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5 Jan 2010 : Column 16

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, I am sure that we all want to offer our congratulations to the Borough of Greenwich on attaining royal borough status, but why has the London Borough of Richmond never been accorded such status? It has, after all, been the home of many monarchs. Queen Elizabeth I died there, George III went mad there, and most of it was my old constituency.

Lord Mandelson: Yet again, I think that those responsible for considering these matters will have heard the noble Baroness's suggestion. Royal borough status is purely honorific. It is granted by the sovereign personally as an exceptional mark of royal favour. In case anyone is interested, I should say that it confers absolutely no additional funding or powers whatever on the borough concerned. None the less, it is a very important status and I am sure that due consideration will be given to Richmond, although I cannot lead the noble Baroness to expect an early announcement.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, can the Minister say any more about prior consultation with Commonwealth countries or perhaps about future plans? Of course, one will understand if he is not in a position to say anything further about that.

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, when approaching something like this, one needs to consider whether one wants to consult widely and for a long period prior to the announcement or whether it is better to make the announcement so that the consultations can follow in a seemly and open way. We have chosen the latter course. Having made the announcement this afternoon, it will now be open, not only to the Government but also to the representatives of the Commonwealth, to have the kind of discussions which the noble Lord asks for.

Baroness Howells of St Davids: My Lords, it is heart-warming to hear mention of the Commonwealth. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Queen still represents some Caribbean islands and that many people represent Her Majesty in those islands. I have a particular interest because my sister was the first native-born Grenadian to represent Her Majesty and she did so for six years. I hope that, this time, someone will remember to send such people a letter of invitation or at least recognise the part they have played in representing Her Majesty so ably.

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, my noble friend makes a very good point which I am sure will attract great sympathy. Over six decades, across the Commonwealth as a whole, many people have contributed to the success and enjoyment of the Queen's reign. Therefore, many people will want to be remembered and want to participate in the celebrations. They will not, of course, all celebrate in London or in this country; they will celebrate in countries and local communities in all parts of the world. That reflects the nature and strength of the Commonwealth and the enormous love which people have for Her Majesty the Queen in so many parts of the world.

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Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, the Secretary of State was absolutely right to focus our attention on the first weekend in June. I thank him for doing so. I offer him a slightly broader thought. If my memory serves me right, I recall, as a boy, being herded along with thousands of other young people in Belfast to greet the new monarch. Although there will be an element of stress to Her Majesty, I encourage those who make the decisions throughout the course of the year-it cannot be done in a weekend-to enable as many people in the nation as possible to see their monarch on the Diamond Jubilee without having to come to London.

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, what is still so remarkable about Her Majesty the Queen is that so many of her subjects see her in the flesh in so many parts of the country and the Commonwealth. Age seems to be absolutely no bar to her travels and to her contact with people. I have no doubt that that will be the case in 2012 as it has been in every year of her reign so far.

Lord Pilkington of Oxenford: My Lords, will the Minister consider a rather sadder side and bear in mind the fact that the British Empire, represented by the Queen and her father, sacrificed itself to preserve us from tyranny? When the Commonwealth fought Hitler, it collapsed, so the sacrifice of the British Empire should be borne in mind.

Lord Mandelson: My Lords, the noble Lord makes an absolutely reasonable point. Of course, no one forgets the sacrifices that countries and individuals have made in fighting for or on behalf of Her Majesty the Queen. That has been the case to date, and I believe that it always will be.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, if there is to be a Commonwealth dimension to the celebration, I suggest that in any military dimension we should invite contingents from Commonwealth countries. Many of the Asian and Afro-Caribbean citizens of this country have parents or grandparents who fought in the Second World War as elements of other Commonwealth or imperial armies, the largest of which was of course the Indian Army. Those armed forces now provide the dominant contribution to UN peacekeeping forces. We in this country are very bad at linking and symbolising the extent to which our military contribution is now undertaken with other European and Commonwealth countries. That might provide an opportunity to educate our people about how much our contribution in the Second World War and up to today has been in co-operation with the armed forces of other countries with close links to us.

