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Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her full response, and to all other noble Lords who have spoken in the debate. I am particularly grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Laming, for pointing out that what we should be doing is producing a commissioner who will act for all children. I hope that when we come to the amendments on equality of opportunity later in our debates they will find favour with the Government. That will ensure that all children's life chances are enhanced by the Bill.
My noble friend Lord Lester asked about the relationship with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. I should like to point out that the new version of Clause 2 gives the commissioner the central function of promoting and safeguarding rights which go beyond the welcome requirement to have regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which is already contained in the Bill. It gives the commissioner the same basic function as those in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The scope of the convention plainly goes wider than the Government's outcomes, so it is consistent with the Government's concession on the role of the UNCRC that we should pass this amendment. The problem with the outcomes on the face of the Bill is that there would be a tendency for people to limit themselves to those outcomes. We want a "rights based" commissioner, which would go further.
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I point out to noble Lords that nothing in the amendment requires the commissioner to respond to individual complaints. We all agree, as we have said many times in Committee, that we do not want the commissioner to get bogged down with many individual cases. There is nothing in the amendment which means that he or she would do so. If we are loading a lot of powers on to the new commissioner
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. The deletion of Clause 2 would remove subsection (6), which stops the commissioner being involved in casework. So, it is not true to say that the commissioner would be prevented from that; quite the opposite.
Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, I thank the Minister for mentioning that. However, that is a matter which can be addressed at the next stage. If we are loading powers on to the commissioner, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth of Breckland, mentioned, we are doing no more than we have already done with the commissioners in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The powers of those commissioners have found great favour with the communities in those legislatures and in particular with the children. The word "disappointment" has been mentioned. If we do not have for English children at least as strong a set of powers and as good a set of rights as for children in the other legislatures, we shall create disappointment among them.
The last major Children Act was in 1989, 15 years ago. This could be our last chance for another 15 years to get this right for children. Our vision of a strong, independent, rights-based commissioner is clearly different from that of some parts of this Government. Strong comments have been made in this debate about the amount of consultation with children. The noble Lord, Lord Laming, referred to the many voluntary organisations that speak to children every day of the week and represent their views and feelings. We have been supported in the amendment by all those organisations. It is a most impressive array of organisations representing many millions of children.
Lord Campbell of Alloway: My Lords, I apologise for interrupting the noble Baroness. Will she deal with the worries that were expressed not only by me and the noble Lord, Lord Laming, about subsection (7)? How will the provision work in practice?
Those words give me confidence that this provision would not take up a major part of the commissioner's time and activity. It would be a last resort, but it is something that particularly the Law Society believes is
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an essential last resort for children that are not being represented as they need to be in any other way. That is an appropriate function for the Children's Commissioner.
So, in view of the very strong feelings expressed by children and by the many organisations that represent them about the weak powers and functions of the commissioner, even with the Government's welcome amendment, which we have incorporated into our amendment, I feel that I would be letting them down if I did not test the opinion of the House.
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