Lord Laird tabled 34 Questions for Written Answer on human rights covering a number of government departments. Given the length of the answers to these Questions I am providing the information requested in this Statement. Each Question is referred to by means of the House of Lords number. A list of the Questions will be included as an annexe to the text of this Statement deposited in the Library.
The Government keep many areas of their policy under close review. While there may not at this time be specific proposals in relation to many of the specific areas cited in the Questions, continuous assessment of the effectiveness of policy in these areas is often being undertaken. It should not necessarily therefore be inferred from the current absence of such proposals that the Government may not at some future time nevertheless bring forward proposals.
The Forum recently published its recommendations on the current process towards a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights. It is inevitable that many of these issues will be considered in that context. It should also be noted that my ministerial colleagues here in the Ministry of Justice are leading work on the framework of rights and responsibilities in the United Kingdom, in the context of which many of these areas would also be considered, including particularly the various rights and freedoms which are referred to at the start of many of the questions. Given that both of these projects will yet be the subject of consultation, it would not be appropriate to state that any area would definitely be included in or excluded from either of those documents in its final form.
In providing the response to the Questions for Written Answer I have started with questions HL3666 to HL3669.
In Question HL3666, Lord Laird asked whether the Government plan to repeal the Human Rights Act 1998 in part or all of the United Kingdom. The Government have no plans to do so. It was this Government that brought home the rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) by means of the Human Rights Act. In July 2006 Lord Falconer of Thoroton, then Lord Chancellor, undertook a review of the implementation of the Human Rights Act, in which the Government expressly indicated that they remain committed both to the ECHR, and to the way effect is given to it in the United Kingdom by the Human Rights Act 1998. It is of course possible that the precise legislative form of the Human Rights Act may need to be considered in the context of the outcome of the work on rights and responsibilities, but the rights and the core protections given to them will remain.
In Question HL3667, Lord Laird asked whether the Government plan to dispense with the United Kingdoms powers to derogate from and to make reservations under the ECHR. It would be impossible for the Government to do so. The United Kingdom already has no power to make reservations in relation to its existing obligations under the Convention. Reservations may only be entered by a state at the time at which it signs or ratifies (or equivalent processes for other states through which treaty obligations are accepted) the Convention. Therefore, the United Kingdom could only enter a reservation at such time as it signs or ratifies an additional Protocol to the Convention; it is not possible for the United Kingdom to dispense with this power. It is similarly not possible for the United Kingdom to dispense with its power under Article 15 of the Convention to derogate from those obligations under the Convention in respect of which derogation is permitted. The Government nevertheless have no plans at this time to derogate from any of its obligations under the Convention.
In Question HL3668, Lord Laird asked whether the Government plan to empower the courts of the United Kingdom to apply unincorporated international human rights law. Our dualist legal system means that international treaties are not enforceable in our domestic courts unless they have been expressly incorporated into our domestic law, as happened in respect of ECHR through the Human Rights Act 1998. The Government believe that this system remains appropriate to the United Kingdoms constitutional traditions, and have no plans to change it. There are nevertheless limited circumstances in which our domestic courts can have regard to our international treaty obligations, including international human rights treaties, most notably where a court interprets an ambiguous statutory provision by reference to the assumption that Parliament, in the absence of an express indication to the contrary, does not intend to legislate so as to place the United Kingdom in breach of its international obligations.
Question HL3669, asked whether the Government plans to establish human rights courts or tribunals. Section 7(1)(b) of the Human Rights Act allows a person who claims that a public authority (within the meaning of Section 6(3)(b) of the Act) has acted (or proposes to act) in a way which is made unlawful by Section 6(1) may rely on the Convention rights in legal proceedings before any court or tribunal. This is in addition to the specific procedure by which proceedings may be brought under Section 7(1)(a) of the Act specifically for breach of the Convention rights, which would be taken to the appropriate court or tribunal for the proceedings. Furthermore, by virtue of Section 6(3)(a) of the Act, all courts and tribunals are themselves public authorities for the purposes of the Act and thus bound not to act incompatibly with the Convention rights; they are therefore obliged to consider, where relevant, the Convention rights of parties to a case in all proceedings, whether or not a party to the case is a public authority. The Government believe that this flexible approach to the consideration of the Convention rights is a particular strength of the Human Rights Act, and therefore have no plans to establish specific courts or tribunals to consider human rights proceedings.
In relation to the other Questions tabled by Lord Laird, where the answer does not specifically address a part of a question, it indicates that the Government have no specific plans at this time to take the action about which Lord Laird inquired, but do not necessarily rule out action in relation to that area in the future either in legislation specific to that area, or through the ongoing work on rights and responsibilities. The Government do, however, believe that it is not appropriate to create justiciable rights particularly those that would be considered economic, social or cultural rights that could lead to judicial determination of the allocation of resources; this is properly a role for the democratically elected Government.
In relation to Lord Lairds Questions which may relate to matters that are devolved in Scotland or Northern Ireland, or transferred in Wales, I have responded only in so far as the issue is the responsibility of the Government at Westminster.
In Question HL3461, Lord Laird asked whether the Government will abolish the detention of persons under the age of 18. The Government believe that courts should have the power to sentence or remand young people under 18 to custody where that is the only realistic option, and consequently have no plans to abolish this power. The Government similarly have no plans to abolish immigration detention. It is used as a measure of last resort, and alternatives to detention are used wherever possible. Detention is, however, an important measure where a person who, for example, has no legal basis of stay in the United Kingdom is refusing to leave the country voluntarily; without detention, we could not enforce that removal.
Lord Laird further asked about the communication of reasons for detention. Where a person is subject to immigration detention, they are given written reasons at the point of detention in English. If the detainee does not understand English, the reasons are explained orally in a language that the detainee does understand. In respect of arrest for a criminal offence, it is already an obligation under the ECHR and the Human Rights Act that everyone who is arrested shall be informed, in a language which he understands, of the reasons for this arrest, and of any charge against him. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act Code of Practice C (detention, treatment and questioning of persons by police officers) reflects this obligation: it states in section 13 that chief officers are responsible for making sure appropriate arrangements are in place for provision of suitably qualified interpreters for people who: are deaf; [or] do not understand English. Section 13 further provides that a person must not be interviewed in the absence of a person capable of interpreting if: they have difficulty understanding English; the interviewer cannot speak the persons own language; [or] the person wants an interpreter present.
In respect of the ability of medical practitioners, lawyers and family members to visit detained persons, the prison rules require provision to be made for prisoners to receive visits from their family and legal advisers. Prisons must organise their regime to ensure that all prisoners have an opportunity to take these visits, although they must be arranged to meet security requirements and are therefore booked in advance. Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) commission primary healthcare services within all prisons. These are the main source of healthcare for prisoners and are accessible to all. In emergency cases, there are no barriers to health professionals attending sick prisoners. For hospital treatment, arrangements for escorting and accompanying prisoners are well established.
