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Children and Families’ Commissioner Act 1991
#1
Mr Speaker,

I rise today to present the next step in this Government’s agenda on supporting children and families, the Children and Families’ Commissioner Bill. 

The Budget implemented significant changes to social security for our families; my Right Honourable Friend, the Education and Families Secretary, is continuing work on our Family Hubs model; and this legislation will create a new independent champion for children and families across the U.K.

Better government and better policy comes through challenge, scrutiny, and hearing all voices. But some voices shouted louder than others, while many are not heard at all. Too often, the voices that aren’t heard - those who deserve the most support from government - are those of families and children. 

This Government is committed to changing that by creating the Children and Families’ Commissioner. No matter who is in power - from whichever party - they will hear from a powerful advocate for the interests and rights of all children and all families. Right across our country, families and children will have a powerful advocate, fighting their corner, holding all of us to account for the decisions we make. 

For while this Government is doing the work it can do, and implementing an ambitious agenda for change, we know there is more to be done. We are listening but we know having one single advocate can have a significant impact.  

This is a step forward, and one that should be supported by all parties. No one should be afraid of scrutiny, and no one should be afraid of hearing the voices of children and families as they ring through the halls of Westminster. I look forward to working with the first Children and Families Commissioner, and continue to take the necessary steps to ensure our nation is the best place to grow up and raise a family.

Mr Speaker, 

I commend this legislation to the House.
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#2
(Lynda chalker)

Mr speaker,

I beg this bill is printed and read a second time
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#3
Mr. Speaker,

I thank the Prime Minister for the bill he has brought before the House today.

Oversight is important, and bringing children and families to the forefront of discussion is good for communities and also good for women. Most of us have found a source of stability, security and love within those families and it is vital the government ensures that people always have family as a foundation and a bedrock for their wellbeing. 

It is also important that children are actively safeguarded and protected at every level of decision making in government, and I hope this bill will encourage that. We have long recognised that children are among the most vulnerable in our society, are our future and if they are brought up with anything other than security and love, that has moral and practical implications that shame all of us. 

That in itself makes me aware, as the government should be, that this bill is not a panacea, Mr. Speaker. Oversight is good. But we need action. I have no doubt had we had a children's commissioner ten years ago they would have spoken out against the Thatcher government's agenda which was nothing short of disastrous for children and families - we've seen child poverty rise which threatens the safeguarding of all children, education take second place and divorce rates spike exponentially in the past decade.

So we need a whole change in the government's strategy. This government's economic agenda has been a disaster for children and families Mr. Speaker, and that they feel they finally want someone to mark their homework speaks some volume.

But it is a start, and I hope the bill allows the government to be cognisant of the impact of their policies going forwards.

We could do with a bit more policy meat and stronger, more tangible policy aims than safeguarding the wellbeing of children, though, Mr. Speaker. Earlier this year, I questioned the Secretary of State for Health about the government's strategy to tackle childhood inequality. Over time, it became increasingly clear that the government had none. 

It had made some small, promising starts though - the Secretary of State for Health concluded that we need updated health inequality data, and the government has had the encouraging initiative to begin a Family Hub scheme. But we need a fully fledged strategy. This bill could present the opportunity for the beginnings of a strategy to reduce child health inequalities and child poverty, which I believe would be the ultimate form of safeguarding.

So I move the following amendments, should the government accept them:

Quote:
  1. 5. Primary function: reports
  1. This section applies where the Children and Families Commissioner publishes a report in the discharge of the primary function.
  2. The Commissioner must, if and to the extent he or she considers it appropriate, also publish the report in a version which is suitable for children (or, if the report relates to a particular group of children, for those children).
  3. Where the report contains recommendations about the exercise by a person or body of functions of a public nature, the Commissioner may require that person to state in writing, within such period as the Commissioner may reasonably require, what action the person has taken or proposes to take in response to the recommendations.
  4. The Commissioner must make provision to consider the following when publishing a report:
    1. i. Child povertyii. Child health inequality
  5. In enacting subsection 4, The Commission must ensure annual data on child poverty and childhood health inequality is provided to Ministers and Parliament, with clear recommendations provided on how childhood health inequality and child poverty can be reduced by 25% by the year 2000

I also must make it noted this legislation is a huge missed opportunity to put childhood safeguarding into law. Safeguarding has long been a concept we understand in our communities, with many workplaces, schools and third sector organisations prioritising it, but it has no legal basis. Whilst it has no legal basis, I fear the Children's Commissioner is acting more blindly than he or she should. I will not be presenting an amendment on this matter Mr. Speaker as it is something the government should enact after deep consultation with a variety of stakeholders, but can the Prime Minister or Secretary of State confirm how they plan to form a legal structure and definition for childhood safeguarding?
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#4
Mr Speaker,

I welcome the comments of the Honourable Lady, although I would be remiss if not to point out that this is a Children and Families’ Commissioner, not a Children’s Commissioner. It is about safeguarding the wellbeing of children and families, not one or the other.

