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Mr. Griffiths: I do not think it appropriate to go into that sort of detail on Second Reading. It is fair to raise it as an issue to be considered. We can probe in Committee to ascertain exactly how the system will work.
Mr. Michael: Is it not precisely the nature of the devolution settlement that there are some responsibilities and some locations which are relevant to Wales but outside the Welsh border, and others that are entirely within Wales? Devolution entails a partnership between the United Kingdom Government and other bodies. Given what my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has said earlier, the power of the commissioner to make comment where appropriate in the interests of children in Wales will help and strengthen the process of devolution as well as promote the interests of children.
Mr. Griffiths: My right hon. Friend is right. It will be incumbent on whoever are the members of the Committee that will consider the Bill to tease out some of these issues in more detail. I am pleased that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State made it clear that there would be a broader horizon for the commissioner to view, even though in some instances there will not be specific statutory duties for him or her. We can be in no doubt that the commissioner will be able to comment on various issues.
There is a slightly trickier area. The Bill allows the commissioner to take up the cases of young children who are the responsibility of bodies or agencies in Wales. The placement of children will be supported through direct or indirect funding, which can be provided through local authorities. However, there could be questions about the placement by Welsh local authorities of children in English foster homes, special schools and specialist hospitals. As such children are ordinarily resident in Wales, payment for their care and treatment will come
The issue of dialogue with children also requires further consideration. Should it be dealt with explicitly in the Bill, or can we take it from the tenor of the debate and of the provisions that it will occur automatically? Will the commissioner automatically have regard to dialogue, to promoting and respecting the views of children and to having direct contact with them? As the United Kingdom Government have ratified the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, should the Bill contain specific duties for the commissioner to ensure compliance with the convention by the Welsh Assembly and appropriate bodies and persons in Wales? Should promotion of the convention be a specific part of the commissioner's job, or is there no need for anything else to be done because it has been ratified, is dealt with in other legislation and is automatically a part of the set up?
More serious consideration should be given to issues relating to the commissioner's ability to enter institutions where young people are cared for and to make comments after court cases and tribunals have occurred. I understood from the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State that a more liberal approach would indeed apply to those abilities. I further understood that the fears expressed about these issues are not as real as they appear when one first reads the provisions in black and white. Perhaps we can read between the lines and take assurance from his opening remarks on the commissioner's role. Peter Newell is a great expert in these matters and feels that more specific provision should be included in the Bill. I hope that the Standing Committee, on which I hope to serve, will have the opportunity to examine those issues further.
We must avoid the assumption that the creation of a Children's Commissioner is a panacea that will automatically make things better. Although the arrangements have the potential to make things better, the commissioner will still have to work carefully with Welsh bodies, persons and institutions with responsibilities for children. Furthermore, bodies such as social services departments will have to review their recruitment procedures. The training of social workers must be reconsidered, as well as the effectiveness of information gathering and transmission within and between organisations such as the police and the health service. More must also be done in schools.
The Opposition's reasoned amendment--they claimed that they did not want it to be a wrecking amendment--relates to important family issues. For some four years, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and the Welsh Joint Education Committee have been trying to promote in schools what started as education for parenthood, but has now been revamped into family life education. It is important for us to bring to youngsters an awareness of family issues and of the strains and stresses that can arise in families, in order to prepare them for family life and parenthood.
One of the issues raised in Sir William Utting's report was the need for a compulsory register of private foster care--an issue that is relevant to the recent tragic death of Anna Climbie. I do not know whether the recommendation for such a register can be weaved into the Bill. It was not accepted when it was made, but perhaps the time has now come for us to reconsider it.
I hope that we will now act with the alacrity demonstrated by everybody who has so far been involved in the proposals, get the Bill into Committee, examine it thoroughly and use the expertise that has already been gathered. It would be great to see it through the House before the first anniversary of the publication of the Waterhouse report, which did so much to prompt us to take action.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): I am happy to speak for the Liberal Democrats on the Bill. We warmly welcome the measure and believe that it cannot come soon enough for the needs of the children of Wales.
There is no doubt that when the elections to the Welsh Assembly were held, a desire stretched almost completely across the political divide to establish a Children's Commissioner for Wales. However, for some reason, the 1999 Welsh Conservative manifesto, "Fair Play for All", made no mention of such a proposal. It might have been suggested that the reasoned amendment was consistent with that approach, but the tone of the speech made by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) was almost exactly the opposite of that of the amendment.
Mr. Llwyd: Today is a ground-breaking day, in terms not only of the Bill but of the Tory Front Bench performance. I hope that when "Erskine May" is updated, it will reflect that the best way of wholeheartedly supporting a Bill is to table a reasoned amendment.
Mr. Livsey: I note the hon. Gentleman's comments; his perception is correct. It was good to hear the remarks of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley in support of the establishment of a Children's Commissioner. Although the Welsh Conservative party's 1999 manifesto did not mention the proposal, it is clear that Conservative Assembly Members' support for the establishment of such a commissioner might have had a subtle influence on his speech.
The other three parties all proposed the establishment of a commissioner for Wales. The Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto, which promised "guaranteed delivery", proposed the appointment of a commissioner with powers to investigate local handling of any complaint made by a child about a public or voluntary service. That is important because it must be backed up with statutory force. We are fortunate because, as the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) has already stated, Kirsty Williams, who is a member of our party, chairs the Health and Social Services Committee in the Assembly. She and all members of the Committee strongly advocated establishing a Children's Commissioner for Wales.
The Health and Social Services Committee has taken evidence on the creation of the Children's Commissioner from a wide range of organisations, including the NSPCC, Barnardos, the Association of Directors of Social Services and the Welsh Local Government Association. The Committee also noted the opportunity to establish a statutory independent commissioner under the Care Standards Bill, which has subsequently been enacted.
The creation of a Children's Commissioner for Wales is an important matter, especially in view of the Waterhouse report on child abuse in north Wales. Sir Ronald Waterhouse's findings made the creation of an independent
The question that remains is the extent to which we extend the Children's Commissioner's powers. The Health and Social Services Committee and the Pre-16, Schools and Early Learning Committee in the Assembly concluded in a joint meeting on 22 March 2000 that the Children's Commissioner should promote children's rights, raise the profile of children's issues and take an overview of the impact of policies and procedures across all children's services.
The joint meeting also made the point that a Children's Commissioner should represent the views of children and young people up to the age of 18, with exceptions for older young people. The suggestion of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley that "young people" should be added to the commissioner's title provides food for thought. Young people older than 15 are sensitive about being described as children, yet many young people experience great problems.
One of the joint meeting's most important proposals was effective advocacy systems for children and young people. All the points that I have made so far are covered in the Bill, although not all the Health and Social Services Committee's proposals have been included. However, amendments could be tabled in Committee to ascertain whether we can improve the advocacy systems for which the measure provides.
Formal investigations of circumstances in which children's rights have been breached are especially important. The power to disclose information about various circumstances that affect children is vital. Liberal Democrat Members are pleased that many of the ideas that I have described have been taken on board.
Power to require inquiries
Powers to order disclosure of information
Powers to require action to be taken by public authorities and bodies, in accordance with their own duties.
The official Opposition's reasoned amendment, which appears to express dissatisfaction with the Bill, does not match the views of Conservative Assembly Members or--in the light of his speech--those of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley. The reasoned amendment states that the Bill