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Orders of the Day

Children Bill [Lords]

As amended in the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 11

Sharing of information

'(1)   The Assembly and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service may provide any information to each other for the purposes of their respective functions under this Part and Part 1 of the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000 (c.43).

(2)   A Welsh family proceedings officer and an officer of the Service (within the meaning given by section 11(3) of that Act) may provide any information to each other for the purposes of any of their respective functions.'.—[Mr. Touhig.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

12.57 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Speaker : With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment No. 5, in clause 25, page 19, line 39, at end insert—

'(g)   Wales Joint Education Committee.'.

Amendment No. 6, in page 19, line 39, at end insert—

'(h)   the governor of a prison or secure training centre in Wales (or in the case of a contracted out prison or secure training centre, its director).'.

Amendment No. 7, in clause 27, page 21, line 8, leave out from 'officer,' to ', for' in line 9.

Amendment No. 8, in page 21, line 11, leave out from 'members,' to ', to' in line 12.

Government amendment No. 40.

Amendment No. 33, in clause 65, page 42, line 36, at end insert

Mr. Touhig: Given the way in which Bills are usually drafted and considered, it is unusual for a Minister who speaks about Welsh issues to be on his feet first on Report, particularly when some of the amendments are minor and technical. However, the Bill will benefit the children and young people of Wales, and I am delighted to open the debate.

Before turning to the first technical Government amendment, however, I should like briefly to reflect on the Bill's passage through both Houses of Parliament. The Bill was introduced in the other place, where it was well received and described as a small Bill with a big heart. Although almost 600 amendments were tabled, many of them were probing amendments and the Bill's core remains unchanged. It is testament to the thinking behind the Bill's central provision—to establish a commissioner to help improve the lot of children—that it has attracted general support in this House.
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I pay tribute to the good work by members of Standing Committee B on the Bill. The debate was well informed and constructive, and the Government were able to respond positively on a number of areas— I am sure that the contributions to this afternoon's debate will be equally positive. A number of issues have followed the Bill through both Houses, and I have no doubt that they will be touched upon in the debate.

I shall discuss Government new clause 11 and Government amendment No. 40 now and respond to amendments moved by hon. Members afterwards. New clause 11 provides for the effective sharing of information between the Assembly and the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service—CAFCASS. Following the transfer of CAFCASS in Wales to the Assembly under part 4 of the Bill, it will be important for both to have a facility that will allow them to share information relating to individual cases. For example, there are likely to be cases involving children of families living on either side of the border who have separate family proceedings officers, both of whose tasks would benefit from sharing information about the two cases.

1 pm

Similarly, a child made the subject of an order in Wales may at a later date move to England, so that if there are second proceedings in relation to that child, a different family proceedings officer will be appointed. Again, there will be considerable benefit from the Welsh family proceedings officer being able to share information about the first case with their counterpart in England. In addition, following the transfer, it will clearly be in the interests of both services for there to be ongoing liaison on good practice and management issues. Certainly, it would be desirable for CAFCASS and the Assembly to be able to share centrally held information concerned with organisational issues.

Government amendment No. 40 simply corrects a drafting error. As the Bill stands, clause 27(2)(a) requires a local health board to appoint a lead officer for children and young people's services for the purposes of the board's functions under the co-operation arrangements in clause 25 and the planning requirements in clause 26. The reference to clause 26 is incorrect. Although, under clause 25, the local health board would be involved in the planning consultation for children's services, the duty to prepare and publish a plan under clause 26 rests with the children's services authority. The amendment therefore restores the duties of a local health board under clause 27 to those originally intended.

I shall confine my remarks at this stage to the Government's proposals and respond appropriately when hon. Members have spoken to the other amendments.

Mr. Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): There is much in the Bill that Liberal Democrat Members can support, including the transfer of CAFCASS to Wales. However, the Minister will know that we have reservations about several issues, and we look to the Government to be more accommodating on those than they have been in the past.

I wish to speak to amendments Nos. 5 to 8, which stand in my name and in that of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole
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(Mrs. Brooke). Amendment No. 5 follows recommendations made in the Clywch inquiry into abuse in schools. In one case, a schoolteacher devised inappropriate drama activities as part of an examination curriculum whereby children were encouraged into activities that were, because of their sexual content, entirely inappropriate for their age and maturity. The examining board—the Welsh Joint Education Committee—provided examiners to go into the school to investigate the activities on its behalf and to evaluate them in terms of their dramatic merit in classifying pupils for exam results. Those examiners should have reported that something was going on in the school that was giving them great concern, but unfortunately they did not do so. As a result, some of the abuse and harm went on for much longer than was necessary.

Amendment No. 8 would therefore require that the Welsh Joint Education Committee be one of the partners that co-operates with the children's departments of local education authorities to ensure the welfare of children. In a plenary session of the Welsh Assembly, Jane Davidson, the Minister for Education and Lifelong Learning, said:

I hope that the Minister will take that on board. It is important that examination boards have a role to play, especially where practical activities are concerned.

Amendment No. 6 would require that governors of prisons or secure training units in Wales—or directors of contracted-out prisons or secure training units—also become partners in promoting the welfare of children and young people.

Amendments Nos. 7 and 8 are minor amendments that would give discretion to local authorities in naming the lead member or lead officer responsible for the functions in the Bill.

I should like the Minister to respond particularly to Amendment No. 5, which experience in Wales has led us to believe should be included in the Bill.

Mr. Martyn Jones (Clwyd, South) (Lab): I rise in support of new clause 2, which was tabled in the name of the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Mrs. Brooke) and to which I am co-signatory, and amendment No. 34, which stands in my name. They are complementary. My amendment would remove the role of the children's commissioner for England from the Welsh equation—[Interruption.]

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