Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

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Ms Julie Morgan: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will accept that the Children's Commissioner would be able to comment on all those matters under the existing remit because local authorities and the Sports Council for Wales are listed in schedule 2A. He would be able to comment on most of the matters that the hon. Gentleman mentioned.

Mr. Evans: I accept that, but I was referring solely to primary legislation and if the Government were to introduce or fail to introduce legislation. That is dealt with in my other amendment and, with your permission, Mr. Wells, I can refer to both, because they interrelate, although they are distinct in other ways. If there were a failure to act, it could be that whole swathes of children were not receiving swimming lessons. Many villages in Wales do not have swimming pools. I cannot remember how that relates to the national lottery. Distribution of lottery funding is doing a great deal for swimming pools, and Wales is getting a fair whack of money for them, but it is how that is being done. If the money is concentrated in a prestige project, that is one thing, but what about villages in West Wales and mid-Wales where there is an incredible lack of provision? It was bad enough when I was in Dynevor, but one can imagine the problems faced in smaller rural areas where there is no provision at all.

Ms Julie Morgan: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point about how national lottery funds are distributed. The new opportunities fund also distributes money to Wales for health and other projects. I hope that the Minister will comment on the way in which that fund is distributed, as it directly affects children in Wales.

Mr. Evans: I welcome those comments. In future, changes may be made in Wales or in Parliament under secondary legislation. If not—if primary legislation were needed to change the way in which lottery funds were distributed—that legislation would naturally come through Parliament.

Mr. James Gray (North Wiltshire): The Conservative party is committed to returning the new opportunities fund to mainstream lottery funding. If primary legislation were made in Parliament to abolish the new opportunities fund and the Children's Commissioner believed that that would damage the interests of children in Wales, would he have any right to comment on that legislation? Without my hon. Friend's amendment, I suggest that he probably would not.

Mr. Evans: I am sure that the Minister will say that the commissioner can comment in an informal manner on anything that impinges on Wales, but that it is not one of his core responsibilities. The commissioner could consider the matter and say, ``Well, there are problems'', and he might include some of his comments in the annual report that it is assumed he will make to the National Assembly for Wales. That is not good enough, however. Our amendment would compel him, as one of his core functions, to consider the primary legislation or the lack of any action taken to promote and look after the rights and welfare of children.

Mr. Livsey: I have a great deal of sympathy with some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made, especially in relation to the lottery. My constituency covers a huge area and it is difficult to attain swimming pool facilities. Children often have a round trip of 40 miles to get to a swimming pool. In Senny bridge, the swimming pool has deteriorated and been closed down; it specialised in swimming facilities for disabled children and is badly needed. We are struggling for facilities.

Mr. Evans: I fully accept that and, as I know the hon. Gentleman's beautiful constituency of Brecon and Radnorshire, I know how difficult things must be in certain areas. He talks about round trips of 40 miles—that is an enormous intrusion into the school day, and pupils must spend more time on the bus than they do in the swimming pool. Although the curriculum dictates that youngsters must spend some time learning how to swim, every summer children die tragically after falling into the local canal, while swimming in the sea, or in whatever way. We know that we will open our newspapers this summer and—if the summer is half-decent—we will read about such tragic deaths.

We should consider anything that we can do to alleviate that situation, such as through the provision of lottery funding to villages in rural areas that would not commercially attract a swimming pool. The construction of a swimming pool is one thing, but the maintenance and running costs go on and on. A pool is incredibly expensive to maintain. In addition—certainly in my patch, in Lancashire—there was a cut last year in the provision of swimming teachers. Whether through primary or secondary legislation or a decision of the local authority, it was decided—because devolved budgets did not devolve all the money to schools—that schools could not buy the same amount of provision for swimming lessons. They had to sack several swimming tutors, so the youngsters did not get the same number of lessons.

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman's exploration of the subject of swimming pools is undoubtedly interesting, but it is not in order and I would not encourage him to pursue it. We are discussing the responsibilities of the Children's Commissioner, but the discussion need not be quite as broad as he is making it.