Lord Mandelson: The point about celebrations and commemorations of this kind is that they create an opportunity for us to do all sorts of things-rather as the noble Lord suggested, things that are perhaps out of the ordinary or that would not have occurred to us in normal times, but which we can use this greater and grander opportunity to address. The noble Lord has made a very fitting and suitable proposal.

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Child Poverty Bill

Second Reading

3.36 pm

Moved By Lord McKenzie of Luton

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government & Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In doing so, I welcome the fact that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford has chosen to make his maiden speech on this measure and look forward to hearing what he has to say.

A decade ago this Government made an historic commitment to end child poverty by 2020. At the time we made that pledge, child poverty was rising inexorably and had doubled over the previous 20 years. Had we simply moved forward with the policies that we inherited, about 2.1 million more children would have been likely to be in relative poverty today. We did not; we chose to act. We acted by investing well over £25 billion in early years and childcare since 1997, with some 3,000 Sure Start children's centres currently helping 2.4 million young children and their families. We acted by delivering direct tax and benefit measures which, since 1997, mean that in 2010-11, households with children will be, on average, £2,200 a year better off; and households with children in the bottom fifth of the income distribution will be, on average, £5,000 a year better off.

We acted by helping more lone parents into work. Since the New Deal for Lone Parents was introduced, more than 625,000 lone parents have been helped into work, of whom almost 60 per cent have moved into sustainable jobs. We acted by establishing the minimum wage, ensuring that people are not paid a poverty wage. Those and other measures have made a substantial difference to many families, without which many more would be in poverty today.

We have made significant progress in tackling child poverty. We have turned around that upward trend and, by 2007-08, helped to lift 500,000 children out of relative poverty. We have halved the number of children in absolute poverty from 3.4 million to 1.7 million.

Measures announced since Budget 2007 will lift a further 550,000 children out of relative poverty. That includes the announcement in last month's PBR to extend provision of free school meals to primary school-aged children in low-income working households. That may require primary legislative changes and we are considering whether it may be appropriate to include these changes in the Child Poverty Bill.

Despite substantial progress, there is still a huge amount to do to meet our commitment. Child poverty still blights the daily lives of many-too many-children, families and communities across the UK. A child who grows up in poverty may lack many of the experiences and opportunities that others take for granted, and can be exposed to severe hardship and social exclusion.

Childhood experience lays the foundations for later life. Growing up in poverty can damage physical, cognitive, social and emotional development, which

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are all determinants of outcomes in adult life. To borrow an expression used by my noble friend Lord Morris in the Queen's Speech debate, this can create "spirals of poverty", pernicious cycles of inter-generational poverty that lock families into deprivation. Indeed, as my noble friend so aptly stated,

We can and must do more to ensure that disadvantage and deprivation do not transmit through generations.

Tackling child poverty will help improve children's lives today, and it will also enhance their life chances enabling them to make the most of their talents, achieve their full potential in life and pass on benefits to their own children.

Child poverty also places substantial costs and burdens on the economy and on public services. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimates that child poverty is costing at least £25 billion a year in extra public spending, lost taxes and lost GDP. These costs fall not just on children and families in poverty, but on communities in general and the taxpayer, so it is clear that there is both a strong moral and economic imperative for taking further action to tackle the causes and consequences of child poverty. To do this, we must shape a society where children do not have their lives scarred by poverty and where every child has the chance to realise their potential, no matter what their background.

The current economic circumstances we face have brought additional challenges to tackling child poverty. Everyone recognises it will be hard to meet the target to halve child poverty by 2010, but we will continue to strive to make progress, and the Bill underlines our commitment and determination to succeed.

There are five key aspects of the Child Poverty Bill that I should like to focus on in this Second Reading speech. First, the Bill provides a definition of success in tackling child poverty by setting targets that must be met by 2020. Secondly, it will ensure that targeted and sustained action to address child poverty is taken on a comprehensive basis by requiring the Government to prepare and publish child poverty strategies through to 2020. Thirdly, it will boost the transparency and accountability of government through its reporting requirements. Fourthly, it will ensure that co-ordinated action is taken across the UK by requiring specific action from the devolved Administrations. Finally, it will require action at local level to prioritise the tackling of child poverty and improve outcomes for disadvantaged children and their families.

