MPs renew pressure for a children’s commissioner

An influential group of MPs has responded to Lord Laming’s
report by calling for a children’s commissioner in England,
writes David Callaghan.

The House of Commons health select committee said in a new
report the experience of a children’s commissioner in Wales
has proved the worth of the post.

But the MPs disagreed with a recommendation by Lord Laming in
his inquiry report into the death of Victoria Climbie that the
commissioner should head up a new national agency for children and

The failure of senior staff to accept any responsibility for
service failures leading to Climbie’s death prompted the
committee to call for a clear line of accountability to be
established as a “a matter of utmost priority”.

Major structural change in local government should be avoided,
the committee said.

Meanwhile, the joint House of Commons/House of Lords committee
on human rights has published its tenth report on the UK’s
performance in upholding the standards laid down in the UN
Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It concludes that the UK’s compliance in criminal justice
is “questionable”, and that “there is some way to
go” before full compliance is achieved.

The joint committee agrees that there is a strong case for a
children’s commissioner in England.

Main recommendations of health committee’s

– A children’s commissioner for England should be
appointed, but not as the chief executive of a national agency as
Laming proposed

– There must be a clear line of accountability from frontline
practitioners to senior staff as “a matter of utmost

– The role of proposed children’s trusts in child
protection is “extremely vague”

– A register of private foster carers with safeguards to ensure
they meet basic levels of care

– Government should produce a memorandum to the committee by the
end of this year on the progress made in implementing Lord
Laming’s recommendations

– An independent review of social care funding similar to the
Wanless review of the NHS

– The Children Act 1989 is essentially sound legislation, but
that it may be applied inappropriately to ration services, and
section 17 cases of children in need are regarded as a low

– Defence of reasonable chastisement should be abolished and
smacking of children by parents and carers banned

– Feasibility study on Laming’s proposal for a national
database of children

Main recommendations of joint committee on human rights

– The age of criminal responsibility be increased from 10 to

– Government should re-examine with “renewed
urgency” its sentencing policy for young people to avoid
custody whenever possible

– Children in custody should have a statutory right to education
and special needs provision

– All girls under 17 should be removed from prison and placed in
local authority secure accommodation

– Children of asylum seekers and refugees should also be subject
to standards set in the UN convention

– Parents and carers should be outlawed from smacking

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