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Mr. Clifton-Brown: We all agree that the hon. Gentleman's private Member's Bill is a good thing. Will he urge his colleagues on the Front Bench to give his Bill Government time? After all, a precedent has been set by the Hunting Bill. If the Government can make time for the Hunting Bill, surely they can do so for the hon. Gentleman's Bill. Furthermore, does he agree that, as this is such an important issue--we are all in favour of the protection of children--the Government ought to protect the maximum number of children by extending the Bill to England as well as Wales?
The introduction of a children's rights commissioner for England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales would be of fundamental importance in protecting children, promoting the participation of children and encouraging a different way of viewing children, which in itself would aid their protection. It would be a way of viewing children as developing adults with individual human rights, rather than as objects of concern about whom we have great debates and hear terrible shock-horror stories when awful events happen but then neglect and ignore. Children in this country do not have a vote and are, by definition, powerless. They often do not have a voice, and their interests are often set aside.
The Bill could be improved in the way that I described in an intervention on the Secretary of State. A Government who have done such powerfully good work in relation to child poverty should ensure that the fundamental safeguard for children's rights in Wales can inquire into issues surrounding social security. I do not have an explanation of why the Children's Commissioner can examine the position of children who are looked after in Wales, but as yet has no statutory role in relation to young people who are in custody or who are in other parts of the youth justice system. I do not recognise any distinction that explains that.
As many hon. Members have said, the Bill should make reference to the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. Almost every country in the world has signed up to the convention. Two have not done so: one is Somalia, the other is the United States of America.
I should like the Children's Commissioner to be able to report freely, to have no limit on the matters to which he may contribute, to be able to represent children's views, to be able to comment on the effects of United Kingdom legislation on children in Wales, to have direct contact with children and to be able to review the effect of a failure of services in Wales as well as the provision of them. Above all, the Children's Commissioner should be someone of whom children in Wales are aware. The commissioner should be able to take on a dynamic role, enabling children's participation.
I was sorry to read the not particularly reasoned amendment tabled on behalf of the Conservative party. It is, quite simply, a ludicrous idea that the Bill could be any sort of attack on parents. I would say to every parent in the land that no ordinary, sensible parent has anything to worry about in relation to children's rights.
I do not often give the Conservatives their due, but in the Children Act 1989, a very fine and noble measure, they abolished the concept of parental rights and introduced the concept of parental responsibility--a way of looking at relationships within families that is fundamentally different from the one that had prevailed previously. The fact that Members of the party that could introduce that legislation less than 12 years ago have now got to the silly scaremongering stage that we see in the reasoned amendment is a reflection of how far they have moved--how far they have fallen.
Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman is saying that he wants to give some due to the official Opposition, and he has said that he is looking to extend the powers of the Children's Commissioner beyond the devolved areas. Several Labour Members have done the same, as have Members on the Liberal and Plaid Cymru Benches, and that is an integral part of our reasoned amendment. It seems as though everyone agrees with our reasoned amendment but wishes that we had not tabled it.
Mr. Dawson: The hon. Gentleman cannot get away with that one. The large part of his reasoned amendment, and the part that leaps off the page, is the entirely unsubstantiated claim that a Children's Commissioner should have no part in family life, and that the commissioner represents some sort of threat to ordinary families. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has read the NSPCC studies that report the extent of abuse within families. If he was really committed to a Children's Commissioner, he would want that commissioner to be involved with all children.
Ordinary parents should be the greatest advocates for children's rights. As I said in an intervention, ordinary parents should want their children to participate in and get the best deal from society, and should want to see their children upheld as free individuals with rights, to whom duties are owed by them and by institutions outside the family home.
Mr. Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd): Thank you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to take part in this important debate. I welcome the appointment of a Children's Commissioner for Wales and I am proud of the fact that Wales is the first of the home countries in the United Kingdom to appoint such a commissioner.
There is great consensus within Wales--I emphasise, within Wales--on the issue of a Children's Commissioner. The voluntary sector, agencies, local authorities and every political party have worked together in the best interests of the children of Wales. It is very disappointing that the consensus has been shattered by the antics of the official Opposition today, here in Westminster, and I know that their Conservative colleagues in Wales share our disappointment at their behaviour and tactics.
I am pleased that the leader of the Conservatives in Wales, Mr. Nick Bourne, has been quoted on PA NewsFile. I read out the quotation in an intervention earlier, when the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), the Opposition spokesman, was out of the Chamber for an extended period, so perhaps I should repeat what the leader of the Conservatives in Wales said when he found out that the Conservatives at Westminster had shattered the consensus:
Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman has just read out something that purports to come from the leader of the Conservatives in Wales, where we wish to strengthen the powers of the Children's Commissioner. In which way would we be asking anyone to stand on their heads? Indeed, a number of the hon. Gentleman's colleagues have asked for the strengthening of the commissioner's powers. Does he wish those powers to be extended, or does he not?
Mr. Deputy Speaker: Order. The hon. Gentleman has been a Member of this place for a little while now. He should do a little better than that. I think that "hon. Gentleman" are the two words for which he is looking.
As a north Wales Member, I remind the House that the impetus for a Children's Commissioner for Wales lies in the north Wales child abuse inquiry, and Mr. Justice Waterhouse's recommendation that such a position should be created in Wales. Something good has come out of something evil. The reign of terror that raged in north Wales for 30 years came to an end. We should welcome the fact that we are to get a Children's Commissioner.
Those who suffered abuse and those who suffer the after-effects of it may take some solace from the fact that the public, including policy makers and elected representatives in Wales, were so outraged when they heard of the experiences of the young people involved that a groundswell of opinion grew to establish a Children's Commissioner. For some, the news of a commissioner comes too late. I refer to those who committed suicide as a result of their experiences, those who died of drug abuse and those who died of alcohol abuse when they tried to escape the nightmares of their experiences.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said that the commissioner has yet to set up offices. I suggest that my right hon. Friend use his position to ask the commissioner to consider north Wales as the location for his offices, in recognition of the role played by the north Wales child abuse inquiry and in tribute to young children, alive or dead, who suffered so terribly in north Wales homes.
The Select Committee on Welsh Affairs published the results of its inquiry into social exclusion in Wales yesterday, in Cardiff. During the inquiry, members of the Committee made a deliberate attempt to listen to the youth of Wales. We visited many projects, including one in my constituency that was set up to look after young schoolgirls who became pregnant. That group is in Rhyl high school in my constituency. We listened to the experiences of the young mothers. We held a meeting for youth from throughout Wales at Chynlleth. Young people spoke with passion on a range of issues. A young lad told us that he had left school at the age of 14, having been bullied by his school mates because he was a homosexual. Others spoke freely and openly about abuse, violence, drugs and alcohol.
At first, the young people were hesitant when six or seven Members sat with them. There were about 50 young people from throughout Wales. We split into different groups and listened to them. They were wary of us because we were besuited and came from Westminster. When they knew that we were prepared to listen--we were not talking at them and we were prepared to act--they realised the importance of the session and opened up. The appointment of a commissioner for Wales stems partly from the response of the young people of Wales. It has been welcomed by many children's groups and by children in Wales. The commissioner's position will be made that much better because of the rapport that he will have with young people in Wales.