Immigration removal centres similarly have onsite medial provision, and detainees have access to a doctor. Arrangements are made allowing visits by lawyers and family members; while this is not ordinarily permitted at any time, removal centres run a 24-hour operation, and visits could be accommodated out of visiting times if there was an urgent need to do so.
In relation to the last part of this Question, there is already a presumption against remand inasmuch as there is a presumption to bail. The Bail Act 1976 creates a presumption in favour of bail, but a court may refuse bail if it is satisfied that there are substantial grounds for believing that, if released on bail, the defendant would abscond, commit an offence, or interfere with witnesses or otherwise obstruct the course of justice. The court must decide whether the defendant presents such a bail risk as to justify a remand in custody, or whether it would be appropriate to grant bail, but subject to certain conditions, breach of which would make the defendant liable to immediate arrest.
The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 amends the Bail Act to restrict the grounds on which it is possible to refuse bail to defendants charged with a summary-only offence that is punishable by imprisonment. The aim is that custody should be targeted as precisely as possible upon cases where there is otherwise a risk of harm to the public. The court has to make a risk assessment, balancing the risk which releasing the defendant on bail may pose to the public or to the administration of justice, against the consideration that it is a serious step to remand in custody. This involves not only assessing defendants past behaviour but also predicting how they might behave.
In Question HL3462, Lord Laird asked about the laws on equality and discrimination. The Government recently announced plans in relation to this area. The European Union is also currently considering new proposals to extend its discrimination legislation. It nevertheless remains that our domestic law already offers more comprehensive protection against discrimination than that implemented at a European Union level. Lord Laird also asked whether the Government will adopt positive discrimination. Positive discrimination generally refers to discrimination in favour of a person from a particular under-represented or otherwise disadvantaged group solely because they come from that particular group. It is, in the main, unlawful under both domestic and European legislation. The main exception is in disability legislation, which permits positive discrimination in certain circumstances where disabled people may be given preference over non-disabled people. While the Government do not in general support positive discrimination, they do support appropriate positive action, in particular through duties on the public sector to work towards the better realisation of equality on certain grounds.
Lord Laird also asked whether the Government will ensure that disabled people enjoy human rights equally with others. It is, of course, a key part of the framework of the ECHR and the Human Rights Act that not only should the Convention rights be protected, but that under Article 14 there should be no discrimination in their protection. Furthermore, while it will not form part of our domestic law, the United Kingdom has been a strong supporter of the new United Nations Convention on Disability Rights, which the Government intend to ratify before the end of this year.
Question HL3463, asked whether the Government intend to create a horizontal right to life, protecting people from other people as well as from the state. This is the function of the criminal law, which makes specific provision in this respect. The Government are currently undertaking a review of the law of homicide, following recommendations made by the Law Commission. This stage of the review was announced in December 2007 and will cover the partial defences of provocation and diminished responsibility, together with the law on infanticide and complicity. Any changes made to the law will not affect the applicability of the law to individuals and to the state. The Government have also recently introduced the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007, which came into force on
The Government have no plans to create any new retrospectivity provisions in the Human Rights Act. In general, the Act applies only to events occurring after it came into force; however, it should be noted that Section 22(4) permits the use of Section 7(1)(b) of the Act, as indicated above, in proceedings brought by or at the instigation of a public authority whenever the act in question took place. It was however decided by the House of Lords in R (Hurst) v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis1 that Section 22(4) does not relate to a decision not to reopen an inquest into a death which took place before the Act came into force. The Government believe that this is the correct position under the Act.
Lord Laird asked whether the Government will extend the law on inquests to allow witnesses to be compelled to give evidence. A coroner already has power under the Coroners Rules 1984 to compel a witness who is within his or her district to attend an inquest. A coroner has no direct power to compel a witness who is outside his or her district to attend an inquest or to require a witness to produce documents, but can apply to the High Court or a county court for a witness summons in such cases. The Coroners and Death Certification Bill will give coroners power to compel witnesses to attend witnesses whether or not the witness is within the coroners jurisdiction. The Bill will also give coroners direct power to compel a witness to produce documents.
Lord Laird also asked whether the Government will alter the law on the minimum use of force to create a different test for persons under the age of 18. Last year, the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families set up a joint review of restraint issues in juvenile settings including secure training centres, young offender institutions and secure childrens homes. We will consider the issue of the use of force in light of the recommendations that have been made.
In Question HL3464, Lord Laird asked about hate crime legislation. The criminal law protects everybody from violence, threats of violence, harassment or criminal damage to property. There are also aggravated offences of racial and religiously motivated assault, harassment and criminal damage which attract higher maximum penalties than if the offence is not aggravated. In addition, there are statutory aggravating factors which need to be considered in sentencing for any offence if the offence is motivated by hatred based on race, religion, sexual orientation or disability. The Government have no plans to amend the law in this respect.
In relation to the second part of this Question, the Government also have no plans to amend the law in respect of a womans right to control her reproduction. In respect of contraception, the National Health Service Act 2006 covers the provision of advice and treatment in relation to contraception, as well as the supply of substances and appliances, and places an obligation on the Secretary of State (in this case, the Secretary of State for Health) to make arrangements to such extent as he considers necessary to meet all reasonable requirements.
The present law governing abortion in England, Scotland and Wales is the Abortion Act 1967 and the Abortion Regulations 1991, as amended. Further amendments to this legislation have been proposed during the passage of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, in accordance with the accepted parliamentary practice that proposals for changes in the law on abortion come from Back-Bench Members and are decided on the basis of free votes. However, the Government believe that the Abortion Act 1967, as amended, works as Parliament intended and does not require amendment at the current time.
In his Question HL3465, Lord Laird asked whether the Government will reform the law permitting the return of a person to a country where he may be legally executed. There is no such law. Indeed, under the ECHR and the Human Rights Act, the Government may not return someone to a country where there are concerns that they may be executed without prior credible assurances that such an execution would not take place. This is in accordance with the Governments general opposition to the death penalty.
Lord Laird also asked whether the Government will prohibit evidence obtained through ill treatment or torture from being admissible in criminal proceedings. As a matter of fundamental principle, the Government condemn the use of torture. Evidence found to have been obtained as a result of torture is not admissible in criminal or civil proceedings in the United Kingdom, except in the very limited circumstances set out in Article 15 of the United Nations Convention Against Torture in relation to prosecutions of those accused of torture. The proper approach to the consideration of whether evidence has been obtained by torture is found in the speeches of Lords Hope, Rodger, Carswell and Simon in A and others v Secretary of State for the Home Department (No 2)2.
