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Mr. Evans: The hon. Gentleman knows that we tabled our reasoned amendment because we want the Bill to be strengthened. Like some Labour Members and Members of other Opposition parties, we want the powers of the Children's Commissioner to be strengthened and replicated in England when the Bill goes into Committee--as it will. The reasoned amendment has given us the opportunity to put that proposition.
Mr. Hanson: When the hon. Gentleman wakes up in the morning and reads the headlines in the papers, and when he sees what the Conservative party in Wales has said about his amendment, he will, on reflection, recognise that he has made a catastrophic error. If I invited my right hon. and hon. Friends to join him in the Lobby, there would be no Bill. He knows it, and I know it.
Mr. Hanson: My hon. Friend makes a valid point. I was going to plead with the hon. Member for Ribble Valley to withdraw the amendment because we will certainly discuss the issues that it raises in Committee. He knows we can do that, and it would allow us to progress on the basis of having a consensus on children in Wales so that we secure a better deal for them. I invite him to
Mr. Hanson: It would be a strange Minister who supported a Bill that he believed to be deficient. The issues that have been raised can be considered and discussed in Committee, but the amendment declines to give the Bill a Second Reading. The leader of the Conservative party in the National Assembly for Wales has said that the amendment appals him.
However, let us move on. The hon. Gentleman has had an opportunity to withdraw the amendment, but instead he will ask his hon. Friends to vote for it. We will see how many of them agree with it and I shall look at the Division list tomorrow to see whether the right hon. Member for Fareham and the hon. Member for Wycombe joined him in the Division Lobby.
Many hon. Members who represent Welsh constituencies made fine contributions. They supported the establishment of the Children's Commissioner and the extension of his remit. I, like my hon. Friends the Members for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane), for Conwy (Mrs. Williams), for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) and for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), have praised the voluntary sector for its contribution to the Bill.
The Bill will give effect to extending the powers of the Children's Commissioner. As my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) and for Cardiff, Central (Mr. Jones) and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire (Mr. Öpik) said, the Bill's principal aims are to strengthen the exercising of rights by the Children's Commissioner to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.
The Bill will give additional powers to support functions in devolved matters that are covered by the National Assembly. Those are quite extensive and a range of issues, including health and education, will be covered. They are important additions to the commissioner's role. I very much agree with what my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, Central and for Bridgend said: we should consider the issues, not as a panacea for tackling child abuse at the end of the road, but as a way in which to strengthen and support the Bill.
I believe that all hon. Members who spoke welcomed the summary of the Bill's effects on improving the conditions and support for children in Wales and elsewhere. However, some important issues have been raised, which I want to cover in detail.
The commissioner will have powers to exercise functions that are incidental to his core functions, and he can bring those to the attention of relevant Departments. There is no question of him being gagged on issues that are outside his jurisdiction. The Bill would not give him substantive functions in non-devolved areas, nor would he have a formal power to review, report or require information. However, I believe strongly that Departments would react positively, given the commissioner's profile, on issues that he brought to the attention of the Government. The commissioner will report to the National Assembly for Wales, so he will be able to comment on non-devolved matters in his report, and the Assembly's framework means that it will be able to make representations about those issues to the Government.
The hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and my hon. Friends the Members for Clwyd, South, for Gower and for Lancaster and Wyre and many others referred to the commissioner having responsibility under the United Nations convention on the rights of the child. As hon. Members will be aware, the convention is not part of domestic law and I do not consider it appropriate in primary legislation to link the commissioner's principal aim of safeguarding and promoting the rights of children specifically to the convention. However, the Assembly has taken the convention into account in designing the job description and the advertisement for the post and the commissioner will have regard to the UN convention in exercising his functions. Again, we can explore these issues in Committee. Although the convention is not on the face of the Bill, its spirit is reflected by it.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North for the work that she has undertaken in the House to support the establishment of the commissioner. She mentioned the issue of commenting on the decisions of courts and tribunals. Although the commissioner may receive representations about such decisions, it is not appropriate for him to comment on them while the issues are before the courts. Obviously, once a decision has been taken, he has the right and responsibility to bring to the Assembly's attention any issues that he feels are important.