Clause 1 imposes a duty on the Secretary of State to meet, by 2020, four challenging UK-wide targets set down in Clauses 2 to 5. The targets relate to relative poverty, absolute poverty, combined low income and material deprivation and, finally, persistent poverty. A range of targets is needed to capture the many facets of child poverty, and these four targets have been chosen following rigorous public consultation. The Government already measure progress against the relative, absolute and combined low income and material

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deprivation measures. The persistent poverty target was included following research demonstrating that long periods of poverty have a particularly damaging effect on a child's life chances and that the risk of escaping poverty decreases the longer the period in poverty. Taken together, the targets provide a challenging definition of success for tackling child poverty by 2020 and allow progress towards this goal to be measured.

However, the Bill goes much further than just setting targets, important as they are. It establishes a mechanism for driving forward progress towards meeting them by requiring the Government to prepare and publish a child poverty strategy through to 2020. Clause 8 commits the Secretary of State to publish the strategy within a year of Royal Assent, and it must be refreshed every three years. The strategy is for the whole of the UK and should cover all children, so it is not only about meeting the targets but about ensuring that children in the UK do not experience socio-economic disadvantage.

The Bill deliberately avoids being too prescriptive about the content of the strategy. Such specificity would not be appropriate, as each three-year strategy will need to respond to changing circumstances between now and 2020, building on evidence about what works in tackling child poverty. It is envisaged that more specific measures will be considered as appropriate for each three-year phase. However, Clause 8(5) specifies a number of broad policy areas that must be considered when preparing strategies. These encompass the main drivers for tackling child poverty, which have been developed following an extensive period of analysis, discussion and consultation with internal and external stakeholders. I should stress that this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of policies. Indeed, there is nothing to prevent consideration of a wide range of policies which may help to end child poverty.

We recognise that the causes and consequences of child poverty are multiple and complex, and that it is not possible to rely solely on one policy measure. Ending child poverty will require co-ordinated and sustained action across all areas of government policy. Noble Lords may be aware that this provision prompted much debate in the other place, with Members seeking to insert additional policy areas. We resisted this approach as many of the proposed areas were already effectively covered in the Bill. There was, however, clear support on all sides that childcare should be more explicitly stated in the Bill, a proposition we accepted by way of a government amendment.

Before I move on to other measures of the Bill, I should like briefly to touch on Clause 9, which requires that the strategy is informed by a range of views, including those of the Child Poverty Commission and the devolved Administrations. There was some concern in another place that the Bill does not spell out our intention to seek the views of children as clearly as it could. Some Members felt that Clause 9(4)(c) should be amended so that the Secretary of State is required to consult such children and organisations working with or representing children as the Secretary of State thinks fit.

We have always been clear that the strategy will be informed by the views of children and their families, particularly those with direct experience of poverty.

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We are committed to ensuring that children's views underpin all our policies to improve outcomes for all children. However, we recognise a concern that the Bill could be interpreted as leaving room for the option of not consulting directly with children and we are considering whether it is necessary to clarify the wording on this matter.

Another important aspect is about setting an accountability framework and securing expert, independent advice to inform the development of child poverty strategies. Clauses 13 and 14 require annual reports to Parliament on progress made on the targets and steps outlined in the strategy. This means that the government will, for the first time, be properly held to account for delivery on their strategies to end child poverty.

Clause 7 and Schedule 1 establish the Child Poverty Commission, an advisory body that the Government must consult when preparing child poverty strategies. Clause 9 requires the Government to have regard to the commission's advice and Schedule 1 requires that this advice is made public. This will ensure that it is clear to Parliament and the public what steps the commission thought were necessary in the development of the strategy. Commission members will be selected on merit against criteria published at the start of the appointment process. Paragraph 1 of Schedule 1 requires that the Secretary of State will appoint the chair and any such number of members as he sees fit. In addition, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will each appoint a member. In appointing members, paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 requires that the Secretary of State must aim for a commission that has knowledge and experience of child poverty policy, research and work with families. This will ensure that the commission is able to provide the best possible advice on what works best in tackling child poverty.