Mr. Evans: I was talking about primary legislation relating to national lottery funding. If changes in that legislation were necessary in Wales and the United Kingdom generally, the commissioner might want to comment.

Mr. Livsey: Investment has brought about an enormous improvement in the well being of children. The demand for facilities is fantastic, but some children are excluded because of a situation relating to a successful investment. That is a big issue.

10.30 am

Mr. Evans: I accept that. Enough said on swimming.

I move briefly on to race relations. Again, it is a disappointment that the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is not here, because he could have apologised again for the comments made by Simon Glyn, who I note is still a councillor and chairman of housing in Gwynedd. Yesterday I signed the early-day motion condemning his remarks relating to discrimination, which was drafted by Labour Members.

If amendments were planned to the Race Relations Act 1976, especially given some of the problems that we face in Wales with the nationalists, the Children's Commissioner might want to comment on the impact of the legislation on children of English parents—or any other parents, although they are more likely to be English than anything else.

We have discussed the issue of health, from several angles. It is devolved, in the main, but there may be changes in primary legislation if there is a change of Government. The commissioner may want to comment on that.

Home Affairs is non-devolved. We referred on Tuesday to children's curfews. We all accept that most children are diligent, law-abiding citizens who do not want to cause any trouble. Children can be children—we all know that—but the last thing that we should want to do is penalise everyone simply because they were under the age of 18. Given some of the legislation that is being proposed, some children might think that they are being unfairly discriminated against. They are all being pooled together because of the actions of a small group, who could be targeted, taken away and penalised properly.

Did the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children not come up with the line, ``Looking at a child, what he needs is a good listening to''? That was an effective advertising campaign. However, some children do not respond to being listened to because they are simply unruly. Some parents have no control over their children and themselves go to the police and social services, asking for help.

Widespread legislation on curfews that dictate that anybody under a certain age cannot go out at night would have an impact on several organisations, such as the brownies, the guides, the scouts, the cubs, as well as boys' bands and youth groups generally. Some of those groups might take place after the curfew time.

Ms Julie Morgan: I am sure that the hon. Gentleman knows that there is no plan for curfews to prevent such activities. If in an area a curfew is in operation and young people are out for legitimate reasons, the police would either allow them to continue or take them home. There is no intention to stop children from taking part in activities that we all welcome.

Mr. Evans: I am reassured by those comments because the youth organisations to which I referred have done an enormous amount of good work, and a lot of people involved are volunteers and it costs them money. There were guides in the House yesterday and some of us took the opportunity to speak to them. In fact, I spoke to one of the commissioners from Wales, who spoke to me about the fee that must be paid. It may be £11.75—I am not sure whether it has been set yet, but I think that it is £10 plus VAT. That is the fee for police checks on people working with children. That does not pertain in Scotland, where people have already said that they would not have it. If the matter were devolved—I understand that it is not a devolved but a Home Office matter—the decision would have to come from us.

I am sure that no one who has any dealings with children's organisations wants them to be disadvantaged by such a charge. Thousands of people work with children throughout the United Kingdom for national organisations, such as the cubs and guides. If the staff turnover rate were high, such a charge would prove expensive for those organisations. All the youngsters who attend cubs or guides with their 50p or £1 a week will find that a fair amount of that money will go on police checks. Surely that was never meant to be the case.

Of course, we welcome the checks and agree that they are essential. However, it is as if a charge has been put on the service simply because it is new. If we dial 999, we expect the police to come out, but we do not expect them to say to us, ``There will be a £50 standing charge'', because they have always done it—it is traditional. If 999 were invented today, it would probably be a premium rate call on an 0850 number at 50p a minute. The situation is absurd and I ask the Minister to consider primary legislation, if that is what is needed.

Another politically charged area among those non-devolved areas is the matter of section 28. The Children's Commissioner might receive letters from youngsters who think that section 28 is unfair or want it to be retained. That is the tightrope that he will walk. However, it will take primary legislation to settle it and, as we know, only the other day the House voted to retain section 28.

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