Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

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Ms Ruth Kelly (Bolton, West): I am interested to hear the hon. Gentleman propose those views, and I was interested in his remarks about asylum seekers. Is it now the Conservative party's policy for the United Kingdom not to exempt the children of asylum seekers, with regard to the UN convention?

5 pm

Mr. Evans: It is Conservative party policy to ensure that genuine asylum seekers are afforded the opportunity to come to this country and to be properly protected. I do not think that there is any party difference on that. It would also be within the rights of families, including the children, to have their cases heard as quickly as possible.

In the Ribble valley, there was a former Victorian mental institution. It has now been knocked down, but it was kept up so that several hundred genuine asylum-seeking families, including many children, could be housed while it was worked out where to put them. Their rights to remain in the United Kingdom were varied. The vast majority of them have now left, having sought asylum from the war in Kosovo. I do not think that anyone had a problem with their doing so. Some may have remained in the UK. We need some clarity and certainty, which would be better for the asylum seekers—especially genuine asylum seekers, so that their cases could be dealt with more clearly—and any youngsters in this country.

Many people are perturbed when they get on the tube and see someone clutching two babies, walking through the train and begging for money. What are the children's rights in that case? They must have rights relating to their use in that way. Surely we ought to afford protection for those asylum seekers while their cases are heard, and ought not to resort to letting the children be used as tools for begging. That is wholly wrong, and we must sort it out.

The international perspective is important, as I mentioned on Second Reading. As we go through the legislation, many countries will consider what we do. That is why I want to ensure that the Bill is comprehensively amended so that it will last for some time. We know how scarce time is for primary legislation in this place, so let us not say that the Bill is yet another stepping stone. If there are problems with children's deprivation, rights and welfare, let us sort them out in the Bill. There is enough good will and general compliance on the Committee for us to be able to sort through the issues now, so let us do so.

According to the UN agency, 600 million children live on less than 70p a day. That is an enormous number, and it is up 50 million from 1990. There are problems in this country. A report was published stating that Britain was 20th out of 23 countries in a league table of relative poverty. UNICEF has said that one British child in five lives in poverty, a worse figure than in all but one of the 14 European Union countries, and worse even than Turkey and nations of the former communist bloc such as Poland and Hungary. That is problematic. UNICEF has stated that child poverty has tripled in Britain during the past 20 years.

The Bill will help to protect children living in Wales, but I hope that it can be extended to the whole United Kingdom, or at least England. As I said, other countries are looking to us, and we are keen to encourage them to sign up to the United Nations convention. Perhaps, when they examine their legislation, they can incorporate the convention into it. I hope that the Minister will say that he is prepared to do so.

There are five key elements to the convention on the rights of the child. The Government seem to be concerned that if we refer to the convention in the Bill, they will have to follow every letter, dot and comma, but that is not the case. The commissioner would pay due regard to the convention while ensuring that children were being properly and fully protected. The Government are good on aspirations. Many elements of the convention are aspirational, and it may take some time to achieve them fully. I suspect that meeting the standards will be rather like painting the Forth bridge, because they are rising every year. That is the way it should be. It would be pointless employing Victorian levels or indicators today. We must ensure that we keep improving the standards.

The first of the five key elements deals with children's rights to basic health and welfare. That has been covered enough. I think that everybody agrees that children's health and welfare needs should be met. One interesting aspect of the debate is the current controversy over MMR—the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. In the future, the commissioner may have his or her opinions as to whether the triple vaccinations should take place, or whether single vaccinations are better than none.

Such issues come and go. I spoke about the 600 million children. We should consider how many children are dying throughout the world of AIDS. How many children in Africa are dying of that disease? Those children have a right to the health care that they need. I do not think that any member of the Committee would deny that they—and their parents—should receive better health care and education.

The second element is the right of the child to live with his or her parents, and to maintain contact if separated. Clearly, no one has any problems with that. The third element is the child's right to education, leisure and cultural activities. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) spoke about the culture of a child who speaks only Welsh, who must be able to get the health care that he needs. Such a situation is also relevant to education, leisure and cultural activities.

A further element is the child's right to special protection. We tend to think, when we examine the issues involved, that that particular right does not really concern British or Welsh children. The convention states that children have a right to special protection in emergency situations, such as armed conflict, or when they are separated from family or home. That might have some relevance in Northern Ireland, but, thankfully, the armed struggle is less of a problem than it was. It certainly has some relevance to the UK.

The convention also states that the child has the right to special protection when he or she is in conflict with the law. That is related to the non-devolved areas mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter). There might be certain legal issues on which the commissioner might wish to comment. He would not do so while cases are being heard, when they are sub judice, but he might comment after they have been heard. He or she might wish to comment on the conduct of a case or about sentencing. I have no problem with that. We heard from the Minister that they will still be able to do it informally, and I suspect that many newspapers will not be susceptible to the difference between formal and informal. It is yet another matter mentioned in the convention, along with drug abuse, sexual exploitation and the sale, trafficking and abduction of children. The sale of children was mentioned this morning when hon. Members referred to the internet. I suspect that when the convention was devised in 1989 no one had the internet in mind; it was at an embryonic stage then, but it has since given a general thrust to the sale and trafficking of children.

The final principle is that children should be free from ``discrimination of any kind''. When I read that, I wondered what sort of discrimination children would suffer in Wales. I was sent copies of various newspaper reports detailing the comments of Seimon Glyn, a Gwynedd councillor. Those comments are inflammatory, and if I were the child of parents moving from England to Wales, particularly to the Gwynedd area, I would be greatly offended by them. Irrespective of what else Seimon Glyn says, his comments border on racism. The Daily Post reported that the hon. Member for Islwyn (Mr. Touhig) had said that those remarks were ``disturbing comments'' that revealed ``the dark underbelly'' of Welsh nationalism. I wholly agree with him.

Seimon Glyn said that the number of English residents in north Wales should be monitored and controlled. He described English as a foreign language and said that people moving into the Gwynedd area were a drain on the community. That is most offensive.

Mr. Llwyd rose—

Mr. Evans: I shall finish the point, because the hon. Gentleman may wish to comments on it. Seimon Glyn wrote:

    Of course, I recognise that the subject is a delicate and sensitive one but I believe that it is my duty to stand up and say that it is wrong that my way of life is allowed to be destroyed.

What about the way of life for children of families moving into Wales? His comments may lead to other children in schools taunting the children of incomers. I am sure that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, who represents the same party as Seimon Glyn, will want to distance himself from those comments, and to say how inflammatory they were and that they could cause offence to the children of people moving into Wales, to those living in Wales, and even to a number of Welsh people.

Mr. Llwyd: I utterly condemn those remarks. They are no part of my thinking, nor that of my party. I unreservedly apologise for those words; I could never have uttered them. We must not forget that last year the hon. Member for Clwyd, West (Mr. Thomas) called incomers to parts of north Wales ``scroungers''. That, too, was offensive; but not so much was made of it at the time.

The Chairman: Order. I know that when the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) resumes his speech, will bear the amendment in mind.

Mr. Evans: Yes; it is all to do with the United Nations convention, which talks about ``discrimination of any kind''. We do not wish to see discrimination in Wales; and I could not think, when I first read the convention, where in Wales it might be found. However, when those comments came to light it was obvious. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments; he is a fair man in all his dealings, and I welcome the fact that he rejects those comments.

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