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Mr. Llwyd: As I was the first person to mention a commissioner, back in 1993, I too am very pleased that the Bill has completed its passage through the House. However, the work has not finished. On Second Reading, the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) said that I was pessimistic about the prospect of amendments being accepted, but I am afraid that I was right. None of them were accepted.

I shall rush through briefly some of the points that concern the very children's charities to which the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) referred. The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Cymru has written to us this week on two sheets of A4 paper expressing its concerns about the Bill. Although it welcomes the Bill, it does so with grave reservations.

A provision similar to that in section 33 of the Government of Wales Act 1998 should have been included in the Bill to enable the commissioner to speak about any matter affecting children resident in Wales. The commissioner will not be able to talk about any tribunal or court decision that has been made. That is bizarre and ridiculous, and the problem still has not been addressed. Cross-border issues have not been addressed, nor has the point about including the United Nations convention in the Bill. The Assembly requested action on all those points, but that has not been accepted by this House.

I do not wish to sour the atmosphere, but this whole back-slapping business is getting to me a little bit. We have not done half the job yet, and I hope that the other place will complete the work on several issues that concern organisations such as NSPCC Cymru. It is not politically motivated but, like reasonable hon. Members, it is concerned about the well-being of children and young people.

I have mentioned the UN convention, and there are concerns about whistle blowing and the remit on non-devolved matters, which is covered by the provision in the Government of Wales Act 1998. All those points are important and, on Second Reading, I told the hon. Member for Bridgend that there were four principal matters for debate. Those matters remain. I do not doubt the Minister's sincerity for a second and we have received assurances from him. However, I would always prefer matters to be made clear on the face of any Bill that deals with such an important subject.

Earlier, it was suggested that the commissioner will have access to institutions, but he will have access to them only when the system has broken down. Plainly, that will be too late. There would be nothing wrong in allowing the commissioner to have access alongside members of

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the inspectorate. That would have provided further supervision over the inspectorate, which would know that, at any time, the commissioner could move in.

Although I know that it does not sound like it, I welcome the Bill. I served on the Committee to improve the Bill. I have spoken to various children charities and they welcome the Bill as far as it goes. This is the second bite at the legislative cherry, but I hope that we do not have to return in another 12 months to find yet more time to deal with shortcomings in the Bill. None of us wants that. There are flaws in the Bill, and I hope that their lordships in the other place will address them.

I hope that any amendments tabled in the other place will not be stamped on in pre-emptive fashion by this House. That would be wrong and contemptible. We are part way to producing a good Bill but much more work needs to be done. Despite the consensus in Committee, I am disappointed that the Government did not consider any amendments. The most glaring example is the amendment that would have included a provision similar to that in section 33 of the Government of Wales Act 1998. It would have gone a long way to allaying all the niggling fears that charities still have.

Mr. Win Griffiths: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm that we discussed outside Committee what would happen if there were a legal challenge to any of the commissioner's work that was based on what appears in the Bill and what has been said about it? If there were a dispute about the meaning of the Bill, the Minister's words could be prayed in aid to clarify its intention. A much wider view can therefore be taken of what appears in the Bill.

Mr. Llwyd: Yes, I agree, and a 1992 case makes that point. However, is it not always better to provide clear legislation that does not have to go to the courts for consideration? Surely our job is to make plain on the face of any Bill what we want to say. We should not leave it to the whim of a High Court judge to consider what the Minister said at the time. It is far better to do things properly the first time round.

6.54 pm

Mr. Dawson: I will be brief, as time is extremely short. I welcome this fine Bill. We should heed some of the wise words of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), but I hear the optimism and good will expressed by my hon. Friends the Under-Secretary and the Members for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) and for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths).

The only issue that I want to raise is whether my hon. Friend the Minister considers that the Children's Commissioner as currently constituted meets the Paris principles for human rights organisations set down by the United Nations in 1993. At the heart of this is a human rights issue.

6.55 pm

Mr. Gerald Howarth (Aldershot): It looks as though the last word will fall, paradoxically, to an Englishman. That may be no bad thing because although this is a uniquely Welsh Bill, it may well prove to be a pilot for wider replication across the United Kingdom. All of us, then, would be affected.

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I chide the Minister somewhat for claiming exclusive credit for the Government for implementing this measure. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) made clear, it was as a result of the tribunal set up by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition in 1996 when he was Secretary of State for Wales that Sir Ronald Waterhouse reported his findings.

Mr. Win Griffiths: May I point out that, although my hon. Friend the Minister may not have mentioned that on Third Reading today, he referred on Second Reading and in Committee to the role played by the former Secretary of State for Wales, who is now the Leader of the Conservative party?

Mr. Howarth: The hon. Gentleman is extremely charitable and I take his point entirely. I thank him for it. I acknowledge that the measure enjoys the support of all parties, even if there are remaining concerns.

The first recommendation by Sir Ronald Waterhouse in his report was that there should be a Children's Commissioner for Wales. Anybody who has read the report cannot have been other than moved by the sheer magnitude of the abuse that was being inflicted on young people who were often placed in the Principality not by Welsh authorities, but by English ones. I agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Member for Bridgend that social services did not do their job. I hope that social services departments throughout the country and particularly in Wales do not regard the appointment of the Children's Commissioner as a substitute for the need for them to exercise vigilance themselves. That would defeat the whole object, which is to improve protection for our children. They must note that it is our intention that they should continue to do the job that the public has charged them with.

My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset issued a caveat that I also share, which is that the commissioner should not supplant the role of parents. All of us in the House believe that it is the principal role of parents to bring up children. We do not wish the commissioner to supplant them.

Mr. Dawson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that any decent, ordinary parent would welcome their children's rights being expanded, enhanced and developed by this sort of post? Does he further accept that any ordinary, decent parent has nothing whatever to fear from the Children's Commissioner?

Mr. Howarth: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is right. I am most grateful to him for being sparing in his remarks to enable me to contribute. Yes, of course, I am sure that concern for children is the principal motive. However, it is important to get the balance right between the responsibilities of parents and those of society at large, to ensure that the wider needs of children are recognised.

I am sorry if I end on a slightly discordant note. I raised this point with the Secretary of State on Second Reading and I mention it in passing in the hope that the other place may be able to deal with it. The report states:


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It being Seven o'clock, Madam Deputy Speaker put the Question, pursuant to Order [this day].

Question agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time, and passed.

SCIENCE AND TECHNOLOGY COMMITTEE

Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [31 January],



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