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The Minister stated categorically that,

This is very interesting and would suggest that my amendment is knocking at an open door. The Minister already intends the commission to have regard to a basic matrix provided by the Secretary of State on the

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areas and approach that he or she intends the UK strategy to follow. My amendment would put that initial guidance on a slightly more formal and transparent footing, giving the opportunity for the commission to be provided with a framework setting out where its advice would be appreciated.

Following on from that point, could we hear a little more about the day-to-day relationship between the commission and the department? Are they to have occasional arm's-length contact where the draft strategy is published; then, a little while later, the commission's advice is published in response; and then, a little while after that, the final strategy is published and implemented? Or is there to be a more fluid and ongoing conversation between the two, giving the commission an integral role in the development of the strategy?

Can the Minister answer a question that stumped him on 21 January? Has he been able to establish in the interim which Secretary of State is to have ultimate responsibility for the appointment of the chair and the work of the commission as a whole? Who, under this Government, would be the person in the driving seat? I beg to move.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: Perhaps I may just interpose a couple of questions. I understand the reason for the amendment. I listened carefully to the way that the noble Lord, Lord Freud, deployed his argument and I can see the case that he is making. Contrary to his view of things, I am nervous about the tone of the amendment; it may diminish the independence of the commission. As it stands, the clause means that the Secretary of State has to stand up and take what he gets. The amendment seems to turn that around and to say that he can give the commission guidance, and the commission must have regard to it. I do not want the commission to be that at all; I want it to be free-wheeling, to think laterally and to be the grit in the oyster. I want it occasionally-although not deliberately or for the sake of it-to embarrass the Government, if it feels that that is necessary.

The territory that the amendment takes us towards suggests that there is a line of communication that indicates clearly that this is top-down, not bottom-up. I may be wrong about that, and perhaps there is a difference in perception about what the commission might do. It may be that if I were the noble Lord I would take the view that he is taking, as he might have to work with the commission in circumstances that we may face in future, but we need to make this clear.

I want the commission to be able to think for itself. I want it to be brave and to say things that might be quite difficult for a Government. If the noble Lord's amendment seeks to put a cap on that ability, I would be nervous about supporting it.

Lord Northbourne: I support the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, in what he has said. I also support the noble Lord, Lord Freud, not in his amendment but in his desire to know which Secretary of State will be involved. Am I right about this? It sounds daft, but is it not between the Secretary of State for Children and Families on the one hand and the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions on the other? Obviously, the outcomes will be totally different. It is frightfully

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important that the Secretary of State who is dealing with this knows something about the problems of children and families.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: It is called joined-up government.

5.15 pm

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, it is important to reiterate our policy intention in setting up a Child Poverty Commission. We believe that the Secretary of State-I shall come on to which one in a minute-can be greatly helped in meeting the targets set out in the Bill, and doing so in a sustainable way, if he has ready access to expert advice on the strategies to adopt and the targets set out in the Bill. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to provide guidance to the commission on matters on which it must provide advice and to which it must have regard when giving advice. The commission would have to have regard to guidance that was provided.

The amendment is neither necessary nor desirable, a point that the noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Northbourne, made. The commission will be an expert body comprised of members knowledgeable in this field. It is unlikely that with such a skills and knowledge base it would require guidance from the Secretary of State of the type proposed by the amendment.

Furthermore, in practice, the Secretary of State would alert the commission to a range of factors that he might expressly wish it to consider. Clause 15 already requires the commission to provide sensible advice that takes account of economic and fiscal circumstances. The Bill already contains the necessary safeguards that will ensure that the commission provides robust and high-quality advice.

There is a fear that the real intention of the amendment is to stifle the independence of the commission to make it absolutely beholden to government. I wholeheartedly disagree with this approach, as it would result in the Government simply receiving advice that they wished to hear, rather than that which will be of most benefit in preparing the strategy to tackle child poverty and deliver the 2020 goal. I assure your Lordships that we are not afraid of receiving robust, independent advice on what works in tackling child poverty.

