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Child Poverty Bill

Part of Bill Presented — Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:10 pm on 20th July 2009.

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Photo of Mark Durkan Mark Durkan Leader of the Social Democratic & Labour Party 7:10 pm, 20th July 2009

I fully accept that point. Nevertheless, the Treasury Committee clearly lamented the fact that there were no references to child poverty in the pre-Budget report or the Budget statement. I shall not read out the entire quote from the Committee, but it called on the Government to address that matter in the future.

The proposal to eradicate child poverty raises the question of what we mean by eradication. Other hon. Members have already said that the Government have set a target that seems to suggest that a poverty rate of anything below one in 10 could count as eradication. Such a percentage in this House would equate to 64 Members, but I see an Opposition party here with more than 60 Members that does not regard itself as eradicated. Under 10 per cent. hardly counts as eradication.

Regrettably, that proposal is an example of the Government and the Department for Work and Pensions resiling from an understanding that they gave in 2003 on eradicating child poverty. Their document, "Measuring Child Poverty" stated:

"Success in eradicating poverty could, then, be interpreted as having a material deprivation child poverty rate that approached zero and being among the best in Europe on relative low incomes".

However, what we are legislating for here falls short of that standard set by the DWP, and I hope that the Department and the Government will return to the prospectus that they were offering in 2003. I hope that the Bill can be improved as it continues its passage through the House.

Another way in which we could usefully improve people's understanding of the purpose of the Bill is to show real parliamentary intent. At a time when the reputation of Parliament is pretty low and when politics is not held in the highest esteem, if we are going to legislate on child poverty, let us set down the clear principles that we as a Parliament want to address. The commission envisaged in the Bill will clearly have an important role, as will the Secretary of State, in providing reports to Parliament, but perhaps we in this House-or a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament-should actively monitor the progress of the provisions. We should be tracking and backing the targets, and testing them, rather than simply waiting to pounce on the annual reports from the Secretary of State.

Perhaps such a Committee could follow the style of the Joint Committee on Human Rights-not meeting as often as a regular Select Committee-in probing and testing some of these issues. That could include highlighting good practice, because we shall be imposing a number of obligations on central and local government, and on devolved Government. If we are obliging them to report, we, as the Parliament that created the legislation, should at least pick up the information in order to establish best practice and to reinforce and support the people who are delivering on the targets.

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