In relation to Question HL3466, the Government have no plans to alter the absolute prohibition on slavery and forced labour contained in the Human Rights Act. The Government do not however believe that work in prison should be viewed in this context. The benefits of providing work in prisons have long been recognised. Having prisoners out of cells and taking part in employment helps maintain order and control, and introduces many to the work ethic and provides them with valuable skills which will increase their resettlement opportunities and reduce reoffending. Providing essential services to prisons is also part of the prisoner giving something back to society.
Along with colleagues from the Department of Innovation, Universities and Skills, my ministerial colleague David Hanson hosted a forum on
In Question HL3488, Lord Laird asked whether the Government will add to the right to respect for private and family life a right to freedom from domestic violence and the protection of the best interests of the child. The right of the individual not to be subject to inhuman or degrading treatment is already covered by Article 3 of the Convention rights; there will be times when this will place a positive obligation upon a public authority to intervene where violence is known or believed to be occurring in a domestic setting, so as to enforce the existing provisions of the criminal law. The Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 strengthened the law on domestic violence and made a number of amendments to the Family Law Act 1996 to provide better protection for victims and their children, while also holding offenders to account. The 2004 Act also included significant new police powers to deal with domestic violence, including making it a criminal offence to breach a non-molestation order, and making common assault an arrestable offence. Beyond the law itself, the Government have had a national domestic violence delivery plan since 2005, through which we are seeking to make sure that domestic violence is being tackled through all of our mainstream services. The plan outlines how we will ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice while providing the best possible help for victims and their children.
In relation to the best interests of a child, existing legislation already places a duty on key persons and agencies who come into contact with children to make arrangements to safeguard and promote their welfare. Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 places a duty on those key persons and bodies to make arrangements to ensure that in discharging their functions, they have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The Government have defined safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children in statutory guidance as: protecting children from maltreatment; preventing impairment of childrens health or development; ensuring that children are growing up in circumstances consistent with the provision of safe and effective care; and undertaking that role so as to enable those children to have optimum life chances and to enter adulthood successfully.
Lord Laird also asked about the certificate of approval scheme for non-nationals wishing to marry or enter into a civil partnership. This was introduced under the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 in order to reduce the number of sham marriages, which were an abuse of immigration control and which were rightly a subject of public concern. The scheme has been very successful in meeting its aims. Section 24 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999 requires registrars who have reasonable grounds for suspecting that a marriage will be a sham marriage to notify the Home Secretary without delay. The number of such notifications rose from 752 in 2001 to a peak of 3578 in 2004, but following the introduction of the certificate of approval scheme on
The final two parts of this Question relate to data protection legislation. The Data Protection Act 1998 (DPA) gives effect in United Kingdom law to the 1995 EC Data Protection Directive. Under the DPA, the data subject's consent is required before personal and sensitive information can be processed. In addition to this, data controllers are required to comply with eight data protection principles when they process personal and sensitive data unless they are exempt from one or all of them. We believe the current framework for processing personal data and sensitive data found at Schedules 2 and 3 respectively of the DPA is stringent enough to ensure personal and sensitive data are processed in a fair and lawful manner, balancing the privacy rights of individuals with the legitimate needs of organisations to make use of such data.
Current exemptions to the disclosure of personal information include those for national security and the prevention or detection of crime. There are no plans to remove the current list of exemptions.
In Question HL3489, Lord Laird asked whether the Government plan to abolish all oaths imposed by state bodies. The Government are content that current practice in relation to the swearing of oaths whether in court, upon the acceptance of public office or otherwise is appropriate and compatible with the freedom of thought, conscience and religion under Article 9 of the Convention rights. In particular, should a persons beliefs prevent them swearing an oath, they may instead choose to affirm. The Government therefore have no plans to change the law in this respect.
Lord Laird in his Question HL3490 asked whether the Government will extend freedom of information legislation to cover information required for the exercise or protection of human rights. The Freedom of Information Act 2000 applies to all information held by the public authorities that are subject to the Act. Such bodies are legally obliged to respond in accordance with the Act to any request for information that they hold. Provided the request is in writing and sufficiently clear to enable the public authority to identify the information, the public authority must provide it unless it is covered by one of the exemptions set out in the Act, or the cost of identifying, locating and extracting the information would exceed the appropriate limit set out in the fees regulations. Information required for the exercise or protection of human rights is treated no differently from any other information: if it is held by a public authority that is subject to the Act, the response to any request for the information would be governed by the Act as it stands, and there is therefore no need for the Act to be extended in order to apply to such information.
Lord Laird further asked whether the Government will add consideration of the best interests of children to the limitations on the rights to freedom of expression. That freedom, as contained in Article 10 of the Convention rights, must already be exercised subject to certain responsibilities and restrictions.
The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Given that these limitations are prescribed in the ECHR, the Government have no plans to change or augment them in the Human Rights Act, nor to seek the amendment of the Convention.
Lord Laird asked in relation to this Question whether the Government intends to extend the law on incitement to hatred, which currently covers incitement to hatred on the basis of race and religion. The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 introduced a prohibition on incitement to hatred on the basis of sexual orientation, which we plan to bring into force in the autumn. The Government have considered whether there is a need for similar laws to cover other groups, such as transgendered and disabled people. Although these groups are vulnerable to crime, and perhaps crime motivated by hatred, we have seen no compelling evidence that there is systematic incitement to hatred of these groups. We intend to keep under review whether there is a need for legislation to cover any other vulnerable group.
In Question HL3491, Lord Laird asked whether the Government will reverse the emphasis of the right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly to make association more important that peaceful assembly. Article 11 of the Convention rights, in which this right is contained, specifies no priority or emphasis between the two aspects of the right, and the Government does not see what would be achieved by introducing one.
In relation to the second part of this Question, there is already a wide range of rights for individuals to belong to a trade union, to use a trade union's services and to participate in a union's activities. These are mostly set out in the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. These include rights not to be dismissed or suffer other detriment on these grounds. These rights, which are found in Sections 146 and 152 of the 1992 Act, were strengthened by the Employment Relations Act 2004. Among other things, the 2004 Act made it unlawful for employers to offer inducements to workers not to belong to a trade union, not to participate in a union's activities at an appropriate time and not to use a union's services at an appropriate time.
The freedom for individuals to take industrial action is also recognised in British law. Most notably, Section 236 of the1992 Act stipulates that a court cannot order an employee to do any work and to attend his workplace. In Section 238A of the 1992 Act there are also significant protections against dismissal for those taking official and lawfully organised industrial action. Individuals and their trade unions also have important rights in respect of collective bargaining. For example, Schedule A1 of the 1992 Act, which was inserted by the Employment Relations Act 1999, provides a statutory procedure whereby trade unions may be recognised by an employer for collective bargaining purpose where a majority of the relevant workforce supports it.
