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Mr. Vernon Coaker (Gedling): My right hon. Friend is making a powerful case for the Children's

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Commissioner for Wales. Given that case, will he talk to his colleagues in the Cabinet about the need for a children's commissioner in England?

Mr. Murphy: Inevitably, those points will be made regularly during the passage of the Bill, as they were during the passage of the Care Standards Act. However, it is important that we understand that the creation of the post of Children's Commissioner for Wales sprang from a Welsh source. During the Assembly elections, our party--and, indeed, other parties--made it a manifesto commitment, and it is very much a Welsh-inspired post.

That does not mean that, in the coming months, my colleagues in Government will not look seriously and intensively at the way in which the role of the Children's Commissioner for Wales will work. It is obviously for my colleagues then to consider how best to deal with the matter. The post is, as I say, very much a Wales-inspired appointment, which is why, when the people of Wales went to the Assembly elections, they voted for parties that said that they wanted to introduce such a Bill after those elections.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West): Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposal--which, as he rightly said, was introduced under the Welsh Office of a previous Government, and was considered in great depth in Wales--may be looked at in relation to the regions of England, but not necessarily in relation to the whole of England? It would be sensible if the lessons that are learned and the models that are developed through the pattern of devolution in England were allowed to inform the debate that should rightly take place in different parts of England.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The House is in danger of being led astray.

Mr. Murphy: Far be it from me to continue that trend, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I simply wish to say that there are examples where England can learn from Wales, and vice versa. The existence of joint ministerial committees that deal with all the devolved administrations of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and, indeed, of the United Kingdom Government, indicate that we take seriously the relationship and partnership with the new Administrations--the Scottish Parliament and the Assemblies--that have been set up in the United Kingdom.

It is also important to emphasise to my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Mr. Coaker) another major reason why the post of Children's Commissioner was set up: it was established in direct response to the first recommendation of the Waterhouse report, which was a specifically Welsh investigation into appalling child abuse.

The commissioner will have to co-operate with a wide range of different bodies, but the Bill will go much further, by establishing a commissioner whose role could extend to all children in Wales and to all the policies and services for which the Assembly has a devolved responsibility. The Assembly has made it clear that that is where it expects the commissioner to carry out much of his valuable work. He will be able to review the impact on children and young people of the policies and procedures of a wide range of public bodies in education

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and training, health care, transport, town and country planning, sport and recreation, economic development and many other areas.

That power will enable the commissioner to raise the profile of children's issues and of children and to take an overview of how the actions of public bodies directly or indirectly affect them as they go about their daily lives. That role will distinguish the commissioner from any other public office holder in the United Kingdom.

In line with the devolution settlement, the Bill, like the Care Standards Act, leaves as much as possible to the Assembly to determine in regulations. A key area for regulation is the involvement of children and young people. The commissioner is part of the Assembly's strategy for listening to children and ensuring that their voices are heard, and the report of the Health and Social Services Committee made clear the importance of children and young people informing the commissioner's agenda and being regularly consulted. Indeed, the Assembly has already been innovative in the sphere of public appointments by involving children and young people as an integral part in the selection of the first commissioner. The involvement of young people in the commissioner's work will be for the Assembly to determine in regulations made under the Bill.

As I said, the Assembly has identified Mr. Peter Clarke, currently director of Childline, as the first Children's Commissioner. He is likely to take up the post in the spring and will plan to be fully operational as soon as possible. That process will inevitably take time; there is much work to do. Mr. Clarke needs to find a permanent location or locations, recruit his team and, crucially, establish and implement the mechanisms for keeping in touch with the children and young people of Wales.

The Assembly also faces a considerable task in defining and consulting on the significant issues that have been left for it to determine in secondary legislation. All that means that the Children's Commissioner is likely to be fully functional in the summer or early autumn. Just over a year after the Assembly produced its ground-breaking proposal, that is exceptionally rapid progress.

When the Children's Commissioner takes up his post, he will find that the Bill empowers him to take a pioneering role in promoting the rights and welfare of the children of Wales. He will have in his scope a vast range of activities and at his command real powers to require access to information. That adds up to a commissioner with the opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of all Welsh children.

Wales is leading the way for the United Kingdom in developing the office of Children's Commissioner. I am sure that other parts of the United Kingdom will watch his progress with great interest. I believe that today is a historic day for children's rights, the National Assembly for Wales and the constitution of the United Kingdom. I therefore commend the Bill to the House.

5.18 pm

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I beg to move, To leave out from "That" to the end of the Question, and to add instead thereof:

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I am delighted to take part in the debate and welcome the Bill, but it is a great shame that the Secretary of State made his remarks in a manner that we usually associate with Millbank and the high professionals of the spin doctors. He did not need to do so, as he will be able to detect from what I say and from our approach in Committee, which will be extremely constructive to ensure that we have a Children's Commissioner worthy of all the children of Wales.

A number of comments have already been made. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), who was in the Chamber, is to introduce a ten-minute Bill dealing with a children's rights commissioner, and I welcome the remarks made by the hon. Member for Tooting (Mr. Cox) in an Adjournment debate on the Children's Commissioner. As the Secretary of State knows, the reasoned amendment is a device that an Opposition use. When he was in opposition and sitting on this side of the House, which he will be doing again shortly, he used that same device. The difference now is that he is sitting on that side of the House and saying, "We are the masters now." That is the only major difference with regard to the device of a reasoned amendment.

Mr. Paul Murphy: We await the hon. Gentleman's comments with interest. There is a big difference, and we referred to it in the previous short debate. Since 1997, there has been a devolution settlement, and the Assembly, in conjunction with Parliament and the Government, has sponsored primary legislation. His reasoned amendment could, technically, scupper the Bill and cause difficulties for our colleagues in Cardiff, the people of Wales and those who want a Children's Commissioner.

Mr. Evans: I do not accept that. We have tabled an amendment on Second Reading and we will table amendments in Committee. The suggestion that amendments cannot be tabled to improve legislation--which is what we want to do--is an insult to the charities in Wales that have briefed us on the improvements that they want to be made to the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman has said that we will examine non-devolved powers in Committee to ensure that the Children's Commissioner has the proper powers. A number of Labour Members will table amendments in Committee to try to strengthen the Bill, and I look forward to that debate. We do not want anything to delay the passage of the Bill and its becoming an Act. We want to ensure that the children of Wales are properly protected as quickly as possible.

We are all aware that a general election may be only a few weeks away.

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