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Mr. Llwyd: The third paragraph of the letter that has been mentioned states that the Children's Commissioner's work includes neither regulation nor inspection. I do not take much comfort from that. I accept what is said in a later paragraph about when the inspectorate has failed, but it is a bit late to act at that point, when traumatic reports will doubtless be made.
As the hon. Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) said, we need to allow the commissioner to move in sufficiently early. There is nothing wrong with the new clause; it does not involve duplication. The NSPCC is worried about the matter that we are discussing and supports the new clause. Plant yng Nghymru--Children in Wales--also strongly favours including such a right of access in the Bill.
As the hon. Lady said, some abusers are sophisticated, and every possible measure must be used against them. The new clause constitutes a minor amendment. If the Minister claims that it is substantial and that it somehow alters the Bill, I respectfully remind him that at least two measures that are being considered grant an invasive power. For example, the Vehicles (Crime) Bill grants a new, sweeping power to move into scrap yards and places where number plates are produced. If that is allowed, surely we can permit a power that will protect children who may be at risk. I ask the Minister to reconsider.
Mr. Hanson: I have little time, but I shall try to deal with the points as best I can. First, as I made clear in Committee and in the letter to hon. Members, I want to ensure that the Children's Commissioner has all the necessary powers to prevent a recurrence of the circumstances that led to the Waterhouse report.
If the commissioner believed that it was necessary for him to visit premises, nothing in the Bill would prevent him from requesting a visit. It is unlikely that such a request would be refused. If that happened, I am sure that the commissioner would make a strong report to the Assembly on the reasons for the refusal and the grounds on which he wanted to examine the premises in the first place.
In answer to questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), all premises, private and public, have the right to refuse the commissioner access. However, let us put that in context. The commissioner would make such a request only because of the failure of the inspectorate system, which he examines. That system will undertake regular inspections; it is the commissioner's duty to inspect the inspectors.
Fewer than 10 per cent. of looked-after children in Wales are in homes; most are in foster care. I hope that the system is sufficiently robust. On the basis of my letter and my comments today, I hope that my hon. Friend will withdraw the motion.
Mr. Win Griffiths: I thank my hon. Friend the Minister for the reassurance that he has given. Perhaps the Government will reconsider such a provision in another place, but as there are probably powers to enable the Assembly to make appropriate orders, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
The Labour party went into the elections for the National Assembly for Wales committed to the creation of an independent statutory Children's Commissioner for Wales. The Government have shared that commitment by acting swiftly and sympathetically to ensure that the required legislation is put in place. I believe that the whole process has been a testament to successful partnership working between the Government and the Assembly, and--to give credit to those who served on the Committee--between the parties in the House and the Assembly. We achieved a speedy passage of the Bill in Committee and on Report.
Last year, the Government acted quickly to amend what was then the Care Standards Bill to establish the office of the Children's Commissioner for Wales and to give the commissioner powers that reflected the recommendations in the Waterhouse report. They relate to children's
Wales now has its first Children's Commissioner, Peter Clarke. I take this opportunity to wish him well in his post, which he will take up on 1 March--just over a year after the publication of the Waterhouse report. The Government have introduced legislation to extend the commissioner's powers in response to the Assembly's vision.
By adding to the scope of the commissioner's functions, the Bill will allow the Assembly to achieve its strategy for a statutory, independent commissioner with a wide-ranging role, who can be--I emphasise this strongly--a champion for all the children and young people in Wales.
The Bill has undergone scrutiny in Committee and I thank Committee members for their constructive contributions. I accept that we have made no amendments, but I believe that there has been an exploration of the Bill and that we have achieved broad consensus around the concept of a Children's Commissioner, which has allowed informed discussion and speedy progress.
I recognise that there are some concerns, but I hope that I have dealt with them in Committee and on Report. There will be opportunities for further discussion in another place--to the satisfaction of all hon. Members of both Houses, I hope.
The Bill will introduce a power for the commissioner to review the effect on children in Wales of the activities of the Assembly, local authorities, health authorities and other public bodies sponsored by the Assembly. The public bodies concerned are not confined to those primarily concerned with services for children. They encompass a wide range of organisations whose actions may impact upon children, such as the Welsh Development Agency, the Sports Council for Wales and the National Museums and Galleries of Wales.
The Bill will back up the widened role by extending the commissioner's powers under the Care Standards Act 2000 to examine cases of particular children, and to assist in particular cases. I pay tribute to Jane Hutt and her Committee in the Assembly and to the officials who have supported the progress of the Bill. Assembly regulations will be set out in detail, but the role potentially applies to the activities of all bodies referred to in the Bill.
The extent of the commissioner's power to review and monitor arrangements for complaints procedures, whistleblowing and advocacy will also be greatly increased by the Bill. This power will be applied to a far wider group of bodies that provide direct services to children in Wales, including local authorities.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey) because I had intended to refer to him in an earlier discussion. He mentioned the problem of funding for local authorities. I can only say--I mean this genuinely--that the £10 billion that the Government have given to the National Assembly as part of the comprehensive spending review represents the most significant increase in public spending in Wales in my
The commissioner's role will extend to local authorities, the NHS, schools and training organisations. Eventually, Assembly regulations will be able to give the commissioner the power to require bodies to provide him with information if they are involved in the investigation of individual cases, or if arrangements for complaints, whistleblowing and advocacy are being monitored. Legal sanctions are already available for failure to comply.
In performing all the functions under clauses 2 and 3, the commissioner will have principal aim of safeguarding and promoting the rights and welfare of children in Wales. That is a major step forward for children in Wales, and for the Assembly and the Government. The new functions proposed in the Bill will enable the commissioner to act as a powerful defender of the rights of children. His field will be the whole range of devolved public services in Wales, and his task will be as challenging as it is worth while. I am confident that the Bill will give him the statutory backing that he needs.
The House, the Government and the National Assembly for Wales have to do everything in our power to ensure that the horrors dealt with in the Waterhouse report are never repeated. I believe that the establishment of the Children's Commissioner and the powers that the House and the Assembly wish him to exercise will ensure, as far as we are able to, that those horrors are never repeated.