Part (c) of this Question covers the same ground as part (c) of the previous Question.
Finally, the Government have not granted, nor do they intend to grant, trade union rights to the Armed Forces. Safeguarding the welfare and well-being of members of the Armed Forces is an integral part of the duty of the chain of command a duty that is taken very seriously. When service men and women consider themselves wronged, they have a statutory right to complain, ultimately to the Defence Council. Service personnel may join trade and professional associations, as well as organisations representing their interests, such as the Forces Pensions Society. The forces families federations represent the views of the wider service community. The Government therefore do not consider there is a distinct role and need for another body in the shape of a trade union or federation for the Armed Forces.
In Question HL3492, Lord Laird asked whether the Government will incorporate in domestic law the Council of Europe Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. The Government have no plans to do so. Lord Laird further asked whether the Government will limit cultural, ethnic, linguistic, religious and communal minority rights so as not to conflict with the rights and freedoms of others. In general, our law does not recognise general rights of these sorts, with the exception of the freedom to manifest ones religion or beliefs under Article 9 of the Convention rights. This freedom is not absolute, and may be limited to the extent necessary in a democratic society for purposes that include the interests of public safety, the protection of public order, health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
In relation to the third part of this Question, the Government have no plans to introduce specific protection against coercive cultural assimilation by public bodies. Government policies are broadly supportive of cohesion and integration within a diverse society. The Government similarly have no plans to create a specific right to education in minority languages. However, the devolved Administrations do make provision where appropriate for education in our national minority languages.
Finally, the Government have no plans to treat sexual orientation as a basis for national minority status. The Government interpret the concept of national minority in the previously mentioned framework convention as applying to minority racial groups within the meaning of the Race Relations Act 1976.
In respect of Question HL3517, although there is no absolute right within British law to British nationality, there are provisions about the acquisition of citizenship by a stateless person which enable us to meet our obligations under the 1961 United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Under Section 1 of the British Nationality Act 1981, a child born in the United Kingdom to a parent who is a British citizen or settled in the United Kingdom will become a British citizen. Section 1 also provides that any child born here who was not British at birth but whose parent becomes British or settled after their birth to be registered as a British citizen while a minor. Similarly, any child born in the United Kingdom and who lives here for the first 10 years of his or her life may register as a British citizen. Schedule 2 of the Act also provides that a person under the age of 22 who has lived in the United Kingdom for a continuous period of five years may register as a British citizen; this provision is more generous than that prescribed in Article 1 of the United Nations Convention, which permits states to impose a 10-year residence requirement. The Government believe that it is reasonable to ensure that those who benefit from British citizenship demonstrate a real link with this country through a substantial period of residence here, in addition to the location of their birth.
Further to this, there are also provisions in the 1981 Act allowing for the registration of stateless children of British nationals, and for the registration of people born stateless before 1983 who can demonstrate one of a set of defined connections to the United Kingdom or its current or former overseas possessions or territories. There are provisions in the 1981 Act which allow the Home Secretary to deprive a person of their British citizenship. If this is done on the basis that it is conducive to the public good, there is a requirement that the person should not be left stateless as a result.
The British Nationality Act 1981, in providing for the acquisition of citizenship since 1983, does not discriminate on grounds other than nationality. Previous legislation was discriminatory in that British women were not able to pass on citizenship to their children born in the United Kingdom. The 1981 Act provided that, from
Lord Laird in his Question HL3518 asked about lifelong learning. The Government recognise the importance of proper provision in this area, which is why the Education and Skills Bill currently before Parliament strengthens the framework for the provision through the Learning and Skills Council of adult literacy, numeracy and first level 2 qualifications. Other provisions in the Bill clarify the framework for post-16 education. As described in the draft legislative programme, the Government plan in the next Session to provide a statutory basis for the apprenticeship programme, creating a new national apprenticeships service, establishing the first statutory entitlement to apprenticeships for all suitably qualified young people, and ensuring that careers teachers and advisers provide comprehensive information about apprenticeships.
Lord Laird also asked about private educational institutions. All independent schools in England must be registered with the Department for Children, Schools and Families, and reach and maintain standards set out in the Education (Independent School Standards) (England) Regulations 2003, as amended. The standards include the requirement for independent schools to promote principles which ensure that their pupils:
are able to distinguish right from wrong and respect the law; accept responsibility for their behaviour, show initiative and contribute to community life;have a broad general knowledge of public institutions and services in England; andacquire an appreciation of and respect for their own and other cultures in a way that promotes tolerance and harmony between different cultural traditions.
Private further and higher education institutions that receive government funding, as well as being companies subject to the usual provisions of company law, are also obliged to respect conditions placed on that funding, which would include, for example, the principles of equality and diversity. Such institutions are also bound to follow the requirements laid down in their founding documents, whether they were founded under an Act of Parliament, by royal charter, or as a company limited by guarantee.
In respect of the next part of the Question, the right to universal educational access is both established and realised. The Governments educational policy is geared towards promoting educational achievement for all children and young people, through access to appropriate resources and support.
Lord Laird also asked whether the Government will create extensive rights for children in education. Children are already afforded rights of many types in their education. For example, the national curriculum entitles children to a balanced and broadly-based curriculum that prepares them for later life. Children also have rights around equality, safety and well-being, both in education and beyond. Children of course also have the benefit of the rights protected under the Human Rights Act
Finally, this Government believe in allowing parents choice in the way in which their children are educated. In relation to specific aspects of education, parents already have the right to withdraw children from all or any part of sex and relationship education, other than that required as part of statutory science. Government guidance also states that schools should also consult parents when developing their sex and relationship education policy to ensure that they develop policies which reflect parents wishes and the culture of the community they serve. Similarly, parents have the right to withdraw their children from all or any part of religious education. They do not have to give a reason for withdrawal and the school is expected to comply with the request. The right of withdrawal applies to all schools, including those with a religious character (sometimes known as faith schools). Parents can also withdraw their child from all or any part of collective worship.
In relation to standards of living in Lord Lairds Question HL3519, the Government have no plans to alter the law in this area. It is, however, the Governments aim that everyone should have access to a decent home at a price they can afford. To help deliver this, the Government have introduced new statutory standards for housing in April 2006 the housing health and safety rating system. The Government are also committed to achieving the decent homes standard which will ensure that every social home meets at least a minimum standard, and that improvements in housing conditions in the private sector are targeted on vulnerable households.
In Question HL3520, Lord Laird asked whether the Government intend to alter the law on reproductive healthcare. As noted above in relation to Question HL3464, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill is currently progressing through Parliament; this Bill updates the regulation of assisted reproduction and embryo research in the light of changes in science and society since the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990.
