ECHR), effectively incorporated by the Human
Rights Act 1998, applies to children as it does to adults, it
does not provide an equivalent degree of specificity to the UNCRC,
but is instead expressed in generic terms. It also does not have
the breadth of coverage of the UNCRC. It would not therefore
be correct to assume that for every alleged breach of the UNCRC
there is a relevant Article of the ECHR which an individual would
be able to invoke in court proceedings in the UK. There may therefore
be a significant gap between the domestic remedies provided by
the Human Rights Act and the ECHR on the one hand and, on the
other, the remedies which would potentially be available to individuals
were they able to rely on the UNCRC directly in court proceedings
in the UK.
28. The Government has not persuaded
us that children's rights are already adequately protected by
UK law, nor that incorporation of the UNCRC is unnecessary. We
agree with those witnesses who emphasised the benefits of incorporation,
accompanied by directly enforceable rights. It is significant
that all four Children's Commissioners in the UK, with their extensive
experience of working with children, think it would make a real
practical difference to children if the UNCRC were incorporated
into UK law. However, we recommend that further information be
given by the Government about the extent to which the UNCRC rights
are or are not already protected by UK law.
29. The UN Committee recommends that any Bill
of Rights for Northern Ireland or the UK should incorporate the
principles and provisions of the UNCRC and include a special section
on children's rights.
In our Report on a UK Bill of Rights, we supported the inclusion
of rights relating to children in a future Bill of Rights. Responding
to our Report, the Government accepted that a Bill of Rights could
make special provision for children.
In its Green Paper consulting on a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities,
the Government stated that:
It is open to exploring whether and, if so, how a
Bill could be used to improve children's wellbeing and their standing
and respect for children in UK society and how such a Bill could
encourage the sense of rights and responsibilities we want from
everyone with regard to children in our society. In particular,
it seeks views on how the rights of all children, young people
and their families might be articulated, along with the responsibilities
we all share to secure these.
But that it:
would not want to create new avenues of redress
for individuals in the courts. Rather, it would be seeking to
influence the actions of public bodies and to emphasise the importance
of children and their wellbeing in UK society.
It did not suggest that a Bill of Rights and Responsibilities
would be used to incorporate the UNCRC.
30. We reiterate our recommendation
on the merits of including children's rights within any Bill of
Rights for the UK. We are pleased to note that the Government
is open to the possibility of their special protection, but are
disappointed that this does not extend to creating directly enforceable
rights or using the Bill of Rights to incorporate the UNCRC.
We urge the Government to ensure that it consults widely on this
question to ascertain how many of those working closely with children
share the Government's view that it would make no practical difference
to the lives of children.
31. In the meantime we are disappointed
that the Government has rejected even our modest proposal that
the UNCRC be made the framework of local Children and Young People's
The Government resisted our proposed amendment to the Apprenticeships,
Skills, Children and Learning Bill, which would have required
Children's Trust Boards to have regard to the need to implement
the UNCRC when preparing their Children and Young Person's Plans.
It told us that it considers
it to be "unnecessary to have any specific provision falling
on the Children's Trust Board to have regard to the UNCRC when
preparing its plan", that the UK complies with its obligations
under the UNCRC through a mixture of legislative, executive and
judicial action, and that its legislation is consistent with the
provisions of the Convention.
We do not consider the Secretary
of State's response to be an adequate answer to the case we made
in our Report. We do not understand why the Secretary of State
is content to draw up his own Children's Plan with regard to the
principles and Articles of the UNCRC, but is not prepared to require
the authorities drawing up local Children's Plans to do the same.
We ask the Secretary of State to reconsider and to ask the relevant
local authorities to draw up their plans with due regard to the
need to implement the UNCRC and the recommendations of the UN
20 Department for Children, Schools and Families, The
Children's Plan: Building Brighter Futures, Cm 7280, December
2007, p. 3. Back
Ibid., pp 15, 159. Back
Department for Children, Schools and Families, The Children's
Plan One Year On: A Progress Report, December 2008. Back
Ibid., p. 208. Back
Consultation on the Scottish Government's Response to the 2008
Concluding Observations from the UN Committee on the Rights of
the Child, 15 December 2008. Back
Ev 26 Back
Ev 47, 72, 157 Back
Ev 62, 158, 185, 189 Back
Ev 28, 186 Back
Ev 26 Back
Q 40 Back
UNCRC's Concluding Observations on UK, op. cit., para.
Ev 148 Back
Q 31 Back
Q 33 Back
Ev 47, 139 Back
Ev 47 Back
Ev 139 Back
Ev 47, 185 Back
Ev 92, 139 Back
PBC Deb, 24 June 2008, col 46. Back
Q 109 Back
Q 116 Back
Ev 25 Back
Ev 25 Back
See note 5, above. Back
See note 32 above, para. 11. Back
Third Report of Session 2008-09, A Bill of Rights for the UK?
Government's Response to the Committee's Twenty-Ninth Report of
Session 2007-08, HL Paper 15, HC 145, p. 18. Back
Ministry of Justice, Rights and Responsibilities: Developing
our Constitutional Framework, Cm 7577, March 2009, para. 3.66. Back
Ibid., para. 3.67. Back
Fourteenth Report of Session 2008-09, Legislative Scrutiny:
Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill, HL Paper
78, HC 414, paras 2.42-2.48. Back
Ibid, para. 2.46; HC Deb, 5 May 2009. Back