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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: There are a number of options available. The commission can bring to the attention of a home problems which it is hoped the home will wish to put right. If a serious situation arises in which the commission considers that harm may be done to residents, an application can be made to a magistrate for the home to be closed. If a situation arises which is not serious but in which none the less the home has refused to make good whatever are the deficiencies, the commission can go through a process which would lead to eventual de-registration. There are also offences in the Bill relating to homes which are carrying on as a home but are not registered. There is also an appeal mechanism, a tribunal to which homes can appeal if they are dissatisfied or aggrieved with the commission's action. There is a whole phalanx of actions that can be taken, depending on the seriousness of the case.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: Can members of the public report deficiencies to the commission?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Yes, we would very much encourage the commission to invite comments from members of the public.

Lord Laming: Before the Minister sits down--I apologise if I misheard him--did he say that if, for example, someone stayed overnight in an independent hospital providing cosmetic surgery, he would not need or receive the same safeguards as if, for example, he had that treatment in an NHS hospital or even an NHS pay bed?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, I did not say that. I pointed out an example where, in relation to minor low-risk cosmetic surgery, the standard required for that surgery might be different from that required from a hospital providing major emergency services.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: Patients may still get an infection.

Baroness David: I should like to thank those noble Lords who have supported me in my Amendment

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No. 23--the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, even though he was not quite sure about the wording, and the noble Lords, Lord Laming and Lord Northbourne.

But I should like to say to the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that, in fact, the amendment does not refer to children at all. It refers to the users of the services--those cared for under the provisions of Part II of the Bill. When I spoke, I referred to the users of the services--children, elderly people, those with illnesses or disabilities. I hope that the noble Lord will understand that this amendment, unlike many of my others, is not about children alone.

As far as the Minister is concerned, I must say that I was rather disappointed with his response. I shall, of course, read carefully what he said and look at paragraphs (b) and (e) of Clause 20(1), as he asked me to. But I thought the thrust of my amendment was generally felt in the whole group and I shall read the whole debate on this group with great interest and consider what to do and whether to come forward with this amendment again with, perhaps, fresh wording.

But in the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness David moved Amendment No. 24:

    Page 4, line 24, at end insert--

("( ) In the exercise of its functions the Commission shall give due consideration to the views of children affected by the provisions of this Act.").

The noble Baroness said: This is the first of a number of amendments which I have tabled about children. I should like to say that these are probing amendments--I have no intention of dividing the House on them--but I should also like to say that they are backed by the Children's Advocacy Consortium which comprises the NSPCC, the Children's Society, Childline, children's rights officers and advocates, national youth advocacy services and Voice for the Child in Care. So they have support from a great number of organisations which do a lot of work for children.

This Amendment No. 24, which is grouped with Amendment No. 26, seeks to ensure that the national care standards commission considers the wishes and feelings of children.

The Children Act required both the courts in private family cases and local authorities in regard to looked-after children to give consideration to the wishes and feelings of children affected by their decision-making. It is therefore consistent under domestic law that the national care standards commission should be placed under a similar duty.

Considering the views of children is, of course, also a requirement of Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the UK after the Children Act was enacted. The Government are due to report to the UN-based Committee on the Rights of the Child and would gain credit if they had made some effort in implementing Article 12 since they last reported. This is very important. Our support for the UN convention should be recognised.

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Under this amendment the commission is not bound to follow the views of children, simply to give them due consideration. The amendment's purpose is simply to ensure that the commission keeps in touch with the views of those it is trying to help. This is something that the Government have continually urged local authorities to do under the Quality Protects programme and it is difficult to see how they should not apply the same principles to the national care standards commission. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us on this.

I now move to Amendment No. 26, which seeks to create a separate children's commission within the national care standards commission.

The White Paper Modernising Social Services recognises the risk of the national care commission not giving sufficient priority to children's interest and views. That is why regional children's rights officers were proposed. While the reintroduction of these regional posts is necessary, this alone would not ensure that the commission works for children. It is proposed that an arm of the national care commission is established to deal with all matters connected with the regulation of children's services.