The Government are committed to the realisation of the right of everyone, reflected in Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health. Information about how the Government are working to realise this right was presented to the United Nations in July 2007 in the Fifth Periodic Report of the United Kingdom, the Crown Dependencies and the British Overseas Territories under the ICESCR5.
Lord Laird also asked about emergency medical treatment and essential primary healthcare. Primary care trusts must, to the extent that they consider necessary to meet all reasonable requirements, exercise their powers so as to provide primary medical services within their area, or secure their provision within their area. Primary medical services contracts set out those essential services that must be provided to patients. Under their contracts, general practices are required to treat anyone, regardless of whether they are registered with the practice, if they require emergency or immediately necessary treatment.
In the final part of this Question, Lord Laird asked about the access of children to information on social and health issues. The Government are committed to the provision of Personal, Social, Health Education (PSHE) in schools and recognise its valuable contribution to the personal, social and moral development of pupils. High quality PSHE is key to meeting the five Every Child Matters national outcomes for children and an important part of meeting the new duty to promote well-being. The Government believes that recent changes, such as the revised secondary curriculum, the new duty to promote wellbeing and the emphasis on Every Child Matters outcomes give PSHE a secure place in the curriculum. Currently there are no plans to change the statutory status of PSHE. Many aspects of PSHE already have a statutory basis sex education, drug education and careers. In addition there are number of requirements which support PSHE in school such as the need for policies on bullying, promoting race relations and child protection.
In relation to Lord Lairds Question HL3521, there are currently no proposals to create a legal right to housing for everyone or to make public authorities responsible for housing those evicted by the courts.
Housing legislation that applies to England and Wales already provides a right to housing for people who have become homeless through no fault of their own and who meet certain criteria. Those criteria are that the person must be eligible for assistance (certain categories of person from abroad are ineligible), and that he or she has a priority need for accommodation. The priority need categories include applicants whose household includes a dependant child, pregnant woman or someone who is vulnerable for some reason. A person also has a priority need if he is homeless or likely to become homeless within 28 days as a result of an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster. Where these criteria are met, the local authority has a continuing duty to secure suitable accommodation until a settled home can be offered. In most cases, the offer of a settled home that brings the homelessness duty to an end is an offer of social housing.
The legislation also provides a right for people (whether homeless or not) to apply for social housing to any local housing authority in England or Wales, and to have that application considered by the local authority in accordance with the authoritys allocation scheme. Anyone is eligible for an allocation of accommodation, with the exception of certain persons from abroad specified in regulations and persons whom an authority decides to treat as ineligible because of serious unacceptable behaviour. People on a low income who need financial help may also be able to get housing benefit.
In relation to Question HL3522, the mission of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is to enable everyone to live within our environmental limits. Two key cross-government priorities are to secure a healthy natural environment for today and the future, and to lead the global effort to avoid dangerous climate change. For example, the Climate Change Bill provides a clear, credible, long-term framework for the UK to achieve its goals of reducing carbon dioxide emissions and will ensure that steps are taken towards adapting to the impacts of climate change.
The Defra website6, in addition to the websites of various agencies7, contains extensive information on how Defra's policies on resources and environmental systems water, land and air are delivered on the ground. The Environmental Information Regulations also give the public rights of access to environmental information.
In relation to planning decisions, the Planning Bill will introduce a new single consent regime for nationally significant infrastructure. A key objective of the Planning Bill is to enhance public participation in decisions on major infrastructure. There are clear rights and duties for consultation and participation on the face of the Bill. These include a duty on Ministers to consult on the new national policy statements, and a statutory duty on promoters to consult local authorities and local communities on any potential application. The examination stage for proposals will also be easier and quicker for the public to engage with.
In Question HL3553, Lord Laird asked about various aspects of the right to work. Information on the Governments realisation of the right to work (Article 6) and the right to fair conditions of employment (Article 7) is set out in its 2007 report under the ICESCR8. In addition, the Employment Bill currently before Parliament reforms the existing law in relation to a range of areas of employment protection.
In relation to equal conditions of work for women and men, a range of legislation founded on the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 prohibits most kinds of discrimination between women and men in the workplace. Noted above, in relation to Question HL3462, were the recent announcements by the Government in relation to laws on equality and discrimination.
Legal migrant workers have the same employment rights and recourses as their UK equivalents. The Government are keen to ensure that migrant workers coming to the UK are aware of their employment rights and responsibilities. We have co-operated with the Portuguese, Polish and Lithuanian Governments on information leaflets for their nationals, which are available from the website of the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform (BERR)9. We have also produced a basic, one page Working in the UK: Know your rights and where to get help and advice leaflet available in Bulgarian, English, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian and Slovakian.
In relation to rest and leisure, the statutory entitlement to paid leave increased to 4.8 weeks (24 days if you work a five day week) from
The Government have embarked on comprehensive reform of state and private pensions. A key objective of pensions reform is to deliver fair outcomes, to women and carers in particular. The Pensions Act 2007 has made a number of changes to the rules for state pension. The changes will make it easier to build up state pension provision, improving state pension coverage and outcomes for women and carers in particular and providing a more solid state foundation on which to make private pension saving. The current Pensions Bill 2007 contains measures intended to encourage and enable more people to save for their retirement. These measures will ensure that all workers have access to workplace pension saving, providing equality of opportunity for men and women to build up a private pension.
Finally, in relation to the fair treatment of pregnant women and workers with children, the policy statement Success At Work, published in March 2006 by the then-Department for Trade and Industry, sets out the current provisions for and planned extensions to family leave rights. In addition, in November 2007, the Government commissioned Imelda Walsh to conduct a review to assess how to extend the right to request to parents of older children. Ms Walsh's report10 was published on
In Question HL3554, Lord Laird asked about the right to social security. There is no single right to social security in our domestic law. Entitlement conditions for social security benefits are set out in a large number of statutes. Changes and additions to this body of legislation are frequently made over the course of a Parliament. In making such changes, full consideration is given to any relevant equality and human rights issues that might arise.
In Question HL3555, Lord Laird asked about informal justice mechanisms. The Government are committed to putting victims at the centre of the criminal justice system, and have introduced a restorative justice strategy. Restorative justice is about offenders making amends directly to the people or organisations they have harmed. The Government support restorative justice because it gives victims a greater voice in the criminal justice system, allows victims to receive an explanation and more meaningful reparation from offenders, makes offenders accountable by allowing them to take responsibility for their action, and builds community confidence that offenders are making amends for their wrongdoing.
Lord Laird then asked about the appointments of those involved in the administration of justice; this can include administrative staff in the justice system as well as candidates for judicial office. In relation to the former, all those in the administration of justice in Her Majestys Courts Service are recruited or appointed on the basis of a core competence framework which provides fair, consistent and unbiased criteria for choosing who to recruit or appoint. That policy is based on the fundamental principle enshrined in the Civil Service Commissioners' Recruitment Code of selection for appointment on merit on the basis of fair and open competition.
