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Lord Carter: I am sure that we are all extremely grateful to the Minister for her typically full reply. On the definition of "disability", we could continue for another hour on the difference between the medical and social models of disability, but I shall not do that.
The grouping was intended to secure a single, well focused debate on the disability issues in the Bill. We have achieved that. The noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, referred to noble Lords interested about disability matters as "a lobby". We are not a lobby but just a group of humble toilers in the legislative vineyard.
Lord Carter: The Minister is always extremely willing to meet noble Lords to discuss a Bill as it
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proceeds. We would certainly welcome a meeting before Report to have a constructive discussion on the matters that we have debated today, particularly the issues dealt with in Clauses 10, 11 and 20, the latter of which is perhaps the most important issue in the Bill.
Today's debate has emphasised that the Equality Bill, when it becomes law, will play a crucial part in securing civil rights for disabled people. Given the nature of the grouping, I do not intend to wind up the debate in the usual way, as there are so many issues to consider. We shall certainly want to read extremely carefully what my noble friend has said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: This comparatively small group includes Amendments Nos. 8 and 99, tabled in my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. Both amendments refer to the problem of how children will deal with the commission. Amendment No. 8 states that,
The basis for the amendment is simply that a lot of adult-dominated discussion takes placeespecially if there is a room full of adults and they are not told to consult about children. It is not a conspiracy theory; it is simply a case of "What we do is normal and what we are is normal" and that depends on who is in the room.
Amendment No. 99 would make a more substantive change. It would place a duty on the commission to relate to children properlythat is to say, to provide information and so on. Of the two amendments, Amendment No. 99 is probably the big one. The old Jesuit model "The first seven years and yours for life" is a sound principle. It is probably a good thing if children know not only their rights but also their obligations to other groups. The imposition of that duty on the commission is very positive if it promotes the idea of respect for different groups and the need to address groups regarded as being outside the norm. I suggest that placing such a duty on the commission would probably be a positive thing. Indeed, it may be something of a pre-emptive strike, if it is correctly done.
At this stage, we are probing the Government to find out what, they think, will happen and how far their thinking is addressing the problem. I will be interested to hear the Government's response. If we get this right, we may well remove a good number of the problems that could occur later on. It is a bit like preventive healthcare: it is difficult to work up enthusiasm for it now, but it always pays off. I beg to move.
Lord Northbourne: I have a question about Amendments Nos. 8 and 99. I am probably as concerned
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as anyone in the Committee about the well-being of children, but I do not think that you can consult children in a vacuum.
Rightly or wrongly, our society decrees that children grow up in a family and are, as far as is possible, brought up by their parents. If you create legislation that increasingly provides for children to be consulted without providing for consultation with their parents or their family, you send a confusing message to the child and to the parents.
There is perfectly good justification for consulting children. Older children have interesting and important ideas, and one needs also to hear the feelings of younger children, which are sometimes difficult to understand unless you know the children well. However, consultation with children, depending on their age, must be linked with consultation with parents and families. Otherwise, the children will get the wrong message that their parents and their family are not important and are not respected by government. Parents and families are increasingly getting the message that this Government believe in direct approaches to children, leaving families out of the picture.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I, too, support the amendments. Apart from anything else, it is crucial that the rights and interests of children, as children feel them, should be among the activities of the commission.
Amendment No. 8 would help to ensure that the commission had the expertise and vision to promote and protect children's human rights and deal with children's equality issues. Like many other organisations and bodies, the commission needs a high-level post holder with a special focus on and understanding of the needs of children. I fear that, without that, children rights and interests will be lost in the large new body. We must also remember that the English Children's Commissioner has less strength, let us say, than the other three commissioners.
Age equality is the strand that perhaps comes a bit later. It is expected next year. By then, it may be too late to squeeze children into the commission, so having a commissioner who has an interest in and knowledge of childrenI do not suggest only thatwill ensure that there is someone there right from the beginning.
I turn to Amendment No. 75. Equality and diversity are not adult-only concerns; they are central to children too. In October 2002, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, the international treaty-monitoring body for the Convention on the Rights of the Child, issued concluding observations on the UK. On discrimination, the committee said that it was,
"concerned that the principle of non-discrimination was not fully implemented for all children in all parts of the State party and that unequal enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights still existed, in particular for children with disabilities, children from poor families, Irish and Roma travellers' children, asylum and refugee children".
At the same time, it is important that the commission have a legal duty to inform children and raise awareness of equality and diversity issues, first so that children and their parents can be informed of their rights and secondly to assist children to understand and respect others. That was said by the noble Lord who moved the amendment. If we want children to contact and use the commission to help remedy discrimination, we must first tell them about their rights and duties.
With regard to Amendment No. 84, I would argue that a human rights culture cannot be achieved without the active engagement and education of children. The Commission for Equality and Human Rights will quickly become a body of expertise on human rights as well as equality. After all, it is the commission's job to promote human rights. It is imperative that that expertise includes children's human rights and that children and their parents, carers and advocates see that the body is working for them too.
Amendment No. 99 would put children into the Bill by addressing and making provision for their information and consultation needs. We cannot begin to expect the commission to serve children well, without placing a duty on it to inform and consult children appropriately about human rights and equality issues. Those are not luxuries; they are the minimum requirement for making sure that the commission works for children.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: I rise with a certain diffidence because I got into enough trouble on the Children Bill with the children's rights organisations for brokering a compromise that allowed parents to smack their children in certain circumstances without committing a crime. I hope that nothing that I say now will cause further offence to that powerful and important lobby.
I would be grateful if the Minister could say whether my understanding of the Bill is the same as hers in this respect. It seems to me that the position is something like this: children are human beings and have human rights in the way that adults have human rights, except that they are children. As I understand it, under Clause 9, the commission is to,
in fulfilling its duties under Clauses 8, 10 or 11. Relevant human rights include not only the European Convention on Human Rights but, for example, the rights protected in international law by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Therefore, the commission shall have to have regard to the rights of children, in particular, which are codified and enshrined in that important international treaty.
No doubt, the appointments will, to some extent, be sensitive to that, but the way in which the commission works will have to achieve the aims that noble Lords
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have pressed for in speaking to the amendments. If that is right, it would help me to understand the position.
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