Children's voice at Holyrood;Opinion

12th February 1999 at 00:00
EVERY PRESSURE group is making its pitch to prospective MSPs. That is understandable and in accord with the open forms of government which creators of the parliament have been anxious to ensure. But important though the 129 legislators will be, most of the real decisions will originate with the executive, the group of ministers akin to the Westminster Cabinet. Despite attempts to involve the wider public - and backbench MSPs - in pre-legislative discussions, the time-honoured distinction between ministers who act and members of parliament who scrutinise will continue.

Therefore it is more fruitful at present to seek to influence the structure of government than detailed policy. Children in Scotland has produced a manifesto (page six) that strikes the right notes about child-friendly initiatives. How to ensure that children's interests are always taken into account is the key. A children's commissioner is suggested, and a standing committee that would tap into the views of children and young people.

At the heart would be a minister for the young. There is a case for dispensing with an "education" minister in the traditional sense in favour of a minister who would bring together several services, as a community (or "full-service") school will do for a locality. A post-school minister would look after further and higher education and links to training and industry.

No division of ministerial responsibilities is ideal. There is a case for maintaining the all-through education portfolio. But the needs of children are so often undervalued (witness the trail of abuse cases from children's homes) that a new approach is desirable.

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