In relation to judicial office holders, the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) is an independent non-departmental public body (NDPB) set up by the Constitutional Reform Act in 2005 to select candidates for judicial office in England and Wales. It does so on merit, through fair and open competition, from the widest range of eligible candidates. The appointment process remains underpinned by the principle of selection on merit. The JAC defines merit on the basis of five core qualities and abilities which it has identified as being needed for judicial office, and on which it consulted widely before commencing operation. The JAC was set up in order to maintain and strengthen judicial independence by taking responsibility for selecting candidates for judicial office out of the hands of the Lord Chancellor and making the appointments process clearer and more accountable.
In Question HL3556, Lord Laird asked whether we will remove civil rights from the ambit of the right to a fair trial. This right, as reflected in Article 6 of the Convention rights, says that in the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. The term civil rights and obligations has an autonomous meaning in the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, reflecting a category of non-criminal proceedings that are covered by Article 6. The Government have no plans to change this.
Lord Laird then asked about the right of appeal to a higher tribunal. Although a right of appeal is not required in most circumstances by Article 6, it is an important part of allowing a person to challenge the outcome of a trial; in particular, it represents a way in which a person may use the Human Rights Act to challenge the conduct or outcome of a trial as incompatible with their Convention rights. Article 2 of the Seventh Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights protects the right to appeal specifically in criminal matters, subject to certain exceptions. The Government have previously indicated that they intend to sign and ratify the Seventh Protocol once certain provisions of our domestic law that are incompatible with another of the rights that it protects have been modified.
Taking Lord Lairds Question about the provision of information on rights in appropriate and accessible language to refer specifically to criminal trials, Article 6(3) of the Convention rights states that everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights: to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail of the nature and cause of the accusation against him; [...] to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court. These obligations are reflected in the national agreement on the use of interpreters and translators in investigations and proceedings with the criminal justice system, which is applicable in court proceedings.
On the right to silence, we are satisfied that the law on adverse inferences, as set out in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, contains sufficient safeguards for the defence. The Government therefore have no plans to legislate on the subject.
On trial by jury, the Government have no intention of making provision for trials on indictment to take place without a jury in any circumstances beyond those for which provision is already made in the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004.
The power to compel witnesses rests with the court and is exercisable on the application of either the prosecution or the defence. The relevant legislation is the Criminal Procedure (Attendance of Witnesses) Act 1965, as amended by the Criminal Procedure and Investigations Act 1996, and the Magistrates Courts Act 1980. The Government have no plans for further legislation in the area.
The admission of evidence is a matter for courts to determine. Courts and tribunals are themselves public authorities under the Human Rights Act, and have the obligation not to act incompatibly with the Convention rights. They would therefore consider the overall fairness of a trial when making decisions on the admission of evidence.
In relation to part (h) of Question HL3556, about the availability of interpreters in custody, I refer to my response to part (c) of Question HL3461 on the same subject. Similarly, on part (i) of this Question, I refer to the response to the more extensive Question HL3619 below.
Finally, Lord Laird asked whether the Government will ensure there are no controls on lawyers. On the assumption that it is the criminal trial process referred to, the conduct of the trial is again a matter for the court to determine, taking into account the obligation to ensure the trial is fair.
In Question HL3557, Lord Laird asked about humane conditions of detention. The National Offender Management Service (NOMS) is committed to providing decent and humane conditions for all those committed to custody. All accommodation must be certified by the area manager as complying with minimum standards of space, furnishing, heat and light. There are national standards, which are monitored by audit, covering other aspects of decency and humane treatment such as access to showers, sanitation, clean clothing and medical care, provision of meals and regime activity.
Lord Laird specifically asked whether the Government will ensure there is no deprivation or restriction of any human rights except to the extent demonstrably necessitated by the fact of detention. The Government accept this principle: as prisons are public authorities for the purposes of the Human Rights Act, they are required to respect the Convention rights insofar as is compatible with secure detention.
Lord Laird also asked about the provision of information on the reasons for deprivation of liberty. In addition to the response to Question HL3461 above in relation to the communication of reasons for arrest and immigration detention, offenders in prison are sentenced by the courts who explain the purpose of the sentence. At first reception, prison staff will check that there is authority to detain. During the induction process and beyond, prison staff inform prisoners of how the sentence will be enforced, explain the calculation of the sentence length and the date of earliest release.
In relation to treatment and support for rehabilitation into society, Her Majesty's Prison Service's (HMPS) statement of purpose includes a commitment to help prisoners lead law-abiding and useful lives in custody and after release. In 2007-2008, HMPS delivered 6,960 living skills programmes, 1,037 sex offender treatment programmes and 7,412 drug treatment programmes. HMPS works in partnership with the Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills and the Learning and Skills Council to provide educational and training opportunities to help prisoners gain employment on release.
In relation to legal and medical assistance, I refer to my response to Lord Lairds Question HL3461 above. Each prison has one or more chaplains to offer pastoral care and support to prisoners of any faith. Prisoners have 24-hour confidential access to the Samaritans as well as trained prisoner listeners. Prison wing staff, including personal officers, also perform this role for individual prisoners.
£5 million is spent each year to help offenders maintain positive ties with their children and families. We are developing a national framework which will aim to improve support for the families of offenders at all stages, from arrest to end of sentence and beyond, setting expectations of local partners. This will build on the progress prisons have made: most now have a visitor centre outside the gate, providing information and support for families. Over 100 prisons in England and Wales offer supervised play areas for some visits. Special visits are arranged which focus on the needs of the child. There is also provision for mothers to have young children with them in prison, where this is in the interests of the child.
Last year, the Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Ministry of Justice conducted a priority joint review to improve support for the children of offenders. It concluded that parental imprisonment is a valuable opportunity to identify children at risk of poor outcomes and to offer them support. The findings, which were published in parallel with the Think Family: Improving the Life Chances of Families at Risk review, on
NOMS is already committed to assisting the reintegration and resettlement of former prisoners. The offender management model provides any prisoner serving 12 months or more with a named offender manager whose remit is to assist their return to the community and to provide continuity of supervision while they are on licence after release. Prisons try to assist as many prisoners as possible to find accommodation and employment on release. In 2007-08, HMPS exceeded its targets for both employment (27.3 per cent against a target of 25 per cent) and accommodation (85.4 per cent against a target of 74 per cent).
Lord Lairds Question HL3558 asked about the rights of victims and witnesses. Statutory rights for victims, which apply to all victims who make an allegation to the police regardless of any other factor, are provided for under the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime. The code is made under Section 32 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004 and requires criminal justice agencies to provide certain levels of service to victims. The Government have no current plans to alter the code of practice. However, the Government are committed to ensuring that witnesses receive a comparably high level of service as victims do, and have introduced a number of reforms to achieve this, such as the introduction of 165 dedicated witness care units across England and Wales.
