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MINISTER ADDRESSES CHILDREN'S PLAY CONFERENCE

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The importance of play in the lives of children was stressed today by the Lord James Douglas-Hamilton MP, minister ...
The importance of play in the lives of children was stressed today by the Lord James Douglas-Hamilton MP, minister of state at the Scottish Office, when he addressed a conference in Edinburgh.

The minister was addressing the conference organised by the Institute of Leisure and Amenities Management and other organisations at Moray House College, Cramond.

Lord James said: 'I turn now to the question of a strategy for play. I know that various organisations have been working on the development of a play strategy for Scotland. They see this conference as an opportunity to take it forward to realisation. If I may say so, those organisations have laid the groundwork well with the excellent consultative document which they issued earlier this year. I very much hope that the document has had the thoughtful and helpful positive responses it merits and that they will influence the final shape of the strategy.

'The consultation document calls for action at a number of levels. That is right since there are so many interests in the field. It calls upon the Scottish Office to do three main things. First, it asks us to make a clear commitment to play and the implementation of Article 31 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child with the identification of a lead department to provide focus and access information, to issue guidance and directives and to co-ordinate the work of other departments.

'The UK government is a signatory to the UN Convention and we accept that it should underpin all our actions and policies which affect children and their families. Our commitment is well illustrated in the Children (Scotland) Act 1995. That act which not only embraces the principles of the convention but in some respects surpasses them, notably by maintaining the theme that the welfare of the child is paramount when decisions are being taken about his or her needs.

'We do not have in mind a separate act of parliament on children's play, but I would want you to be assured that as we develop new policies which may affect children, various articles of the UN Convention are constantly before us.

'The document calls on the Scottish Office to draw up a national policy statement on play services. I agree that such a statement or something of the kind is something which deserves serious consideration. We would, however, wish to examine closely with the other players in the field whether and to what extent this would be helpful bearing in mind the tension which I mentioned earlier.

'And last, but I am sure by no means least, the strategy document asks for funding for an organisation to be the representative voice on children's play in Scotland, providing authoritative advice and support for those involved in the play movement.

'There are already many organisations in Scotland both statutory and voluntary active in the field of play, with diverse aims and objectives. Each one has distinctive features and makes a unique contribution while sharing the same common goal of seeing play opportunities for children being developed.

'A number of voluntary organisations with play are already funded by the Scottish Office. For example, Fair Play for Children and National Centre for Play receive grants towards headquarters administration expenses.

'There may well be a strong case for the creation of a single representative voice in order to promote the case for children's play. It would, however, be for those in the field to develop their own strategy about possible structural changes in the sector. I cannot at this stage promise any new money to fund any new organisation but if there is a case for restructuring and if restructuring is agreed, that may enable us to release and redirect resources. Or it may be that a new organisation could compete successfully in the annual round of one of the central grant programmes. Those concerned would no doubt wish to explore the possibilities further with my officials.'

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