|Previous Section||Index||Home Page|
Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman speaks passionately about the subject, and rightly so. Has he, like me, received representations from people who work in organisations that deal with young people? In many cases, they find the fee of £11.75 that has to be paid to consult criminal records quite prohibitive. One measure that might help many organisations to weed out the undesirables from working with young people would be to allow them to go through the criminal records without incurring an enormous cost.
Mr. Öpik: I agree with the hon. Gentleman, even though he was a little horrible to me earlier. As he suggests, the Children's Commissioner has an opportunity to bring the issue of police checks into his role. Through appropriate lobbying in Wales at least, we might be able to ensure that people do not have to pay for the privilege of proving their innocence. That issue is of great concern to many organisations involved in youth work in Wales. I hope that the Minister and the Committee will consider the suggestion.
I want to make a few observations about the political opportunity that the Bill presents. Although the matter did not appear in the Conservative party's manifesto in Wales, it is a source of great encouragement that, on a cross-party basis in Wales and almost on a cross-party basis in this Chamber, we are achieving a powerful consensus that sends a strong message.
I shall now be a little horrible to the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), because he claimed that he was trying to help the Bill. If his approach is his idea of helping the Bill, I wonder what tools are in the Conservative party's repertoire for harming it. There is a consensus and consensus politics might be a little less sparky than opposition politics, so we should perhaps thank him for giving the rest of us the chance to unite in criticising the reasoned amendment. However, will he consider what message will be sent if Conservative Members vote for the amendment? Although it may be a parliamentary tool, it has already been made clear that on this issue, at least, we should not descend into a party political discussion when all of us, including the Welsh Conservatives, have worked hard to create a consensual approach in line with the new politics that many of us sincerely hoped would evolve in Cardiff.
I encourage the hon. Gentleman to reconsider pushing the amendment to a vote. As I said earlier, not a single youth-related organisation in Wales will thank the official Opposition for voting for it. It sends the wrong signals. Although they may have talked themselves into a corner tonight, I hope that, whatever happens, they will take a more constructive approach in Committee. Incidentally, if the hon. Gentleman's suggestion that I join the Labour party reflects the Conservative party's new recruitment policy, it shows just how much its self-confidence has declined.
I am almost certain that some Members of this Chamber have been victims of child abuse. I do not know who they are, but it would be statistically extraordinary if, out of 659 Members, not one of us had suffered from such an experience. Guided by our experiences as children, by the experiences of those of us who faced unhappier times and by the experiences and expertise of the organisations that briefed many Members so effectively, I hope that the Bill will achieve three objectives.
First, I hope that it will empower those children's organisations truly to feel that they can participate in the political processes by seeing their suggestions turned into amendments that are accepted on a cross-party basis.
Secondly, I hope that we can show that we sometimes put party politics second to the people's politics. Thirdly, I hope that we can develop a partnership between Westminster and Cardiff. That relationship has occasionally been strained, but on this issue we have the opportunity to work together and to say something encouraging to the Welsh people, perhaps for the first time: when Westminster and Cardiff think together, talk together, argue together and put their heads together to try to do what is right, we shall get better legislation than we would without a devolved Assembly.
That is all being done to achieve a result that we all want and about which we care profoundly. That is to give kids a real chance of a better life and to give kids who have been damaged a chance to heal. To paraphrase the words of the NSPCC--which has coined a phrase about which I feel passionately--perhaps we can also, finally, put a full stop to cruelty to children in Wales.
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I start with an apology for being absent from the debate for a couple of hours on some previously arranged business in the House. I am sorry that I missed what I hear has been an extremely good-natured and participatory debate on all sides.
It is a privilege to have the opportunity to take part in the debate, not least as an English Member of Parliament trespassing in a country that I have not visited since I took my kids there on a very nice seaside holiday in the early 1980s. Principally, I am here because I am extremely interested in the development of the Children's Commissioner. The proposal is extremely important, and I hope to elaborate on why it is important as we go on.
We need to acknowledge the progress that the Bill represents. We need to reflect on and savour the aim of this excellent and far-sighted measure. It will enable the commissioner to review the effect on children ordinarily resident in Wales of actions and proposed actions of the Assembly and of bodies and persons operating in Wales that have statutory functions or provide statutory services in functional fields devolved to the Assembly. That is a great step forward for children. This is a real slice of history, and it represents real progress in the way in which we see, serve and protect children.
Mr. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Cotswold): The hon. Gentleman waxes lyrical about the Bill, but will he explain why the Government have given priority to the rights of children in Wales but have not been prepared to give the same rights and protection to children in England? Surely children in England and Wales--and, indeed, Scotland and Northern Ireland--deserve the protection that is to be afforded by the Bill.
To return to the thread of my argument, the Welsh Assembly should be congratulated, but the Government need to be congratulated too. Less than a year ago, even when the Waterhouse report was published--the report is one good reason for the measure being introduced in Wales--the Government were not committed to introducing a commissioner whose remit would go beyond that of the children's rights director, as set out in the Care Standards Act 2000. The children's rights director is a very important post for children who are looked after or who are living away from home, but the Bill goes much further than that.
The Government are to be congratulated on listening to the issues dealt with by the Bill, and on the fact that, in their formal response to the Waterhouse report, they said that they would examine how the post of Children's Commissioner worked out as a result of the Bill, with a view to introducing further legislation for England. I am pleased to hear that, because a Children's Commissioner offers fundamental protection for children, but an independent office with a children's rights commissioner would promote the participation of children in society and awareness of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child among those working with children.
Mr. Evans: While the hon. Gentleman was absent from the Chamber, I congratulated him on his private Member's Bill, which deals with that issue. He represents Lancaster and Wyre and I represent Ribble Valley. Will he accept that it is absurd that children in Wales should receive greater protection than children in England? They should all be protected equally, with a children's commissioner operating in Wales and in England. We congratulate the Government on introducing the Bill, but they should also introduce legislation to protect children in England.
I have brought to the House twice--in 1999 and 2000--the Children's Rights Commissioner Bill. It proposes the setting up of a children's rights commissioner in England, with linked officers in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. It is 16th in the ballot for private Members' Bills, so I shall reintroduce it tomorrow. Given the Government's attitude to the measure, I think that there might be some progress on it. Their determination to introduce a root-and-branch reform of the child protection system and the Laming inquiry into the horrible death of Anna Climbie, should it come about, could result in further progress on the idea of a children's rights commissioner in England.