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Mr. Rogers: As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, the new clause is useful in that it enables us to consider various issues. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will acknowledge that any review should mean advice, or that the commissioner has the right to give advice beyond that. However, I am disturbed by some of the supporting arguments of Opposition Members, especially the continual reiterating of the argument that the commissioner does not really have a role within the family structure.
My first reservation, as I said in Committee, is that I would hate to see a tsar of child care telling local authorities that they must do this and that. Local authorities must be left to do their job, but they have
The Opposition are putting forward the idea that there will be somebody knocking at the door of family homes in the middle of the night and prying. That is nonsensical. As most child abuse takes place in families, there must be a way of adopting that approach eventually, but the commissioner does not need to do it. We must ensure that local authorities carry out their duties.
Mr. Walter: By means of the new clause, we want the commissioner to be able to give advice to local authorities on good practice. Part of good practice is being able to pick up at an early stage any cases of child abuse which, under current legislation, would come within the remit of the local authority's social services department. My references to the commissioner not being intrusive on the family were with respect to an amendment tabled in Committee which would have given him the power to lay down good practice within families, which I think is inappropriate.
I return to the substance of the new clause. I have reservations about just giving advice and the quality of the process. I hope that the Minister will take cognisance of the fact that there is not any feedback or reciprocity in the suggested process. One can give advice ad nauseam, but whether it is taken up and acted on is another matter. Until the commissioner has a specific function in that respect, there will always be a weakness in the general process.
Mr. Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire): I shall make just a few points, as most of those that I was going to make have already been made. I stress that it is important that the new clause broadens and extends powers. The hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) rightly pointed to amendments that I tabled in Committee, which extended powers much more widely than does new clause 2.
Obviously, "advice" is the key word. Reference has been made to the quality and standard of services provided by the Assembly and local authorities. If there is to be a children's champion--a Children's Commissioner for Wales--he must oversee a service with an extremely high standard. My experience of local authorities in Wales is that, on the whole, they are conscientious and want to carry out their tasks. Very often, however, they are underfunded. The standards and improvements that the commissioner would, I am sure, wish to instate will sometimes not be attainable because of lack of funding.
Two issues are involved. Crucially, funding of the National Assembly for Wales, which comes via the Welsh block, is decided here through negotiations and is eventually negotiated by the Secretary of State with the Assembly. There ought to be provision in the Welsh block to achieve adequate funding of local authorities and social
The role of the Children's Commissioner should include being able to give advice so that standards are maintained and improved. I should like to think that the new clause is a probing one, which tries to ensure that that would be brought about. By the same token, that could be solved by the Minister responding to our debate with a clear statement that "review" and "advice" are virtually the same thing, and that advice can be freely given by the Children's Commissioner for the benefit of children.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. David Hanson): I hope that I will be able to satisfy hon. Members on the points that they have made to the Government. I respect the views of the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) on the matters that he raised. However, on reflection, I hope that he, other Opposition Members and my hon. Friends will accept that there is little difference of view--dare I say, no difference?--between the Government and Opposition Members on the principle behind new clause 2. I hope that the hon. Member for North Dorset will accept my assurance that the power to give the advice envisaged is already encompassed in the Bill.
Clause 3 introduces a new power for the commissioner to review the effect on children in Wales of the exercise of any function of the Assembly and of any function of local authorities, as well as other public bodies listed in schedule 2A. That power includes reviewing the effect of the provision of services. Indeed, as has been mentioned, clause 2 states:
The commissioner may also give advice and information to any person in connection with his functions. The Bill therefore provides fully for the intention of the new clause. Indeed, I envisage that giving such advice will be one of the commissioner's central functions. That is the hope of the Government and the National Assembly.
I shall try to cover the points raised in the debate. The key point, which was mentioned by the hon. Member for North Dorset, relates to family policy. The National Assembly for Wales considered the matter. In its report on the Children's Commissioner, the Health and Social Services Committee recommended that the commissioner should focus on policies and services that affect children.
In the Assembly debate on the report, which took place on 7 June last year, it was accepted that it was not the intention that the commissioner should exercise functions, such as investigations, in respect of families. Those powers are rightly held by different bodies accountable to the Assembly.
That does not mean that the commissioner will never comment on issues that affect family life. There are many issues affecting children on which he may want to bring broad conclusions to the attention of the Assembly or, informally, to the attention of Government. I remind the hon. Member for North Dorset that his colleague in the Assembly, David Melding, helpfully clarified the fact that a fully effective Children's Commissioner will be available to offer great support to parents, without undermining the responsibility of the family in any way. Given the general principle that we held throughout Committee--that it is not the prime function of the commissioner to investigate individual cases--I hope that I have dealt with the point.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Guildford (Mr. St. Aubyn) has left the Chamber, as he contributed to our short debate. He mentioned a range of issues relating to child care. I hope that he will reflect on what I shall say when he has an opportunity to read Hansard on the train in the near future.
Provided that the services are regulated by the National Assembly, the commissioner has a direct responsibility, under the Bill, to examine those areas. For areas not regulated by the Assembly, he does not have that direct responsibility, and those are areas that we can consider.
I had intended to answer the point made by the hon. Member for Guildford about England, but as he is not present I shall leave that for another day. Perhaps he will reflect on his contribution and consider whether he wants to write to me about those matters. He spoke only seven or eight minutes ago, so it is important that he should allow the Government the opportunity to respond.
The final point relates to the fact that the post of commissioner is a statutory office. It therefore has functions conferred upon it by law, but those functions are guided by the principle that the National Assembly for Wales has responsibilities, which are the areas that the commissioner will examine.
As I said repeatedly in Committee, in the course of his work the commissioner may receive representations on a range of issues, including non-devolved matters. The commissioner is perfectly entitled to bring those matters to the attention of the relevant Government Departments. That does not give him substantive functions in non-devolved areas, nor will he have formal power to require information in relation to such matters, but he will be able to make informal comments.
I am pleased that the hon. Member for Guildford is back. I was not trying to disparage him in his absence, but I have responded to some of the points raised in his contribution. I hope that he will read my response.