Equality Bill [HL]

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 9th November 2005.

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Photo of Baroness Howe of Idlicote Baroness Howe of Idlicote Crossbench 3:08 pm, 9th November 2005

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 citizenship—which I am particularly interested in—the Chief Inspector of Schools, David Bell, reported that one in five schools did not give enough priority to citizenship. He said:

"Whilst not claiming too much, citizenship can address core skills, attitudes and values that young people need to consider as they come to terms with a changing world".

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.

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.