During debate in another place, Members on all sides pressed the Government to provide the commission with a research function to support its work under the Bill. We were persuaded that using its expertise and experience the commission may identify particular areas where, in order to improve the quality and effectiveness of its advice, it feels new research would be helpful. It may be that the necessary new knowledge can be generated by mining existing research and data from a fresh perspective, or there may be a need to conduct entirely original primary research.

We responded by tabling a government amendment to Schedule 1, which now, through paragraph 10, empowers the commission at any time to request the Secretary of State to carry out or to commission research on its behalf with a view to improving the effectiveness of its advice. This model follows the very successful one used by the Low Pay Commission, an advisory body that is renowned for the quality of its research. This will improve the quality and independence of its advice to the Secretary of State. There are also non-legislative research means at the commission's disposal. The commission will be provided with a secretariat that will offer librarian-style research support that includes finding, and where necessary collating and summarising, research materials.

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The goal to eradicate child poverty by 2020 is UK-wide, although a number of the levers for tackling child poverty are devolved. We recognise that the devolved Administrations are best placed to determine how to tackle child poverty in their jurisdictions in line with their particular priorities. Clauses 10 to 12 separately provide for Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers to prepare their own strategies. These strategies will set out how they will contribute to the UK-wide targets as well as how they will ensure that children in their respective countries do not experience socio-economic disadvantage. Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers are required to consult a range of partners, including the Secretary of State and the Child Poverty Commission, and must prepare annual reports on progress. Our goal is UK-wide, so our approach to tackling child poverty must be co-ordinated across all Administrations. Strategies prepared by the devolved Administrations must also be considered in future UK child poverty strategies.

The Welsh Assembly Government introduced the proposed Children and Families (Wales) Measure on 2 March 2009. The measure places similar duties on Welsh Ministers and other public bodies in Wales to prepare child poverty strategies and to report on progress as the Child Poverty Bill places on the Secretary of State and Scottish and Northern Ireland Ministers. Clause 9(5) includes provisions to ensure that the UK Government have regard to the Welsh strategy when preparing a UK child poverty strategy. The Welsh measure also includes provision to consult the Secretary of State on the content of Welsh Ministers' strategy. The two pieces of legislation therefore complement each other and provide a joint framework to ensure that all four countries work together towards the 2020 goal.

Finally, tackling child poverty is not just a priority for central government; it should also be seen as core business by local authorities and their delivery partners. This view was shared by witnesses to the oral evidence sessions in another place. The justification for this focus is clear; child poverty is present in every locality across the country but is often masked by overall affluence. In many areas, poverty has persisted for generations, damaging the general and economic well-being of the area. Tackling child poverty helps local communities. It will reduce the burdens placed on local services and create a more cohesive society.

Many local authorities have already made a commitment to tackling child poverty, and pockets of excellent work are under way. There are examples of vision and leadership in helping families to get support, in narrowing gaps in education, in helping parents into work or in regenerating communities to help families to escape the experiences of poverty. Unfortunately, progress varies across the country and best practice is not universally shared. We now have to make it a priority for all local areas. Meeting our challenging target therefore requires all local authorities and partners to do more. We know that we can achieve our ambitions only with their absolute buy-in and with child poverty high on their agendas. Clause 20 therefore introduces a new requirement on responsible local authorities and relevant delivery partners to work together to tackle child poverty in their area.

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Respondents to the Bill's consultation indicated that it was important to name the key partners in the legislation. We share this view and have listed the relevant partner authorities in Clause 19. The importance of understanding the needs of local communities was also raised by respondents to the consultation, and we have responded by placing a duty to carry out a local child poverty needs assessment in Clause 21. We intend to set out how local partnerships should carry out a needs assessment in statutory guidance. The Bill will ensure that all local authorities and their partners take strategic, co-ordinated action by requiring them in Clause 22 to prepare joint child poverty strategies based on an analysis of the needs and characteristics of children in poverty in their areas. The Bill also amends the Local Government Act 2000 to ensure that local authorities take the duties under this Bill into account when preparing their sustainable community strategies.

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