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House of Commons

Wednesday 13 December 2000

The House met at half-past Two o'clock


[Mr. Speaker in the Chair]


Committee of Selection


Oral Answers to Questions


The Secretary of State was asked--


1. Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary about events to celebrate the bicentenary of the United Kingdom. [142000]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): None.

Mr. Swayne: I find that remarkably shocking. Does the Under-Secretary agree that a nation needs to have a sense of its history for its self-respect? Will he, however, confirm that this rotten Government have no intention whatever of celebrating the bicentenary of the United Kingdom? Has not the Minister for patriotism got anything to say about that?

Mr. Hanson: The bicentenary of the 1707 Act of Union, which united the Westminster Parliament with Scotland, was in 1907. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland came into effect in 1922, and I do not really expect to live to see its bicentenary in due course. As the hon. Gentleman will know, the bicentenary of the 1801 Act of Union falls next year, and the Government will recognise the significance of that. The First Secretary and I have not discussed the matter.

Mr. Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside): In Wales and Shotton, steelworkers will not be celebrating; they are appalled at the prospect of further redundancies. Does my hon. Friend know that steelworkers are saying that it appears that redundancies are asked of us on this side of

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the channel, but that in Holland there are fewer? Is there any way in which Her Majesty's Government might help steelworkers in Wales and at Shotton in my constituency?

Mr. Hanson: I praise the ingenuity of my right hon. Friend, whose question involves the interests of his constituency. I represent a neighbouring constituency, and he and I know that steel is important to north-east Wales. He raised an important issue. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State is in discussions with British Steel and Corus and with the steel trade unions and Mike Lehey about those matters. I know that he hopes to raise the matter again with Sir Brian Moffat, the chairman of Corus. I recognise that steel is important to Wales in the north, in the south and in the valleys. We shall do what we can to raise those issues on behalf of the Government.

Children's Commissioner

2. Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary about extending the power of the Children's Commissioner for Wales. [142001]

3. Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South): What discussions he has had with the First Secretary about extending the power of the Children's Commissioner for Wales. [142002]

The Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Paul Murphy): I am pleased to tell the House that the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill was published yesterday. That Bill has been widely welcomed and, yesterday, in the National Assembly for Wales, leaders of all political parties in Wales pledged their support to me when I outlined the legislative programme in their Chamber.

Mrs. Williams: I congratulate my right hon. Friend on the speed with which he and the Government moved, following the calls by various organisations for the appointment of a Children's Commissioner. The Waterhouse report, which was published in February this year, recommended the creation of the post. I stress how pleased we were that amendments to the Bill that became the Care Standards Act 2000 improved that legislation. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan), who campaigned for the creation of the position. Does the Secretary of State agree that the commissioner who was appointed last week, Mr. Peter Clarke, will radically improve the welfare and rights of children in Wales?

Mr. Murphy: Yes, of course I can do that. My hon. Friend is aware that the establishment of a Children's Commissioner was a manifesto commitment of the Labour party in the 1999 Assembly elections, and that that was supported by other parties in Wales. It was the first recommendation of the Waterhouse report. As a north Wales Member, I know that my hon. Friend is particularly appreciative of that. The Bill will extend the powers of the commissioner to include public bodies that are overseen by the Assembly in Wales, and I welcome the appointment of Mr. Peter Clarke as the first children's champion in the United Kingdom.

Mr. Martyn Jones: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the rapid publication of the Children's Commissioner

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for Wales Bill yesterday is proof that the Assembly and the United Kingdom Government are working together well for the people of Wales? Is not that an example of the way in which the Government can respond quickly to the legislative needs of Wales?

Mr. Murphy: Indeed it is. I obviously agree with my hon. Friend. As I said, when I was in the National Assembly yesterday delivering the legislative programme, all parties there recognised the importance of the appointment. That shows that the devolution settlement for Wales is working well and that we in the House will be able to give the Assembly the tools that it needs to do its job of improving public services in Wales. It also shows that there can be--indeed, there is--a strong working partnership between the United Kingdom Government and the Assembly, which will improve the quality of life of people in Wales and especially, in this instance, that of all our children in Wales.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): In recognising the appropriateness of the role of the Children's Commissioner in looking after minors in local authority homes and a number of other specified circumstances, does the Secretary of State nevertheless agree that it is vital that that role should not be extended in such a way as to supplant the natural and usually appropriate role of ordinary parents? What steps have been taken to ensure that we avoid that eventuality?

Mr. Murphy: Of course that role does not supplant the role of family life and of parents in any way, but enhances it. The hon. Gentleman is aware that the main reason for implementing the Bill so quickly, and the impetus behind that, is the Waterhouse report and the inquiry that led up to it. I am sorry to say that there were many examples of parents who did not exercise their responsibilities. It is obviously important to understand the role of parents, but the hon. Gentleman will agree that everyone welcomes the creation of the post, the person appointed to it and the work that he will do.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): The Bill covering the powers of the Children's Commissioner, which was published yesterday, contains a schedule dealing with those persons and arrangements that will be subject to review--13 of the 24 are all-Wales bodies, which can be subject to the commissioner's powers. However, the Wales Youth Agency is not mentioned in that list. Is it dealt with by another measure or has there been an oversight?

Mr. Murphy: As my hon. Friend is aware, the commissioner will have oversight of all public bodies in Wales, especially those that are dealt with by the National Assembly. Any functions that the Wales Youth Agency exercises on behalf of the Assembly or of its sponsored bodies will be a matter for the Children's Commissioner to deal with if necessary. However, I shall consider further the points that my hon. Friend has made.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): The Secretary of State will be aware that the Opposition have supported the establishment of a Children's Commissioner for Wales. My colleagues here and in the National Assembly for Wales have spoken in favour of the appointment and

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we join the Secretary of State in wishing Mr. Peter Clarke well in his challenging job, although many have wondered why England will not benefit from a similar commissioner.

As the House has approached its consideration of the new legislation, my colleagues in the Welsh Assembly and I have voiced our concerns about the rights of parents. Will the Secretary of State be absolutely clear with hon. Members and tell us where he believes that the dividing line lies between the powers of the Children's Commissioner and the rights and responsibilities not of those parents who are responsible for child abuse, but of normal, caring parents?

Mr. Murphy: I do not believe that there is any dividing line as such, because normal, caring parents in Wales will welcome the appointment of the Children's Commissioner, who will have a general role as the children's champion in Wales. As I said to the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow), I believe that the appointment does not supplant, but enhances the role of the family and of parents in Welsh society. I have not the slightest doubt that Peter Clarke's appointment will be welcomed by all parents in Wales. The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) may be a member of the Committee that deals with the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill, and I know that he will support its passage through the House.

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