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Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I welcome the proposal for the establishment of such an important post. Hon. Members will have some idea of how important my party thinks it is from the fact that my right hon. Friend the Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) spoke about it on 17 March, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ceredigion (Mr. Thomas) did so on 18 May.
I had the privilege of moving an amendment--in fact, it was a new clause--to the Local Government (Wales) Bill back in May 1994, with the aim of establishing just such a commissioner. I argued that the commissioner should
My new clause relating to the Local Government (Wales) Bill was supported by several Labour Members, and, indeed, by the current First Minister in the Welsh Assembly. It is interesting to note, for historical reasons, that much of the impetus for the creation of the commissioner's post has come from the Assembly, and I
I believe that we are striking a blow for our children and for the future, but, as I have said, it has been a long time coming. That is not meant as a criticism of the Government, but there has been a reluctance to recognise the concept of children's rights, as opposed to the Victorian idea that children should be seen and not heard. The establishment of a children's commissioner for Wales was a key recommendation of the recent Waterhouse inquiry into the awful abuse of children in north Wales children's homes and foster care.
I support the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). I seem to recall that he supported my new clause back in 1994; no doubt he, too, will be pleased that we have reached this stage.
We should pay regard to what the Welsh Assembly has said. It has said that it wants the commissioner to have a wide remit--not simply to deal with complaints, not even to liaise with various agencies, and not even to issue guidelines to local authorities and so on, but to take a role in the forming of policy that affects children.
On 3 July, I received a helpful letter from the Minister explaining some of the purposes of the Government's amendments and new clauses. I shall not give the details of the letter, but I hope that the commissioner will have a wide remit allowing him to deal not only with children in care, but with, for instance, circumstances in which current agencies and even the courts fail in their duties to children. I am thinking of circumstances in which a child's life is affected in any way. This may be a matter of general policy; it may involve a forum in which young people can discuss certain matters. I appreciate the whistleblowing aspect, to which the Minister's letter refers.
I hope that the commissioner will be able to formulate child-friendly policies in both the voluntary and the governmental spheres. I also hope that the establishment of this post will promote equal opportunities for the children of Wales, and that the commissioner will monitor the production of, for example, child impact statements. Much is expected of the commissioner. I hope that the office will live up to its name. I am delighted that it has been set up today, and I pay tribute to the Government for having moved so quickly.
I hope that, with the National Assembly, we shall be able to make a real go of the initiative. I am pleased that it was first considered in the National Assembly. In a way, it is a first for Wales. I hope that the Minister will assure the House that the office will have a broad remit and be able to take into account the important matters included in the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Bridgend.
Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): I intend to be brief in supporting the amendments that have been tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths). I am pleased to speak in support of them because he has an excellent track record in working for children in Wales.
I should like clarification on the points that my hon. Friend has made about whether the commissioner will have the power to make proposals to amend the Bill when it has been enacted, or any other legislation that relates to children in Wales. It is important that the commissioner has a proactive role and is able to make positive suggestions; that must be made clear. It is the Welsh Assembly's intention that the children's commissioner and the office of the children's commissioner should develop, and that the commissioner can promote the interests of all children in Wales, not just the children who are referred to in the legislation. It is important that we make the commissioner's powers as wide as possible in the Bill.
It is important to remember that the commissioner's duties already go way beyond children in care. There is a misconception in Wales that the amendments to the Bill would cover only children in care. We are covering much more: children in day nurseries, the fostering and adoption of children, domiciliary services and all the regulated services. All that goes way beyond children in care.
A voluntary body has expressed concern to me about whether the Welsh commissioner can be an advocate and champion for children as well as an impartial investigator of complaints that arise. I would like the Minister's comments on that. As I see it, the commissioner's office will be able to deal with the wishes and concerns of children in the areas covered in the Bill, which obviously goes far beyond simply investigating complaints. I hope that the Minister will be able to comment on that.
The National Assembly intends the office to go far beyond the impartial office of an ombudsman. One of its main functions should be, and will be--the Assembly wants it to be--to promote and monitor the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, to raise the profile, to improve public attitudes towards children and to be a proactive force in Wales. I should like the Minister's assurance that nothing in the legislation would prevent the Assembly from developing a wider remit for the commissioner and from taking on wider functions, initially, of course, on a non-statutory basis.
The establishment of the commissioner is an important development in Wales. This is one of the first pieces of legislation introduced here that has been requested by the National Assembly, and it is an example of the partnership between Westminster and the Welsh Assembly. I understand that the Assembly plans to involve children in the recruitment and selection of the commissioner. That is giving children a voice in the selection, and it is a tremendous step forward. It is important to remember that the commissioner will not be just one person. There will be an office for the commissioner, with different people who can undertake the different functions that we envisage the commissioner having.
I very much welcome the comments made by my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) and for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan), and the generous welcome given to the Government's proposals by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd).
The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North asked about the Bill's development. On 15 February, Waterhouse recommended establishment of the position of a children's commissioner. On 2 March, we stated that we would table relevant amendments. Subsequently, in Committee, we tabled the amendments, and today we are tidying them up.
We shall sympathetically and urgently consider the National Assembly's wish for a wider role. However, I hope that both the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North can accept that, although we are in discussions with the National Assembly, I cannot pre-empt a future Gracious Speech. Nevertheless, we shall certainly examine the possibility of expanding that role and fulfilling the full potential of the Waterhouse recommendations. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman and my hon. Friend.
Amendments Nos. 8 and 9, which were tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend, would include in the Bill a requirement for the children's commissioner in Wales to make recommendations to the Secretary of State or to the Assembly. I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friend that the concepts of reviewing and monitoring such arrangements, and the provision for reports by the commissioner, are intended to encompass the making of such recommendations as his amendments seek to ensure will be made. It is implicit in part V that the commissioner will be able to make the type of recommendations suggested by my hon. Friend. It is therefore not necessary, I hope, for specific provision on the matter to be included in the Bill.
My hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend and for Cardiff, North also mentioned amendments to legislation. They will both be aware that primary legislation remains principally a matter for the Government and the House, whereas devolved secondary legislation is a matter for the National Assembly. I assure my hon. Friends that I am confident that if recommendations are made in reports by the commissioner that relate to changes in either primary or secondary legislation, strong and due consideration will be given to amending that legislation. The commissioner's reports will carry tremendous weight in the matter.
I hope that I have been able to reassure my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend on both those points, so that he will be able to withdraw his amendment. I genuinely welcome the general points that have been made in this debate, and I look forward to completing the remaining tasks at an appropriate parliamentary opportunity.