Protection of Freedoms Bill

By natwei_lngozg on 15 February 2012
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                Source: Hansard My Lords, I very much welcome Amendment 57A and the announcement by the Minister, which is a positive step in the right direction. In light of that, I want primarily to direct my comments to the scope that the amendment provides for the use of volunteers. The amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McColl, supported across the whole House, is important. The voluntary legal advocate whom he proposes does not complicate matters by introducing additional bureaucratic burdens on the child. They would simply provide a means of helping all the things that must already be done to be done. They would provide additional capacity to provide more support for the child and the reassurance that there is one person who will help them who will remain constant so that they do not have the emotional trauma of going back to square one to explain their painful story all over again. The legal advocate would be able to provide general advice and support and crucially be permitted to accompany them on all their interactions with state agencies and act as advocate to all those agencies on the child’s behalf. That is based on internationally accepted best practice as set out by UNICEF. One of the most important parts of the McColl amendment is that it does not tie the Government’s hands but provides scope for legal advocates to be the employees of statutory bodies, voluntary organisations or volunteers with voluntary organisations. The opportunity for using the voluntary sector and volunteers, as has been mentioned before, is hugely significant. The number of children rescued between 2007 and 2010 is roughly 300 a year. I know from my work in the voluntary sector that it would not be difficult to find 300 volunteers a year to be voluntary legal advocates for a child. Indeed, I have been approached, as have other noble Lords, by voluntary organisations that are ready to rise to the challenge and pilot such approaches. This presents us with a win-win situation, because not only does it address a very pressing problem, but it would do so in a way that would help further build British social capital. I am aware that there are those who may feel nervous about the role of volunteers. In response, I make two key points. First, the amendment is keenly aware that anyone serving those deeply vulnerable children must be properly trained, as has been mentioned already, and all would be subject to the same robust training framework. This is no place for some well meaning volunteer who just feels compassion but who has not been properly trained. Secondly, I would simply point those tempted to suggest that volunteers cannot do the job to our magistrates system. Magistrates are volunteers. They are properly trained and have to deal with very sensitive situations. Although there may be some who are defensive of their turf and tempted to justify their fears of volunteers by pointing to training, we must recognise that volunteers can be, and are, trained, as our magistrates system eloquently demonstrates. Another great example of the very successful use of volunteers to which I would direct noble Lords is that provided by court-appointed special advocates-CASAs-in the United States, who are trained volunteers and who have a proven track record of dealing with extremely delicate situations very effectively. Of course the opportunity to make proper care available for victims of trafficking through volunteer legal advocates is hugely important in the current fiscal environment, where money is so tight. This is not to say that Amendment 57A would have no costs to the state if the volunteer route were used, but it would be minimal-and money well spent when one has regard for the imperative of providing better and more sensitive care for incredibly vulnerable children and for further reductions in the numbers lost. My political hero is Anthony Ashley Cooper, the seventh Earl of Shaftesbury, who arguably did more than anyone else in this House-and in another place and beyond-to establish the tradition of compassionate conservatism in the 19th century, demonstrating concern particularly for vulnerable children in factories and mines and for those sweeping chimneys. I am sure that if he were here today, he would be fronting this amendment, which comes in the very best tradition of my party, historically and recently; and which, crucially, also resonates with the traditions of other parties, whether your vision of society is big, open, good or otherwise. I very much hope that we can continue to support the noble Lord, Lord McColl, in his efforts to secure these measures.