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Consideration and Third Reading

1. Proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading shall be completed at today's sitting.

2. Proceedings on Consideration shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at quarter past Six o'clock.
3. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at Seven o'clock.
4. Sessional Order B (Programming Committees) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and Third Reading.

Consideration of Lords Amendments and further messages from the Lords

5. Paragraphs (6) and (7) of Sessional Order A (varying and supplementing programme motions) made by the House on 7th November 2000 shall not apply to proceedings on any programme motion to supplement this order or to vary it in relation to--

(a) proceedings on Consideration of Lords Amendments; or
(b) proceedings on any further messages from the Lords,
and the question on any such motion shall be put forthwith.

8 Feb 2001 : Column 1144

Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

Not amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 2

Advice to Assembly and to local authorities

'The Commissioner may at any time give advice to the Assembly on--

(a) any changes which the Commissioner thinks should be made, for the purpose of securing improvement in the quality of services provided by the Assembly or local authorities in Wales in the exercise of their functions; or
(b) any other matter connected with the exercise by the Assembly or local authorities in Wales of their functions,
where the exercise of those functions affects children.'.--[Mr. Walter.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

5.16 pm

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

As was stated in our deliberations on the programme motion, the basic principle of the Bill is not a matter for great debate across the Chamber. In fact, there was a great deal of agreement in Committee about what we wanted to achieve. However, we failed to get the Government to agree to widen the scope of the role of the Children's Commissioner in a number of areas. New clause 2 is part of our general aim of widening the scope of the commissioner's role.

We believe that the Children's Commissioner should have the widest possible powers available to him to enable him to carry out the role of advocate for children in Wales and to look at cases of abuse and the whole range of children's rights, particularly those contained within the UN conventions to which we have signed up. I shall not deal with those points now, because they are outside the scope of the new clause, but no doubt there will be passing references to them on Third Reading.

The new clause deals with the advice that the commissioner can and should give to the Assembly and to local authorities. The Bill as drafted states only that the commissioner may review the effect on children of the exercise of functions of the Assembly or other people. Our new clause goes much further, allowing him to give advice on changes to improve the quality of services provided. The new clause includes all local authorities, while the schedule refers only to county councils and county borough councils.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): The hon. Gentleman's new clause makes an important statement about the functions of the commissioner. However, as clause 2 gives the commissioner extremely wide-ranging powers, is that not sufficient to cover the points that he raises? The hon. Gentleman will be familiar with clause 2, but I remind the House that it amends section 72 of the Care Standards Act 2000 and that it states:

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): Order. This is developing into a speech. I think that the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) will have understood the point that is being made.

Mr. Walter: Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

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Before tabling the new clause, we were of course cognisant of the existing wording of the Bill. However, we did not feel that it was sufficient to achieve the purpose that the new clause is intended to serve. Although I am intrigued by the comments of the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), his short intervention does not convince me that the existing clause meets that purpose.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Is not the reason why the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) is wrong that clause 2 is only a statement of the purpose or objective of the commissioner and does not actually give the commissioner powers? It is the new clause that would confer powers on the commissioner.

Mr. Walter: My right hon. and learned Friend has rightly noted that we are trying in the new clause to give the commissioner powers that were not previously conferred.

We discussed the matter in Committee, although we did not force it, or any other matter, to a vote. In Committee, the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey)--who is in the Chamber and who may want to speak--moved an amendment stating that

He said:

We expressed our concern that the definition in that amendment was far too wide. It would have allowed the commissioner to comment on anything, including family life. We have always made clear our anxiety about such an extension to the commissioner's powers.

Mr. Allan Rogers (Rhondda): The motives behind the new clause are laudable. We want to improve the quality of the services. However, would the provision not create even more confusion concerning who exactly was responsible for certain matters? The new clause refers to giving advice; that is extremely subjective--such advice could easily be ignored. It refers to the quality of services. What is the quality of services? Perhaps the drafting of the Bill is at fault because it is not tight enough but perhaps there should be some reciprocity in the process.

Mr. Walter: The hon. Gentleman is correct that there is a fault in the drafting, which is why we are proposing the new clause. I hope that, as I develop my argument, the hon. Gentleman will understand why it would be a useful addition to the Bill and to the scope of the Children's Commissioner.

If the amendment proposed by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire in Committee had been taken at face value, it would have allowed the commissioner to take upon himself powers to act rather like a health education authority. He would have been able to set out what was good practice and to tell parents that good

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practice was to do X, Y and Z. We do not want him to do that. It is right that he should consider child abuse in the home and, as we argued in Committee, problems in non-devolved bodies and cross-border issues. However, we were concerned that he should not somehow become the arbiter of good practice in bringing up children in normal family situations.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) said in Committee, it is clear that, under that amendment, the Children's Commissioner could say anything about anything. We have made it clear that we do not wish the commissioner to be handcuffed, but confusion could arise about whether he could make pronouncements willy-nilly about family life styles and so on. That is not to say that we do not want him to refer to abuse that takes place in the home. We want his remit to cover abuse; what we do not want is for him to have a general remit that covers the various types and qualities of family life styles.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether, under new clause 2, the commissioner could make representations about the adequacy of services for homosexual young people or young people who are seriously questioning their sexuality?

Mr. Walter: New clause 2 would give the commissioner the power to advise local authorities about the services that they provide for children. If a local authority offers services specifically geared towards children who are in the circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman refers, that would fall within the Children Commissioner's remit. However, giving advice in those circumstances to children in a normal family environment would not fall within his remit.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) rose--

Mr. Rogers rose--

Mr. Walter: I am very conscious of the fact that, as we said in the debate on the programme motion, there is only a limited amount of time available. However, I understand that hon. Members want to intervene, so I shall give way--briefly, I hope--to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd).

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