In Question HL3617, Lord Laird asked about children and vulnerable adults as witnesses and victims of crime. In their draft legislative programme, the Government have indicated that they plan to legislate during the next Session of Parliament to amend and extend special measures for victims and intimidated witnesses, such as live links and screens round the witness box. The issue of cross-examination of young witnesses was discussed in the consultation paper Improving the criminal trial process for young witnesses published in June 2007. The responses to the consultation paper are currently being analysed and a government response will be issued.
In Question HL3618, Lord Laird asked whether we will require full disclosure of the truth relating to relevant crimes or human rights violations. We have no plans to legislate at this time, although the Government are committed to examining the wider issues of handling the past in Northern Ireland.
Lord Laird then asked whether we will ensure necessary care and support is provided in accordance with the needs of victims. I noted the existence of the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime in my response to Question HL3558 above. The Government are firmly committed to ensuring victims receive care and support that is tailored to their needs. The code itself requires agencies to provide a range of support, advice and information for victims. In addition, there are other non-statutory means of support for victims. Criminal justice processes have been redefined around the needs of victims, for example through the introduction of the aforementioned 165 joint police and Crown Prosecution Service witness care units, which provide a single point of contact and support for victims and witnesses attending court. Similarly, the Government provide funding to a wide range of voluntary sector organisations supporting victims of crime.
Lord Laird then asked about the investigation of missing persons, which already occurs. The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) published in 2005 Guidance on the Management, Recording and Investigation of Missing Persons13. The ACPO defines a missing person as anyone whose whereabouts is unknown whatever the circumstances of disappearance. They will be considered missing until located and their well-being or otherwise established. In terms of missing persons investigations, there is a range of national statutory and non-governmental organisations that play a role in the prevention and management of missing persons cases, and a large number of organisations offer assistance in matters relating to missing persons. As well as being the primary investigators of missing persons cases, the police are also the primary co-ordinators of the response from these other agencies.
In relation to the further Questions asked by Lord Laird asked about victims of crime, the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime discussed above sets out the standards of service that victims should receive from criminal justice system (CJS) agencies. Because of this, it has to define a victim as someone who has made an allegation to the police otherwise they would not come into contact with the police or other agencies. However, the Code does make clear in section 3.10 that it is immaterial whether the police believe the allegation or whether an offender is subsequently charged all that matters is the fact of giving an allegation. Outside statutory support, voluntary sector services do not discriminate on the basis of whether a victim has reported a crime: Victim Support, for example, is the national charity that offers practical and emotional support to victims, and will do so regardless of whether a victim has reported a crime.
Lord Laird asked further Questions about children in the justice system in Question HL3619.
We believe that the best interests of children are already taken into account. Article 3 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that in all actions undertaken in a court of law the best interests of the child are a primary consideration. As the criminal court and the criminal justice system need to take a whole range of factors into account, such as the need to address offending or reoffending behaviour, we believe that achieving this aim acts in the best interest of the young person. It is also the duty of the court to take into account the needs and interests of victims and the wider community as well as those of the offender. Welfare clearly has a key role to play within the sentencing framework and courts already have a duty to have regard to this through Section 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. We have clarified this by providing a purpose of sentencing for young people which places a duty on the court to have equal regard to:
(a) the principal aim of the youth justice system (prevention of offending or reoffending by young people)(b) the welfare of the young person in accordance with Section 44 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, and(c) the purposes of sentencing.
The Government do not intend to change the age of criminal responsibility. The Government believe in relation to England and Wales that commencing criminal responsibility from the age of 10 helps children to develop a sense of personal responsibility for their behaviour. At this age children can generally differentiate between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing, and it is not in the interests of justice, victims or the children themselves to prevent offending being challenged through formal criminal justice processes. However, interventions are intended to be rehabilitative rather than punitive, and a significant role of the local multiagency youth offending teams in England and Wales is to work closely with children beginning to display offending behaviour to prevent it escalating. As part of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 the Government have also introduced a further out-of-court disposal, the youth conditional caution. The aim of the youth conditional caution is to reduce the number of children being taken to court for relatively low-level offences by creating an alternative, robust mechanism for bringing young offenders to account and addressing the causes of their behaviour.
Further to my response to Question HL3461, the principle that children are detained or imprisoned only as a measure of last resort is already enshrined in law. Section 152(2) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 states that the court must not pass a custodial sentence (which includes custodial sentences for young offenders section 305 of the 2003 Act and section 76 of the Sentencing Act) unless it is of the opinion that the offence, or the combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, was so serious that neither a fine alone nor a community sentence can be justified for the offence. We will be supplementing this with an additional requirement for young people set out in the Criminal Justice & Immigration Act. This will mean that, when passing a discretionary custodial sentence on an offender under the age of 18, the court must, as well as the obligations set out by Section 152, also include a statement that it is of the opinion that the sentence of a youth rehabilitation order with intensive supervision and surveillance or fostering cannot be justified, and why it is of that opinion.
In Question HL3620, Lord Laird asked about participation in public life. The Government are keen to encourage those from all backgrounds to participate in public life and political affairs. It is for that reason that they have adopted initiatives such as the use of women-only electoral shortlists designed to create more women MPs and local councillors and the BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Women Councillors Taskforce that is chaired by Baroness Uddin and is intended to encourage more women from BAME backgrounds to become involved in local politics. Similarly, the Council of Europe Convention on the Participation of Foreigners in Public Life gives foreign residents rights to participate fully in the affairs of their local community. Although the United Kingdom has not ratified the Convention, we do comply with its Chapters A and B, and have announced our intention to ratify the Convention in due course.
The Government appreciate the importance of having a balance of men and women holding domestic and international public position. Public appointments will, so far as the application of positive action provisions to them is concerned, be treated similarly to employment relationships in the Equality Bill. In relation specifically to the House of Commons, the Speaker in a Statement to the House on
Regarding Lord Lairds question about the equal representation of men and women in the formulation of Government policy, this is taken to mean the composition of the Civil Service, which of course supports the policy process. The composition of central government departments by headcount is 46.8 per cent male and 53.2 per cent female14. The Civil Service also has a published diversity strategy (10-point plan on delivering a diverse Civil Service) which sets targets for the representation of women in the Senior Civil Service.
In Question HL3621, Lord Laird asked whether we will provide the right to a passport for citizens. United Kingdom passports are currently issued under the royal prerogative. In the White Paper, The Governance of Britain Constitutional Renewal (March 2008), the Government confirmed their view that they should remove the prerogative in relation to passports and announced their intention to introduce comprehensive legislation on the procedures for issuing passports.
