House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2000-01
Publications on the internet
Standing Committee Debates
Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

Standing Committee F

Tuesday 23 January 2001


[Mr. Barry Jones in the Chair]

Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

Clause 1

Application of Part V of the Care Standards Act 2000

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 1, in page 1, line 9, leave out `ordinarily'.—[Mr. Walter.]

4.44 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are taking the following amendments: No. 2, in page 1, line 10, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 3, in page 1, line 13, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 4, in page 1, line 19, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 5, in page 1, line 21, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 7, in page 2, line 2, leave out `ordinarily'.

No. 6, in page 2, line 4, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 17, in clause 3, page 2, leave out lines 36 and 37.

No. 18, in clause 3, page 3, leave out lines 14 to 18.

No. 19, in clause 4, page 3, line 28, leave out from `provided' to `by' in line 29.

No. 20, in clause 4, page 3, line 32, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 21, in clause 4, page 3, line 43, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 22, in clause 4, page 4, line 2, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 23, in clause 4, page 4, line 10, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 24, in clause 4, page 4, line 21, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 25, in clause 4, page 4, line 23, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 26, in clause 4, page 4, line 26, leave out from `services' to `those' in line 27.

No. 27, in clause 4, page 4, line 29, leave out from `provided' to `by' in line 30.

No. 28, in clause 4, page 4, line 33, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 29, in clause 4, page 4, line 43, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 32, in clause 4, page 5, line 3, leave out `in Wales'.

No. 33, in clause 4, page 5, leave out lines 5 and 6.

No. 35, in clause 4, page 5, leave out lines 26 to 29.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): We had a thorough debate this morning on the amendments to clause 1. I am conscious of the fact that Divisions in the House have interrupted our proceedings, so I shall not delay the Committee.We have made it clear that we are concerned about the situation in England, although it does not fall within the scope of the Bill. More particularly—we shall deal with the subject again in later amendments—we are worried about non-devolved and cross-border matters. I shall withdraw the amendment in the interests of progress, but I hope that the Minister will consider whether a better way can be found. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Principal aim of the Commissioner

Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley): I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 2, line 12, after `rights', insert `, interests'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following amendments: No. 9, in page 2, line 12, at end add

    `with particular regard to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child'.

No. 44, in clause 3, page 2, line 22, at end insert—

    `(1B) In exercising his functions under subsection (1) the Commissioner shall have regard to the need to:—

    (a) maintain direct contact with children and children's organisations;

    (b) pay particular regard to the views of children;

    (c) promote respect for the views of children;

    (d) promote compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, as ratified by Her Majesty's Government and subject to such reservations as Her Majesty's Government made on ratification, unless subsequently withdrawn.'.

Mr. Evans: It is my pleasure to move amendments Nos. 8 and 9; I also have enormous sympathy with amendment No. 44, but other hon. Members will speak to that.

Amendment No. 8 is fairly straightforward; it would simply insert the word ``interests'' between ``rights'' and ``welfare''. It broadens the debate. We all have our own ideas of what is meant by ``rights'', but that can create its own difficulties. However, ``welfare'' is well understood. Following the Waterhouse report into child abuse, not one member of the Committee would want a child's welfare to be adversely affected.

A cross-relationship between rights and welfare can be seen in a number of issues that affect children. For instance—it has been mentioned before—Wales does not have a children's hospital. What about the right of children to have their medical problems dealt with in a hospital closer to home? At the weekend, I visited Haverford West and Milford Haven. When a child from either of those towns has a medical problem that needs to be dealt with in a Bristol hospital—I am not sure which hospital children from south Wales would have to attend—the parents' journey could take many hours. The Children's Commissioner may wish to comment on that in respect of the children's welfare and their rights.

Children living in Wales who have to spend some time in hospital surely have the right to be visited regularly by both parents, but that can be difficult if, as is so often the case, they both work. I make no judgment on that; it is one of the realities of living in the United Kingdom in the 21st century—and probably anywhere in the western world. If both parents work, they might find it difficult to visit regularly, especially if the child is likely to be in hospital for a long time, and if the child is being treated at Great Ormond Street hospital in London, the parents will be travelling for several hours. That can place an enormous strain on family life, particularly upon the children who, at certain ages, will feel a sense of obligation on behalf of their parents, who feel that they must visit their children regularly, despite the fact that the cost and the incredible inconvenience make it difficult.

Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that more than 30 years ago the Black committee discovered that, beyond peradventure, children in hospital who are visited regularly by their parents get better much more quickly. Is not that one of the great dilemmas of modern hospital management? The demand by the medical profession for ever more specialist hospitals often means that people must travel further than is probably good for their care.