Mr. Clifton-Brown: Will the Minister consider in Committee whether it will be appropriate for the commissioner to assist a child financially when a case is taken to a tribunal and an important point of principle is at stake?
The right hon. Member for Fareham mentioned primary legislation. It is not within the commissioner's statutory remit to be able to influence and direct primary legislation; that is a matter for the House, which is why I am pleased that the Bill is before us. However, the commissioner will be able to use his judgment about which issues to express his view upon. He will be free to express his view on those issues accordingly, and I hope that the budget of £800,000 will assist him to do that.
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy referred to court cases. The commissioner is not an alternative to the courts, but he has a clear separate role as a children's champion. He will therefore not be able to inquire formally into, or report on, any matter that is the subject of legal proceedings or has been determined by a court or tribunal. However, that will not prevent him from making informal comments on the outcome of court cases or considering such issues.
Interest and concern have been expressed about the commissioner's role for children who live in Wales. My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North mentioned asylum-seeking children, and the key test is whether children in Wales receive regulated services. An asylum-seeking child who receives such services will fall under the commissioner's scope if he lives in Wales. That is set out in section 78(1) of the Care Standards Act 2000, which is to be amended by this Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy and the hon. Member for Montgomeryshire referred to the commissioner's jurisdiction over services provided in England for children who live in Wales. It is important that we recognise that the Bill relates to services received, so if a person lives in Wales, is sponsored by an authority outside Wales and receives a service from it, he will fall within the commissioner's potential jurisdiction. It is important to consider the context, and we shall have an opportunity to return to all the issues when we debate the Bill in Committee.
It is strange to be asked to decline to give a Second Reading to the Bill because of its lack of support for the family, when the Government have introduced the working families tax credit, given record increases in child benefit, extended maternity leave and introduced the right to parental leave and the new children's tax credit. The hon. Member for Ribble Valley--in addition to making a big mistake in declining to give a Second Reading to the Bill--has also failed to recognise the support that the Government have given to the family. The welcome that the measure has
My hon. Friend the Member for Conwy asked whether we could extend the scope of the Bill to cover adults with severe learning disabilities. I recognise her concerns, her circumstances and those of many of our constituents. It would not be appropriate for the commissioner to concentrate on adults with learning disabilities because he will be a children's and young person's commissioner. However, he will be able to consider how such individuals need to be protected when they are children, and what steps need to be taken to support their progress to adult life.
The possibility of a children's commissioner for England was raised by a number of hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre and the hon. Member for Cotswold, who again found himself the only hon. Member speaking in support of his Front Bench. The Bill illustrates the success of devolution, and the whole point of devolution is that different parts of the United Kingdom should be able to find solutions to their own problems.
The National Assembly has worked up detailed proposals for the Children's Commissioner, and I pay tribute to Jane Hutt and her team in the Assembly, including the many officials who have worked on them. The Commissioner will undertake the task of listening to children, promoting their interests and ensuring that they have a voice for their grievances. The Bill fulfils a Labour manifesto commitment made during the Assembly elections of 1999.
I recognise the concerns that have been expressed about the lack of a children's commissioner in England and Scotland. The Government will consider carefully the Welsh experience before deciding whether having a commissioner for children in England would add value.
The hon. Member for Ribble Valley had the cheek to raise those issues, because I do not recall the Conservatives introducing proposals for a Children's Commissioner once in all their 18 years. In fact, during the passage of a Bill in 1993 the Conservatives voted down a Labour amendment to introduce children's commissioners in Wales, so let us not have the cant and hypocrisy of the hon. Member for Ribble Valley saying, "We would have done it." They did not do so when they had the opportunity.
The Bill offers an opportunity to ensure that the lessons of Waterhouse are learned, that we protect children and young people in the future and that we introduce in Wales a positive model for child protection. I have lived with the north Wales child abuse inquiry in constituency terms, and seen the effects of it. We are doing all that we can to support the commissioner. I ask the hon. Member for Ribble Valley not to press the amendment to a vote, and not to vote against the Bill. I ask him to support the Government.