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Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, on the subject of ridiculous taxes, will the Minister take this opportunity to assure us that the reports which have appeared in newspapers that the Government are thinking of taxing the views or other amenities that properties might havefor example, proximity to golf coursesare complete media fantasy and that the Government have no such plans?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord has probably been reading too many copies of the Daily Express or the Daily Mail. I suspect that the noble Lord is confused and that this matter is part of a wider discussion on valuation issues.
The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, in examining the request from local authorities for funding will the noble Lord consider the steeply rising expectations regarding children in state care and foster carers? Given that the chief inspector has, I believe, found that 40 per cent of children placed in foster care are in inappropriate placements, and that 16 and 17 year-olds are being pushed out of foster care prematurely, partly because of the shortage of 8,000 foster carers in England, will he look very carefully at this area?
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Government have well advanced policies in this area. Of course, we keep all these matters under review. We are committing substantial resources to ensure that we get good quality childcare of the kind that I know the noble Earl is particularly proud of.
Lord Joffe: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to enable an adult who has capacity and who is suffering unbearably as a result of a terminal illness to receive medical assistance to die at his own considered and persistent request; and for connected purposes. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Moved, That Standing Order 41 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Friday 18 November to allow the Motion standing in the name of the Lord Goodhart to be taken before the Second Reading of the Estate Agents (Independent Redress Scheme) Bill [HL].(Baroness Amos.)
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving Amendment No. 1, I wish to speak also to Amendment No. 2 with which it is grouped. At an earlier stage of the Bill, we tried to obtain an explicit reference in Clause 9 to the Convention on the Rights of the Child. I set out four main reasons for doing this. The convention is the most ratified of all human rights treaties. It is one of the most comprehensive treaties covering children's rights. Children are uniquely vulnerable and easy to ignore and England's 11 million
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children, unlike those in the rest of the UK, do not have a rights-based Children's Commissioner. On that occasion I was delighted that the Minister said that she would go away and think about how to ensure that the commission will work for children. That has always been our pointto gain assurances that children will very much be part of this vital new body. The Minister well understands that we are looking for a steadfast guarantee that children will be included in the establishment, operation and review of the commission, and that that will not be left to chance or good will.
Amendments Nos. 1 and 2, which we are debating today, avoid the problem of lists that the Minister described in her reply. "Children and adults" includes everybody. It could be argued that children are implicitly covered in the legislation. However, I strongly fear that without an explicit reference to children in the Bill the new commission will focus exclusively on adults. Experience shows that, where children are not explicitly provided for in an organisation, they are ignored or given inadequate resources and attention. That is why we have Every Child Matters and the new roles at local authority level of children's services director and lead member for children's services, to make sure that children get their fair share of attention and resources. That is the Government's own agenda.
Are we satisfied that the existing equality bodies are working adequately for children; that children's issues are part of their strategic planning; that they regularly consult children to find out about their experiences and what matters to them; that their casework includes those under 18; and that they are working with the Government and others to bring about greater equality for children's rights? If children are missing out now, what guarantees have we that they will not be kept to the margins in the future?
Working for children does not mean simply adapting what is written or done for adults; it means being child-focused from the startconsulting them, setting priorities relating to them, and having the staff and organisational competence to work effectively and systematically to improve their lives. I am reminded that the National Service Framework for Children, Young People and Maternity Services states that, until recently, children's needs in the NHS were seen as no more than,
Involving children in knowing their rights and responsibilities as young citizens can be an immense power for goodboth for them as individuals and for their families, schools and communities. Only this morning, I visited one of UNICEF's "Rights Respecting Schools", Kempshott Junior School in Basingstoke, and saw for myself the benefitsboth academic and socialof incorporating an understanding of the convention into their citizenship education. That was at primary level; I was much impressed.
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The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has produced guidelines on establishing human rights institutions for children. It stresses the participation of children in the work of the institution, the need for tailored programmes to advance their human rights, and urges that:
"The legislation (establishing the institution) should include provisions setting out specific functions, powers and duties relating to children linked to the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols".
I accept the Minister's assurances that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is covered in "other human rights" in the Bill, but ask that she think again about including a specific reference to children in this Bill setting up the commission. The task in establishing this new commission is not just to make sure children are not left out; it is to plan systematically to put them in. That will mean having a fresh approach and doing some things very differently. I believe my amendments will enable this to happen and I look forward to the statement the Minister promised us at an earlier stage. I beg to move.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, on Report I tried to have the Convention on the Rights of the Child referred to again explicitly, because I wanted to emphasise how necessary it was to include children as central to the commission's work. To have that in the Bill would certainly have encouraged the commission to take a broad approach to children's human rights, and to have regard to all the articles of the convention as well as the general comments and concluding observations of the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
I appreciated the Minister's point about lists. However, these amendments are a way in which the Bill can refer explicitly to children without opening up that problem. The amendment makes it clear that in promoting and protecting human rights the commission must work for and with children. The amendment ensures that no group is excluded; "children and adults" covers everyone.
Last week in a speech on citizenshipwhich I am particularly interested inthe Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, reported that one in five schools did not give enough priority to citizenship. He said:
I am sure that we all hope that the commission will play a major role in raising awareness among children on human rights and equality, because children are central to creating the kind of society that we all want, which is fostered on mutual respect, understanding and non-violence. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said, children have particular communication needs. Information must be tailored to their age and understanding, and it needs to be available in the right places such as schools and health centres.
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A commission will do much more than raise awareness, important though that is. Children comprise one-fifth of the population. The UK has a comprehensive set of human rights obligations to them set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other instruments, and there are increasing concerns about children's asylum and immigration.
The report this summer from the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Alvaro Gil-Robles, was critical of those areas of policy, as was the European Committee of Social Rights. There remains a lot to be done to improve UK children's human rights, as demonstrated by the annual review by the Children's Rights Alliance for England and not least by ceasing to imprison children. I am glad to see a Written Answer from the Government in yesterday's Hansard which looks a little hopeful on that point. We hope that the equality commission will be a major force for change in children's lives.
In considering whether children should be referred to explicitly in the Bill, we must ask ourselves one question. If children are not part of the legislation, will they be adequately and consistently catered for? My fear is that they will not be sufficiently central to the commission's thinking and actions unless they are in the Bill. I hope the Minister can accept the amendments, but if she is unable to do so I hope that she can set out her thinking in some detail on how she expects the equality commission to embed the rights of the child population into its plans and actions.
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