Mr. Evans: I certainly accept that. I represent a rural constituency and hon. Members with hospitals outside their patch will know that even for adult relatives visiting adult hospital patients the travel can be expensive and involve a lot of time and bother. When a child is involved, that trouble is multiplied tenfold. Compelling medical evidence exists, as my hon. Friend mentioned, for making parental visits easier, on health and welfare grounds.

Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North): Will the hon. Gentleman clarify whether he is making his argument with respect to the right of the child to treatment? Clearly, what he describes happens in Wales now, and the need to leave Wales for hospital treatment because of the lack of provision there is currently under discussion. What are the hon. Gentleman's reasons for raising the issue.

Mr. Evans: I raise it in connection with amendment No. 8, which would add the interests of children to their rights and welfare in clause 2. I just want to make sure that every avenue is covered.

The siting of hospitals is always a hot issue; it will always be inconvenient to someone. Through the use of the phrase ``rights, interests and welfare'', we seek to ensure that the relevant concern will be covered by the clause. If a children's hospital were built in Haverford West, we could say that there was a children's hospital in Wales. However, for a child living in Ynys Mon it might be more convenient to go to Manchester or Liverpool.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I accept most of what the hon. Gentleman says. An additional aspect is the Welsh language. Often young children do not speak English until the age of four or five. My sister had a rare problem with her left ear, which meant having to go to Alder Hey hospital in Liverpool. She did not do at all well until they found a Welsh-speaking nurse, because she could not converse with the medical people there.

Mr. Evans: I fully appreciate that language difficulties arise with children, irrespective of their first language. For a child going anywhere in England, and even for a child going to a hospital in Wales, there could be a problem in finding staff in the appropriate speciality who could converse with the child in Welsh. We need a more understanding approach.

We discussed the children of asylum seekers earlier this morning. Parts of Wales are more cosmopolitan than others. One has only to look through the telephone book to see surnames from all over the United Kingdom. Irrespective of whether children in hospital are Welsh, English or from another part of the world, thought should be given to how best to look after them. In the case of a child whose first language is Urdu, for example, ways need to be found to promote his or her rights, interests and welfare. It is not only location that matters, but everything to do with the child, when special medical treatment is being sought. That is why we want to put in the word ``interests''. We can broaden that to youth custody, though there maybe problems with that, as there might be with penal custody.

Some young people in prisons are many miles from their homes. I have received letters from the families of such young people, who write that they cannot afford to visit them, which is a real problem. They cannot afford the train fare, which can be expensive, and they cannot afford the bus. It might be that four or five members of a family might want to visit in order to keep the family together. I understand those concerns. An enormous distance between the prison or place of youth custody and the family home might have a disproportionate cost upon the family.

I shall mention Milford Haven again. The fact that it has about 25 per cent. unemployment was a rude awakening for me. It is an area of growing deprivation. Members of the family may be unemployed or have a limited income for all sorts of reasons. They will look for ways to keep the family together. That is the right of the child. It is in the interest of the family and the child's welfare that we facilitate that, which is why we have proposed the amendment. We are probing the Government as to whether the interests of the child will be covered. If we include ``rights'' and ``welfare'', would it not be even more comprehensive to include the word ``interests'' as well?

There is a great deal of agreement over amendment No. 9. Also, I will not speak to amendment No. 44—I will allow those who tabled it to do so. We shall see how the Minister responds before we decide what to do next.

The Health and Social Services Committee of the National Assembly for Wales has carried out an investigation. Some would see me as not being the greatest supporter of devolved government on the planet; I will leave them to make their own judgment on that. However, I have to say that the document produced by that Committee is good. It has taken comprehensive evidence from leading charities and bodies that are involved in the issue. In the opening paragraphs of the document, which has been useful to me in my deliberations, it states,

    This Committee fully endorses the key principles of the rights of children as defined in the United Nations convention on the rights of the child.

It continues,

    The UN convention informed the overarching context in which we approached this task; which is our commitment to the rights of all children and young people to be treated as valued members of the community whose potential must be fully developed through appropriate policies and services and the meaningful representation of their interests.

A number of bodies have supported the inclusion in the Bill of the United Nations' convention on the rights of the child. Gareth Wardell, a respected former Member of the House, was mentioned on Second Reading and I have no hesitation in mentioning him again. His organisation produced an excellent briefing on behalf of a number of children's charities, including Save the Children, Barnardos and the Children's Society in Wales. The briefing goes into depth about the United Nations' convention on the rights of the child. There is not a children's charity that does not want the convention included in the Bill.

It was a Conservative Government who signed the convention in the first place. While there might be reservations about certain aspects of it, as a whole, the convention is good and comprehensive. It is the most widely accepted human rights treaty in existence, and has created a global momentum for children. The convention calls for children to be taken seriously, which is something that we all accept—it is why we are on this Committee—and says that children should be listened to; that is part of amendment No. 9, which I will not address. The convention is widely respected.


House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 23 January 2001