And that’s important, Mr Speaker, for the role and how it will go about its work. It’s not just about child poverty, but family poverty too. It’s not just child health inequality, but family health inequalities too. I want the Commissioner to hold the government to account on parental mental health as much as child mental health - both are vital to ensure we have strong families and give every child the best start in life. And, of course, we must consider the strength of our families and the impact family breakdown has.

Because all of these issues are vital and interrelated, they all need considering. That is why I offer a counter amendment to reflect the important issue the Honourable Member sets out but also that child poverty and child health inequalities should be considered as part of that wider picture. I propose amending section 3 of the legislation, “primary function: children and families’ rights, views and interests“ thusly:


Quote:1. The Children and Families’ Commissioner's primary function is promoting and protecting the rights of children and family in the United Kingdom.
2. The primary function includes promoting awareness of the views and interests of children and families in the United Kingdom.
3. In the discharge of the primary function the Children's Commissioner may, in particular—
  • a. advise persons exercising functions or engaged in activities affecting children and families on how to act in ways compatible with the rights of children and families;b. consider specifically the impact on poverty and health inequalities on children and families;c. encourage such persons to take account of the views and interests of children and families;d. advise the government on the rights, views and interests of children and families;e. consider the potential effect on the rights and interests of children and families of government policy proposals and government proposals for legislation;f. bring any matter to the attention of either House of Parliament;g. investigate any other matter relating to the rights or interests of children and families;h. ensure annual data on child poverty and childhood health inequality is provided to Ministers and Parliamenti. publish a report on any matter considered or investigated under this section.
(4) In the discharge of the primary function, the Children and Families Commissioner must have particular regard to the rights of children and families who the Commissioner considers to be at particular risk of having their rights infringed.
(5)The Children's Commissioner may not conduct an investigation of the case of an individual child or family in the discharge of the primary function.

The benefits of this amendment, of course, is that it will explicitly enable the Children and Families' Commissioner to consider these issues at all times and not just in the production of a report. I hope this amendment will find satisfaction with the Honourable Lady? 

Regarding specific targets on health inequalities and child poverty, this is something to consider separately. The government needs to consider precisely what is achievable in the next decade and the means to do so. I legislate for goals that are achievable – and reducing poverty and inequalities by 25% by the year 2000 may be – but that cannot be assessed in the cut and thrust of parliamentary debate. Regarding, child safeguarding it will be something the Secretary of State for Education and Families will consider.
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#5
Mr. Speaker,

I'll simply ignore any small jabs and thank the Prime Minister for his remarks and for his generally constructive approach. I am saddened that he appeared to take some small ire from my use of shortening the Commissioners' title, but here we are.

What I would note to the Prime Minister is that he says he wants to reduce family poverty or health inequality. I do not disagree. But that may be an issue he should take ire with at his own government. Child poverty is measured and monitored, but family poverty is generally not. Of course, there are sensible reasons for that. While families make an important core unit and sense of stability for millions across Britain, there is no inherent vulnerability to being a family - if anything, it comes with advantages which is why the government is promoting it. Being a child, however, comes with inherent vulnerabilities which is what successive governments have recognised across generations with multiple Children's Acts - the most recent being in 1989.

So when it comes to prioritising poverty reduction and inequality, there is a very logical reason to focus on children. The first being that earlier intervention provides more returns, as this government has recognised. The latter, and morally crucial one, is that we recognise children must be safeguarded and that there is an inherent vulnerability in being a child. To that extent, the opposition will continue to push for a legal safeguarding framework to be implemented for children. Children, families and this legislation would benefit from it. 

However, it is important to not let nitpicking get in the way of constructive action on all sides. I find the Prime Minister's amendments satisfactory and proactive, and they would garner the oppositions' support. Not that he needs it, with his majority.
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