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Mr. McCabe: My hon. Friend is correct to say that we could learn a great deal by listening to children, but if we are concentrating on rights and the commissioner's role in upholding them, we might consider the horrendous example of the Bulger case. Would the commissioner's role have been to uphold the rights of Jamie Bulger or those of the youngsters who perpetrated the crime?

Mrs. Curtis-Thomas: I thank my hon. Friend for posing that question, especially as Jamie Bulger was murdered in the constituency adjacent to mine. The ramifications of the incident have had a great impact on our communities. Opinion is divided. I remain committed to the view that no child is born evil and that we have a moral duty to all children, irrespective of whether they are the perpetrators or victims of a crime, to ensure that the environmental or biological factors that might cause them to become people who threaten and abuse society are addressed and that they are treated as humanely as possible.

Many in my community still believe that the people who murdered Jamie Bulger should be incarcerated for life. That is a sad reflection on our society. The commissioner would have a difficult role in such crimes, but he could make a positive contribution. Too many opinions do not have a channel through which they can be driven to form a collective view.

I reassert my commitment and enthusiasm for this important Bill. I hope that the Government see fit to introduce such a measure shortly. I have not discussed all the clauses that are worthy of consideration, but they require work to make them more robust so that they can operate within the existing legal framework and complement the work of child protection organisations.

12.37 pm

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Crosby (Mrs. Curtis-Thomas), who is persuasive and measured, even though I might profoundly disagree with her. I congratulate the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) on the way in which he proposed the Bill.

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He always speaks passionately on the subject, to which he brings his long-standing professional experience. He has been assiduous in raising the issue in this Parliament, and I pay tribute to him for his work in that respect.

We support one theme that runs through the Bill, and we give credit to him for that. The Bill is part of a continuum, stretching back to 1989, when the Government of Baroness Thatcher signed up to the European convention on the rights of the child. Lady Thatcher was a good thing--as is the convention, which the Bill seeks to reflect. Article 5 of the convention states:

That is a powerful reinforcement of the proper rights and responsibilities of parents.

Dr. Whitehead: Does the hon. Gentleman think that the convention has substance, or does he agree with the right hon. Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth), who said that the Government signed up to it only so that they would not be the bad guys and so that it could be safely disregarded?

Mr. Swayne: My right hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Mr. Forth) gave us a characteristically robust view of the way in which many conventions are signed up to. I do not have his experience to say whether that is generally true. However, a Conservative Government signed up to this convention and they took it seriously. We introduced the Children Act 1989 and we want the provisions of the convention to be adhered to.

It is precisely because we take article 5 so seriously that, in the debate on the Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill on 16 January--a debate to which my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) referred--we tabled an amendment that would have denied the Bill a Second Reading. We thought that the Bill was inconsistent with the convention, so our amendment said that

I do not want to go over the argument that we had on 16 January, but I have drawn attention to the amendment because it sprang from our understanding of what we regard as an important convention.

Article 4 is specifically relevant to this Bill. It states:

Our adherence to that article provides the context against which we judge the Bill. The establishment of a commissioner for children's rights is consistent with that article.

Mr. Dawson: Do the Opposition support the principle of a commissioner for children's rights for all children or for particular groups of children?

Mr. Swayne: I will come to that point and will make our position abundantly clear. The question is one of

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emphasis, and I shall develop this point. We specifically regard the commissioner's direct function as looking after children, but he has an important role in co-ordinating public policy for all children's issues. However, I shall make that distinction rather clearer as I develop my argument.

I wish to place the Bill in its historical context. We signed up to the convention in 1989, and the Labour party joined that bandwagon--indeed, it may have been part of it from the convention's inception--and it supported that agenda. In its manifesto for the general election in 1992, it said:

That was up front as part of the Labour party's agenda in 1992.

When the Labour party came to power, the emphasis changed slightly. In November 1997, in answer to a question tabled by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre, the then Under-Secretary of State for Health, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), said that the Government had no plans to introduce a commissioner for children's rights, although he clearly said that they would consider the advantages as they produced their second report to the United Nations as part of their obligations under the convention that we signed in 1989.

In July 1997, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre introduced his first ten-minute Bill on the subject. In February last year, Sir Ronald Waterhouse reported, having been commissioned to look into problems that occurred with children in care in Gwynedd and Clwyd since 1974. The original commission was established by my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague).

On 17 March last year, the House debated the report. Although its recommendations were wide ranging, they were very clear in respect of what are now the provisions of the Bill. Sir Ronald recommended that there should be a Children's Commissioner for Wales with a wide-ranging remit, but that he should be a commissioner for all children. He should ensure that their rights were respected; that there was monitoring and oversight of complaints and, indeed, whistleblowing arrangements; and that there were arrangements for children's advocacy. The report also recommended that he should have power to examine the handling of individual cases, and to produce reports. Much of that agenda is now in the Bill.

May last year was a busy month in respect of the children's agenda. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre introduced his second ten-minute Bill on the subject, and the National Assembly for Wales adopted a report produced by its Health and Social Services Committee calling for the establishment of a commissioner for Wales--again, a commissioner for all children in Wales. Then there was the Second Reading of the Care Standards Bill, during which my hon. Friend the Member for Woodspring (Dr. Fox) said:

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It is clear from the Second Reading debate that we were attempting to address the agenda to which the hon. Gentleman has drawn attention--the wider remit that goes beyond just children in care. True to our word, at the 18th sitting of the Standing Committee we moved three new clauses and a new schedule to give effect to the commitments that we had given on Second Reading.

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