The noble Lord asked how the relationship would operate in practice and whether there would be day-to-day contact. These things will doubtless be developed over time. There may well be occasions when research is being worked on and there is more regular contact than on other occasions. It is not a matter specifically for the Bill; it has to be worked out in the terms of reference and operation of the commission.

It is not unusual practice for a Bill not to identify which Secretary of State would be involved. This is a joined-up approach across government. The Child Poverty Unit, in particular, will drive much of it. It does not matter too much which individual Secretary of State might be engaged. It is a cross-government strategy and a unit has been set up to drive it.

Lord Northbourne: Would the Minister therefore be prepared to accept "Secretaries of State"?

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Lord McKenzie of Luton: I feel myself again exposed on this issue. The terms and manner in which the Bill is drafted are fairly standard, but I shall see whether I can get some clarity on it once and for all. I will be happy to write to noble Lords.

Baroness Hollis of Heigham: Conventionally, when one refers to "Secretary of State", it may be any Secretary of State, because boundaries of responsibility change over time. That is precisely why one does not delineate it in this way. They speak on behalf of the entire Government.

Lord Northbourne: Then I speak, for the moment, against the whole Government, because what is important is not the person of the Secretary of State but the back-up team that they have. Surely one Secretary of State's back-up team has different training, points of view and experience from the back-up team of another Secretary of State.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I do not want to prolong this. I am grateful to my noble friend for coming to my assistance on that point. However, the key point is the one that I have just made: this is a cross-government strategy. There will need to be engagement with it right across departments if it is going to work.

Lord Freud: I thank the Minister for that response, which seems to pull back a little from what he said last month. The point of the amendment is that there are differences of approach to tackling the problem of child poverty-we have discussed some of them in the past few weeks. A Secretary of State will want to hear advice which promotes his or her strategy in tackling it. It would be counterproductive if one had a commission which was driving down one road and a Government driving down the other. That is how I read the Minister's response to the same point when it came up last month.

On the matter of which Secretary of State is relevant, I join the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, in his slight incredulity about the seamlessness of Governments. We have all read enough history of recent British Governments to know that many Secretaries of State end up unable to talk to each other after a few years in office. This question is important. I am not asking which Secretary of State is locked into the Bill, because the convention is not to lock a Secretary of State into the Bill. My question is: which Secretary of State do this Government intend to take responsibility for child poverty and the commission? I will give way to allow a response from the Minister on that.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: I have answered that as best as I am able. To clarify the whole issue, I think that I should write to noble Lords so that it is clearly on the record. While I am on my feet, I say that I found slightly troubling the noble Lord's earlier comments that the commission might be heading down one route, when the Government want to head down another. It would be fascinating to determine the circumstances in which that might arise-in which the Government want to hear the advice that they want to hear and press ahead regardless of the expert advice that the commission is meant to provide. Perhaps that is a debate for another day, but I will write to try to clarify the confusion about Secretaries of State.

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Lord Freud: I thank the Minister for that offer. I very much look forward to reading that letter. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 45 withdrawn.

Amendment 45A

Moved by Lord Freud

45A: Clause 9, page 5, line 21, at end insert-

"( ) must consult the Four Nations Forum on Child Poverty,"

Lord Freud: This amendment was suggested by the Law Society of Scotland. Simply, it pointed out that existing work on child poverty is ongoing between the devolved Administrations in the Four Nations Forum on Child Poverty. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that, rather than our reinventing the wheel, the forum's work will play an important role in the co-ordination of all the different strategies to be produced under the Bill. I beg to move.

Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: As an appendix to that, I obviously agree with the thrust of the amendment. There is a feeling in Scotland that different best practices are being tried in different fields in different ways and there is obviously a variation in scale. The situation in a nation of 5 million people is a very different kettle of fish from administering a benefits system for the whole of the United Kingdom and translating and reading across the projects. If the amendment were to be inserted into the Bill, or at least taken on board by the Government, we would benefit from a lot of the creative thinking that is going on in other parts of the United Kingdom. It must not be an unequal partnership; it must be a four nations forum. The emphasis should be on mutual respect and learning from different circumstances in different parts of the United Kingdom. If that is done in a positive and constructive way, it will add greatly to the promotion of the policies that we all want, so I absolutely support the thrust of the amendment.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I hope that I can give both noble Lords the reassurances that they seek. The amendment would require the Secretary of State, in preparing the child poverty strategy, to consult the Four Nations Forum on Child Poverty. Perhaps it would help if I explained a little about the four nations forum. It is essentially a group of key officials working on child poverty from the Child Poverty Unit and each of the devolved Administrations. The group meets quarterly to share information, analysis and good practice on action to address child poverty. It may discuss, for example, what makes effective child poverty strategy and how best to support local authorities and their partners to tackle child poverty locally.

The forum is an informal working group. It does not currently have established terms of reference and no Ministers are directly engaged in its deliberations. Of course, that does not mean that it is not a worthwhile forum-it ensures good partnership working between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. This was particularly helpful as we were developing the provisions in the Bill and I am sure that it will continue to be valuable as we develop the child poverty

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strategies required by the Bill on the basis of mutual respect, as the noble Lord asserted that it should. However, I think that noble Lords would accept that it is not appropriate to specify a formal role for this body in legislation.

The Bill already provides a framework and a legal basis for joint working between the UK Government and the devolved Administrations. Clause 8(3) of the Bill states:

"A UK strategy may also refer to proposals of the Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers and the relevant Northern Irish department".

Subsection (7)(a) of the same clause states that any strategy, after the first, must describe,

These measures will ensure that the Secretary of State prepares a strategy reflecting the needs of children and families across the UK.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Welsh Assembly has already introduced the Children and Families (Wales) Measure 2009, which places a duty on Welsh Ministers to prepare a child poverty strategy for Wales and report on progress every three years. This puts in place measures broadly equivalent to those that are set out in Clauses 10 and 11 of the Child Poverty Bill on the Scottish and Northern Ireland strategies respectively. Therefore, in order not to duplicate the existing Measure, the Child Poverty Bill does not require Welsh Ministers to publish a child poverty strategy.

Noble Lords will also be aware that the Bill requires each of the devolved Administrations to appoint a member to the Child Poverty Commission and for the commission to provide advice not only on the UK strategy but also on the Scottish and Northern Irish strategies. These provisions should also encourage joined-up thinking about the best way of addressing child poverty across the whole of the UK. I hope that that is the reassurance that noble Lords are seeking.

Lord Freud: I thank the Minister for that response. This was very much a probing amendment to discover how these arrangements will work in practice. The point is pretty obvious, at an administrative level, that one does not want to learn something in one of the four nations and not apply it more generally when it is established as best practice. With that explanation from the Minister, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 45A withdrawn.

Amendment 46 not moved.

Amendment 47

Moved by Baroness Thomas of Winchester

47: Clause 9, page 5, line 22, leave out first "or" and insert "and"

Amendment 47 agreed.

5.30 pm

Amendment 48

Moved by Lord Northbourne

48: Clause 9, page 5, line 23, at end insert-

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"( ) must consult such parents, or organisations working with or representing parents, as the Secretary of State thinks fits,"

Lord Northbourne: My Lords, by agreement with the Minister, and I have checked it with the Clerk, I am entitled to move the amendment and to speak to it-not that I wish to be a bore or to do so for long. I need to apologise to the Committee for making a mistake when the amendment was called earlier in the Committee and I spoke briefly to it when I should not have done so.

