Minister fends off amendments but agrees UN convention must apply

The children’s commissioner must abide by the UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child, the government has conceded.

Sure Start minister Baroness Ashton accepted that it was
unacceptable to allow the commissioner the right to opt out of the

She was speaking during the first day of the committee stage of the
Children Bill in the House of Lords.

However, the government refused to budge on any other amendments
relating to the new commissioner’s powers and remit.

Rejecting calls for the commissioner to be allowed to investigate
individual cases, Ashton insisted that any such move would be

“But we do expect the commissioner to investigate issues that come
to his attention as a result of approaches from individual
children, and to want to talk to children about their experiences
in pursuing such cases,” she said. “The commissioner will be able
to advise the secretary of state regarding cases that he or she
warrants an inquiry.”

Lord Lester, a member of the joint committee on human rights,
warned that committee members had been struck in recent evidence
sessions on the bill “by the lack of equal powers to be given to
the English commissioner” compared with his or her counterparts
elsewhere in the UK.

Indicating that the committee’s forthcoming report would be
critical of the bill, Lester said members found the differences
between commissioners’ powers “unacceptable”. They were also “very
troubled” about the questions of the English commissioner’s

But Ashton rejected claims that the bill would create a “two-tier
system” of commissioners.

Attempts to highlight certain groups of children as high priority
in relation to the children’s commissioner’s work were also
rejected by Ashton on the grounds that it was “important to leave
‘all’ meaning ‘all’ and not qualify it”.

However, she went on to clarify that, in relation to the Children
Bill, “we regard those over 18 who are in custody as adults”. This
means young offenders aged between 18 and 21 held in young offender
institutions would not be covered by the bill’s provisions.

The bill will return to committee for further debate next week.

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