The establishment of a children's commission would have three main benefits. First, its philosophy and framework would be developed completely with children in mind. Secondly, staff recruited to work within the commission would have an unequivocal commitment to, and expertise in, safeguarding children's welfare. Thirdly, children and young people would regard the commission as theirs and would be more likely to participate in its work and view it as a place to which to turn when their rights or welfare were being seriously jeopardised. So I ask the Minister to think seriously about this amendment. It would be a great help to children. I beg to move.

6.45 p.m.

Lord Clement-Jones: I rise, very briefly, to support the noble Baroness, Lady David, in Amendments Nos. 24 and 26. The Bill, of course, makes provision for a children's rights director. But, in our view, that does not go far enough and we should like to see a separate commission appointed by the commission itself to provide a clear focus on children's issues. It would be separate, promoting the rights and interests of children and young people in accordance with the principles and standards of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the noble Baroness referred.

Those articles of the UN convention complement recent government child-centred initiatives, such as Quality Protects and Sure Start, and therefore would be entirely consistent with that. But we believe that it is necessary to go further in the way the noble Baroness has suggested. We very much support these amendments.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: Having been a member of a board of visitors of a young offender institution for many years, I have often thought those young

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people had much more protection than those in children's homes. They could come to a member of the board of visitors which had direct access to the Home Secretary and could take an issue forward. I should therefore like to support the two amendments. Children should have their voices heard.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: I thank my noble friend for allowing us to discuss these very important issues.

I deal first with Amendment No. 24. There is no doubt that a crucial role of the regulatory process is that the views of service users are heard. I refer my noble friend to Clause 28(3)(f) which contains the relevant provisions. Clause 28(3) states:

    "A person authorised by virtue of this section to enter and inspect premises may ...

    (f)-interview in private any patient or person accommodated or cared for there who consents to be interviewed".

Interviewing children during inspections is a core activity. It has been a requirement of the Social Services Inspectorate for a number of years. I assure the Committee that children's views will be at the forefront of the regulatory process, including inspection. Ensuring that children are listened to will be a crucial function of the children's rights director who will be a key senior appointment in the commission.

I turn to Amendment No. 26. I draw attention to the Government's previous statements as to the particular importance of children's rights as a responsibility of the national care standards commission. That is reflected in the establishment of a children's rights director in paragraph 10 of Schedule 1. It is extremely important for me to emphasise that that will be a senior post, accountable to the chief executive of the commission. The postholder will play a major role in safeguarding the interests of looked-after children or others in receipt of services regulated and inspected by the national care standards commission.

My noble friend put forward arguments for a children's rights commissioner. She referred to the first sentence of Article 4 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which states that parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in this convention. It is true that that sentence has been interpreted by those in the field of children's rights as a mandate for structures and/or institutions to be created such as an ombudsman or commissioner for children. Members of the Committee will appreciate that the remit of a children's rights commissioner in that interpretation will inevitably span the responsibilities of a number of departments, not just the Department of Health.

The Government considered whether there was a case for a children's rights commissioner to be appointed. It was considered by Ministers and discussed with children's rights groups early in 1998. The Government concluded at that time that they were not persuaded that it would be desirable to create such a national mechanism. However--it is important to stress this--the Government are extremely committed,

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through a range of other initiatives, to keeping the issues of children's rights and safeguards clearly and firmly on the Government's collective agenda. That includes the ministerial task force on children's safeguards and the proposal in this Bill to establish a children's rights director.

I turn to Amendment No. 26. A further tier within the national care standards commission, as proposed in the amendment, would lead to the risk of duplication and a general confusion of functions. I do not believe that such an arrangement--one body within another--would be practical or that it could work. Within the commission there must be clear lines of accountability and responsibility. I know that we shall return to those issues when we debate the schedule. I believe that children's rights and interests are best safeguarded through the commission having responsibility for them and through the establishment of a children's rights director.

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