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I shall speak only to Amendments Nos. 75 and 84. Children are the missing category in the Bill. We know from experience that children are often more conscious of diversity and less judgmental about it than adults. They really celebrate it. We all know from our personal experience, even though in some cases it might be some years ago, that familiar refrain from a child"it's not fair". I would argue that this sense of fairness is the precursor to growing awareness of justice, which is the basis of equality.
But equality and diversity should not be left to chance. If the commission is to work for children, we must make that clear in the legislation. All we seek to doperhaps I may remind my noble friend Lord Lesteris to promote an understanding of the importance of equality. These two amendments do not guarantee their rights, but seek to promote an understanding of those rights among children as a specially designated group.
Children require very distinctive and different communication strategies, which is why we want to do this. Educational programmes promoting equality and diversity to them will require information to be prepared in appropriate language and different formats, and to be disseminated to all the places which are familiar to them. That stretches beyond schools or, indeed, the family, to which my noble friend referred, and includes leisure centres, youth clubs, cinemas, libraries, hospitals, health centres and so on.
The point of the amendments is that if legislation explicitly requires the promotion of equality and diversity among children, the commission will have to recruit appropriately skilled and experienced staff and will have to communicate directly with them.
Lord Lester of Herne Hill: It is always particularly enjoyable when Liberal Democrats show their diversity of views. I wonder whether my noble friend follows what I seek to explain. If one looks at Clause 9, the commission has to promote,
including the rights of the child, which will affect them. We have a Children's Commissioner who is meant to be doing all the other issues, which we debated at great length in a separate Bill. I cannot, for the life of me, see why one needs this clogging of the Bill with extra provisions, which is the point on which I seek enlightenment.
Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I fear that Members of the Committee will have to endure this private grief for a few seconds longer. In accepting what my noble friend Lord Lester has said, the existing clauses do not accept that the approach in dealing, in communicating
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and in promoting an understanding of human rights to children will be different from the approach that would apply to adults. In putting that in the Bill, the commission would have to recruit the appropriate skilled and experienced staff and communicate directly, which I was getting to when my noble friend Lord Lester intervened. I would argue that the likelihood of undertaking outreach work would be much improved. It is not a "do or die" situation. I am sure that I will not die in the last ditch for this. But I am trying to say that the likelihood will be improved if the duty is spelled out in the Bill.
Turning to Clause 84, an understanding of human rights is fundamental to notions of equality. Understanding the often conflicting and contradictory aspects of human rights comes through education and deliberation. While schools may well do sterling work in that area, they cannot of themselves be given sole responsibility for inculcating a respect for human rights in our future citizens who, as we become a more diverse country, will need to be ever more conscious of our common humanity.
If we want children to understand and respect human rights, we must make provision for that in this regulation. As the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, has already said, international law requires the promotion of human rights and Article 42 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is clear about the need to disseminate that information to children.
All we are really saying in these amendments is that from the start children must be seen as a key stakeholder and beneficiary of the commission; that the promotional work of this new and vital body should be cutting edge and innovative; and that it should lead the way in demonstrating how a human rights and equality institution set up for everyone can have children at its centre.
Baroness David: My name is attached to Amendments Nos. 75 and 84 and I strongly support Amendments Nos. 8 and 99 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. I thought that we had already established that the voice of the child should be heard. I am rather surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, finds it unnecessary to mention children. It is very odd that children are not mentioned in the Bill. I am very keen that they should be and we must make sure about that.
Children who have been consulted about the new body have shown great optimism and clarity on how it could achieve a better society. One child said that the commission should promote young people as equal members of society, while another urged,
"I believe equality is a good thing for the world to take on board and must be implemented to make all people and citizens of the world feel they should be treated equalas they deserve to beand action is taken to assure their feelings become reality".
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, mentioned the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I know that Amendment No. 86 is not in the group, but it is
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important that it should be in the Bill. I think that it was the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, who, during the passage of the Children Bill, agreed that the commissioner must have regard to the convention. I hope that she will agree that we must also have the provision in this Bill. So I await what happens.
I do not agree with the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, that parents have got to be mentioned if children are. Children are people by themselves. They might not agree with their parents. Their voices are to be heard, not as part of the family in this caseimportant though the family is, as we are always hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne. I hope very much that the Minister will be sympathetic to these amendments.
Baroness Ashton of Upholland: I apologise to my noble friend. I nearly cut her off, but I had not seen her. Had I seen her, I would have known that she would speak on thisand quite rightly too. As my noble friend said in her remarks, there was a consultation with young people. It was conducted by the Department of Trade and Industry in partnership with the Children's Rights Alliance. One hundred young people aged 14 to 19 were consulted on the idea of both the commission and the White Paper.
I gatherand this is why I smiled when the note appearedthat one participant described it as "the most boring day of my life". Something that I love about young people is that they tell you like it is. There is no mealy-mouthedness about them. We want to see the active involvement of children and young people in this context as part of the beginning of the commission's work and it is something that we want to see actively continued. They are important in that context.
As regards the interesting little debate on the Liberal Democrat Benches between two noble friends, I tend to take the view that the noble Lord, Lord Lester, put forward. As the noble Lord said, in the Bill children and young people have human rights. They are people and they are therefore covered. As noble Lords will know, if they are already covered, there is no need to put them in again. When looking at Clause 9(2)(b), "other human rights", the example that I was given by the officials when I asked them to explain it to me was the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. There is no disagreement between the Government and what is being sought here. It is simply that the vast majority of it is already achieved because it is already in legislation.
There will be a Memorandum of Understanding between our new Children's Commissioner, Al Aynsley-Green, who has just taken up the post, and the commission to make sure that we do not leave anything out. In other words, children are to be fully represented and supported in the work that the Children's Commissioner will undertake and the work of the CEHR. They will complement and strengthen each other in the best possible way.
Turning briefly to the group of amendments, with regard to Amendment No. 8 the Secretary of State is required to look at knowledge and experience when
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appointing commissioners. We would expect those to include knowledge and experience of issues relating to children and young people. Therefore those requirements are already covered.
On Amendments Nos. 75 and 84, the commission has a duty to promote good practice in relation to equality and diversity and to promote equality of opportunity. That already includes children and young people, as do the duties relating to human rights and encouraging public authorities to comply with their human rights obligations. Noble Lords will know that issues of violence linked to racism and the education and support of children with special educational needs are important areas which, between the Children's Commissioner and the commission, will be looked at with enormous interest and, I hope, to good effect.
Amendment No. 99 addresses communication with children. We have already talked about the independence of this body. I believe that we must allow the commission to develop its own mechanisms to ensure that all its stakeholders, including children and young people, are consulted with and engaged wherever appropriate in the commission's work. But that means recognising that there will be differences in the work undertaken by the commission. I am not sure that age equality would take us very far because children are different. A lot of the age equality work is for those between 18 and 118 and does not address the specific needs of children and young people. However, I accept that the way in which they are dealt with is of great importance; that is, making sure that such communication is effective. The same is true for people with learning disabilities. We need to think of means of communication that are as effective as possible.
The simple argument put forward by the Government is that we agree with the principles behind these amendments, but we do not feel the need to prescribe them in legislation. Given what I have said about our expectations of the commission and what is already covered in the legislation, I hope that the noble Lord is fully reassured and will agree to withdraw his amendment.
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