The Government have no plans at this time to alter any laws on the freedom of movement, whether generally or in relation to specific groups. However, we are in the process of ratifying the Council of Europe Convention on Action against Trafficking in Human Beings which will further strengthen and widen our support mechanisms for victims of human trafficking.
In Lord Lairds Question HL3664 he asked about the recognition of both settled and nomadic lifestyles. The Government believe everyone has the right to a decent home, whichever lifestyle they choose. Planning policy for Gypsies and Travellers is set out in ODPM Circular 01/2006. Whether or not someone is defined as having a nomadic habit of life is determined on a case-by-case basis, and each planning application is determined on its own merits, in accordance with national planning guidance and local policies in the development plan.
Finally, in Question HL3665, Lord Laird returned to the rights of the child. The Government have signed and ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since the ratification, the Government have been implementing the Convention through a mix of legislative provisions and policy initiatives, for example, the Children Act 2004, Every Child Matters and, most recently, the wealth of initiatives set out in the Childrens Plan.
Further to my response to HL3488 and HL3619 on the best interests of children, the Children Act 1989 has at its foundation the requirement that the welfare of the child must be the court's paramount consideration in any decision relating to his or her upbringing. Under the Act, a court must have regard in particular to the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child concerned (considered in the light of age and understanding), the child's needs and how they are to be met, relevant personal background, any harm suffered or risk of harm, and the likely risk of any change of circumstances. Under Section 1 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, a court or adoption agency that is considering a matter relating to the adoption of a child must have as its paramount consideration the childs welfare throughout its life.
The Government are committed to involving children and young people in decision-making at a national and local level. Listening to children, young people and their families and ensuring that that policies and services are designed around their needs is at the very heart of the reform programme enshrined within the Children Act 2004 and Every Child Matters: Change for Children Programme. The Childcare Act 2006 requires local authorities in England, when discharging their duty to promote the well-being of young children, to have regard to such information about the views of young children.
The Government have also established a range of mechanisms, guidance and legal requirements which mean that pupils views and interests are heard and valued in the school context:
the Education and Inspections Act 2006, which provides that a governing body must have a school behaviour policy, and requires them to consult pupils before making or revising that policy;the Education Act 2002, which provides that guidance relating to duties performed by the local authority must provide for pupils views to be considered in light of their age and understanding; andthe Education Act 2005, which requires inspectors to have regard to views of registered pupils when conducting school inspections in England.
School councils and student voice more generally are an important part of the day-to-day life of the school. Good mechanisms for student voice result in greater confidence and self-esteem among pupils as well and, it is believed, have positive effects on other areas such as behaviour and attainment. In the curriculum, pupil voice particularly links to participation and political literacy in citizenship education. Some schools, for example, have citizenship boards in each classroom, maintained by the school council, documenting pupil achievements in and out of school.
The Government are also undertaking a wide programme to help ensure children grow up in a stable, safe and secure family environment. Through funding voluntary and community sector organisations, the Government already provide information, advice and support to parents experiencing relationship problems. Children's centres and extended schools identify parents experiencing difficulties and signpost them to more specialist support where appropriate.
The Government have also invested in training over 2000 practitioners to deliver evidence-based parenting programmes in order to improve parenting skills. The Government are continuing to invest a further £60 million over three years to roll out further parenting programme training through the Parenting Early Intervention Programme to support parents of children at risk of negative outcomes, and £34 million over the next three years to provide two expert parenting advisers in every local authority, who will also be trained in delivering parenting programmes.
The Government also have a wide programme of measures to improve child safety in the family home, including midwives and health visitors advising parents on how to make their homes safer, a new £18 million home safety equipment scheme and a £9 million child safety communications strategy.
We have already strengthened the legal protection of children in relation to physical punishment. Section 58 of the Children Act 2004, combined with the revised Crown Prosecution Service charging standard, strengthened the protection of children in relation to physical punishment so that assaults by parents or by adults acting in loco parentis against children which occasion actual or grievous bodily harm or which constitute cruelty can no longer be defended as reasonable punishment. That defence is now only available in cases of common assault where any injury is transient and trifling. The charging standard has been revised: any assault against a child that results in more than a temporary reddening of the skin would be charged as occasioning actual bodily harm or a more serious offence.
The first ever national play strategy for England sets out the Governments new agenda on play in full. Running from April to July 2008, Fair Play: a consultation on the play strategy set out how government departments propose to work together, and with partners, to create more and better opportunities for all children to play, with a childrens version of the consultation running from May until August 2008. The consultation included proposals to encourage more child-friendly public space. An action plan setting out next steps for the play strategy will be published in the autumn.
The Government have made a substantial investment in providing children with safe, stimulating places to play. In the Childrens Plan, we announced a new investment package of £225 million over the next three years to support local authorities, parents and communities in providing safe and fun play facilities for children. In April, an additional £10 million was pledged, underlining the importance of play and how it should be taken seriously by every council in the country. An offer of capital funding will be made to every local authority in England by 2010-11, to support the delivery of stimulating local places to play. The £235 million will fund 30 new adventure playgrounds or play parks, and up to 3,500 play areas nationally will be rebuilt or renewed. Thirty local authorities will be designated play pathfinders, each receiving around £2 million capital funding, plus significant revenue funding. Twenty pathfinders were announced in April 2008, and a further 10 will be announced in the autumn following a bidding round which is open to the remaining 130 authorities.
As well as launching a childrens version of Fair Play, the Government have made it clear that all local authorities must work with children, young people and their communities to develop innovative play sites. These should contain challenging equipment and natural landscapes, giving all children, including those with a disability, an opportunity to play actively outdoors.
Lord Laird also asked about the recruitment of people under the age of 18 into the Armed Forces. I understand that Baroness Taylor of Bolton set out the position in relation to this area in her Written Answer to Lord Laird of
UKHL 132  EWHC 823 (Admin)3  EWHC 823 (Admin)4  EWCA Civ 4785 http://www.justice.gov.uk/publications/fifthperiodicreport 270707.htm; Article 12 from page 1156 http://www.defra.gov.uk/7 e.g. the Environment Agency at http://www.environment-agency.gov.uk/8 supra note 5 from page 859 http://www.berr.gov.uk/employment/migrant-workers/index.html10 http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file46092.pdf11 http://www.berr.gov.uk/files/file47434.pdf12 http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/~/media/assets/www.cabinet office.gov.uk/social_exclusion_task_force/think_families/offenders_review_080110%20pdf.ashx13 http://www.acpo.police.uk/asp/policies/Data/missing_persons _2005_24x02x05.pdf14 based on the Office for National Statistics Public Sector Employment Q1 2008 figures at http://www.statistics.gov.uk/pdfdir/pse0608.pdf