This amendment balances and complements Clause 9(4)(c) as printed in the Bill, which requires the Secretary of State to consult children or-that has been amended to be "and"-organisations working with and representing children before he publishes his first UK strategy. The whole of Clause 9 gives the Secretary of State instructions designed to ensure, so far as possible, that he makes a well informed and balanced strategy under Clause 8(1). Clause 9(4) ensures that he does not omit to consult certain relevant groups, including local authorities, Scottish and Welsh Ministers and,

There is no mention of parents. The noble Lord has indicated that the Government may be softening in their attitude to that omission, but I will finish what I was going to say.

The noble Lord made the point earlier that, under Clause 9(4)(d), the Secretary of State can choose to consult parents. That is perfectly true but it does not address the point that I wanted to make this afternoon. To include children and their representatives as designated consultees in the Bill is a policy that I fully support. However, to do so without mentioning parents is, frankly, a slap in the face for parents. It is an insult to that majority of parents who struggle and scrape, work long hours and make sacrifices on behalf of their children, trying to protect them from the effects of poverty. Parents are, I admit, unlikely to read the Bill, but the press will and parents will find out. The effect that this will have on parents is important but it is not the only reason why it is foolish to ignore their knowledge and concerns.

I have four points. First, in this country parents have the primary responsibility for the care and nurture of their child. Secondly, parental decisions can influence both the amount of household income and what part of it is spent on the children. Thirdly, parental experience of poverty at first hand must be valuable in drawing up the strategy. Fourthly, parents who are struggling to keep their child out of poverty can often contribute to an understanding of what will help them most.

Finally, in case I have not adequately made my point about the effect on parents of the decision to include children but not parents among the mandatory consultees in the Bill, I ask noble Lords to imagine for a moment that they are a struggling lone mother, whose 12 year-old daughter has just arrived home from school one afternoon. "How was school today?" said the mother. "Well, Mum, this lady from the Child Poverty Unit came to ask us a lot of questions". "What sort of questions, darling?". "Things like, 'What would you like the Government to give your parents to make you less poor?' and 'What do you need that your

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parents can't afford?'". "And", the mother would say, "Is this lady going to come and ask me what I think we need?". "No, Mum, she said it was too difficult to ask parents and, by law, she doesn't have to". We need to engage parents with us in this fight against child poverty. To say to them in the Bill, by implication, that we are not really interested in their opinion is neither wise nor clever. Amendment 48 would avoid that mistake. I beg to move.

Lord Freud: My Lords, these amendments were briefly alluded to on 21 January. As then, I agree with them entirely. When it comes to listing consultees, the Minister has been more than a little inconsistent on what it is important to put in the Bill and when it is not important to put something in the Bill. On 21 January, the Minister said that he would accept the noble Baroness's amendments that explicitly related to the consultation of children because it was important to put that requirement explicitly into the Bill. A little later, following this reassuring drive for clear drafting in the Bill, the Minister stated that although, in practice, the commission was,

Can he explain why consulting children directly, rather than through their representative groups, is any more important than consulting their parents?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, for speaking again to the amendment and the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his questions. Perhaps I may truncate my reply. Having taken into consideration the views of noble Lords-and particularly the eloquence of the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne-and recognising the general strength of the argument, I am prepared to take the amendment away to consider whether we can ensure that the need for consultation with parents is made more explicit in the Bill. We would look to do this in relation to Clauses 9, 12 and 22.

Lord Northbourne: I am grateful to the noble Lord for what he has just said. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 48 withdrawn.

Amendment 49

Moved by Lord Freud

49: Clause 9, page 5, line 24, at end insert-

"( ) must collect statistics on the number of-

(i) households with parents who are married, in a civil partnership or in a long term relationship,

(ii) workless households,

(iii) households where one or more parents are addicted to drugs, alcohol or gambling, and

(iv) households where a parent lacks level 2 key skills,"

Lord Freud: My Lords, I briefly touched on this issue last month but we were pushed for time and the Minister did not have an opportunity to deal with it as fully as I would have liked. I therefore take this opportunity to return to the aspect of married relationships.

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