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Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I speak in support of amendment No. 34, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South (Mr. Jones), and new clause 1.

We discussed issues relating to Wales at length in Standing Committee and in the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs. We have taken a lot of evidence, as my hon. Friend, who chairs the Committee, has said. The Government should listen to the Welsh Affairs Committee, whose views have been totally ignored. It is shameful that the Government have not taken more notice of what we have said.

The Government should also have taken more notice of the first children's commissioner to be set up in the United Kingdom, Peter Clarke, who has been in post for three years now. They did not even consult him about the shape and form of the new Children's Commissioner for England. That was a terrible failing. This is a good Bill and it is sad that issues remain that could have been sorted out. There is much to rejoice in, including today's good news from the Government, but it is sad that we have had to raise the Welsh dimension again today.

The overwhelming view in Wales is that the Government's proposals in clause 5, which amendment No. 34 aims to delete, would undermine the Children's Commissioner for Wales and be confusing to children in Wales. The Northern Ireland and Scotland commissioners also find the proposals undermining.

Clarity and simplicity seem to be the keys to any successful office. The Children's Commissioner for Wales has had a big impact and made a lot of difference
 
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to consideration of children and their rights. The Government have not consulted him or listened to him. What is happening is undermining him. Their proposals are a setback for Wales.

The Children's Commissioner for Wales already has the power to listen to any concerns raised by children. He has been into prisons to see children and he has related his findings to the police and worked hard on such non-devolved matters. Clause 5 gives the English children's commissioner the function of promoting awareness in Wales about non-devolved matters, without any proposal for him to have even a base in Wales.

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that the president of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children recently wrote to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children emphasising that, under the job description that has been given, it is unlikely that the commissioner would be able to join the network. Not only is the commissioner in England likely to be a watered-down version of the commissioners already in place in the other UK nations, but the protection afforded would compare badly with what is offered by counterparts in Europe. I do not believe that English children are uniquely undeserving of a real commissioner.

Julie Morgan: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, and I support what she says.

The English children's commissioner will operate without knowledge of the Welsh context or of the interface between devolved and non-devolved matters. Peter Clarke and the children's commissioners for Scotland and for Northern Ireland have condemned the proposed model and said that it is a recipe for confusion. Peter Clarke said that if he visited secure accommodation in Neath and saw two children, he would be responsible for the one who had come in through the care system but not for the other if that child had come in through the juvenile justice system, because the latter child would come under the remit of the English children's commissioner.

That is bound to cause problems and difficulties. Our duty is to children in Wales, and we must ensure that those who have problems are clear about where they should take them. It is very sad that we have been unable to come to an arrangement that is satisfactory to everyone in Wales.

Clause 5 also allows the English Secretary of State to direct the English children's commissioner to undertake inquiries in Wales. That means that an English Minister can ask the English children's commissioner to conduct an inquiry, in Wales, into a case involving a Welsh child. That is a recipe for confusion, and it calls into question the independence of the Children's Commissioner for Wales. I do not see how a person who can be directed by a Secretary of State can be called "independent".

The Government are pinning their hopes on the commissioners being able to liaise with each other by means of a memorandum of understanding. This House should be giving out the clear message that the
 
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arrangements that we are making will best serve the interests of children in Wales. I am sorry that the Government have not listened to the Welsh Affairs Committee, the Children's Commissioner for Wales or to children's organisations in Wales, because it means that they have not listened to those who work most closely with children in Wales.

The Welsh Affairs Committee produced an excellent report on this matter, but the Government's response was very disappointing. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will tell the House what she intends to do to tackle those problems.

Margaret Hodge: I want to begin by assuring all hon. Members that the Government have listened to other opinions, throughout this debate and in connection with every clause in the Bill. The range of amendments that the Government have tabled, in respect of the children's commissioner and of other matters, is proof of that. Not every interested party will agree on every aspect of the Bill, but that is another issue. We have been engaged in a thorough process and have tried to listen to all the issues that people have raised.

In the little time that remains, I want to go back over the principal issues, and the question of whether we are establishing a powerful and strong champion for children. I shall then turn to the issues raised by those of my hon. Friends who represent constituencies in Wales.

I repeat what I said in Committee: I believe that the commissioner for English children that the Bill establishes—who will also have responsibility for British children on non-devolved issues—will be an extremely powerful and effective champion on behalf of children. In framing the commissioner's powers and duties, we have had regard for the UN convention on the rights of the child, which is why we listened to the arguments in support of amendments tabled in the upper House. As a result, the commissioner must have regard for the UNCRC, which proves that his work has its basis in children's rights.

However, we have also said from the start that we do not wish to establish in England a commissioner whose primary purpose is to police individual rights. A panoply of structures exists already—in the courts and various tribunals—that ensures that individuals can pursue their rights. The commissioner will have the duty to oversee those systems, ensuring that the complaint mechanisms and tribunals work and that the courts defend individual rights.

Yet we also want the commissioner to do more. We want him to look at the outcomes that children and young people say are important, and at the much wider picture of children's lives. He would report to Parliament and elsewhere on all those important matters. As I said in Committee, if a commissioner were in place today, he would be looking at matters such as how children and young people are portrayed in the media, their position in the criminal justice system, and child obesity. The commissioner may well also look at other important issues, but if he had to focus on policing individual rights, he would have no time to do anything else.

I assure the House that under the general functions laid out in clause 2 the commissioner will be independent and able to look at any issue or question.
 
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He will be able to initiate inquires into any case that has wider significance and public policy implications. That is another example of how the Government have listened.

The commissioner will have total discretion over the budgets that he commands, except for the normal considerations of propriety. Another sign of the Government's willingness to listen is the fact that the commissioner will have access to children—a provision that we introduced to the Bill. In addition, the Government have amended the Bill to ensure that the commissioner can seek responses to the inquiries and recommendations contained in reports that he compiles. The commissioner will report annually to Parliament, and I hope that the relevant Select Committees will hold him to account.

Finally, I remind the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) that the word "rights" does not appear in the legislation setting out the functions of the disability rights commissioner.

I turn now to the issues raised by those of my hon. Friends with constituencies in Wales. Like them, the Government are anxious to ensure that children in Wales are no less well served by their children's commissioner than their counterparts in England would be. However, we must work within the devolution settlement as it stands. I know that some of my hon. Friends find that difficult, but we do not want the children's commissioner—who will report every year to this House through the Secretary of State for Education and Skills—to relinquish all responsibility for matters in Wales that remain the responsibility of Westminster.

Certain hon. Members have argued that we cannot change the devolution settlement in the context of this debate. I agree, and that is why we tabled three new clauses in Committee to clarify the role of the children's commissioners in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, and to enable all the UK commissioners to work together on non-devolved matters. Those amendments were accepted and now form part of the Bill.

We envisage that, in practice, the commissioners will draw up informal ways of working together on non-devolved issues that will be child friendly while at the same time remaining within the terms of the devolution settlement. To deprive children in Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales of the services of the children's commissioner in respect of non-devolved matters would not enhance those children's national identity or culture. They will simply lose the services of a commissioner who has a general overview and represents all our children in matters affecting the United Kingdom as a whole that are decided in Westminster. They will therefore be worse off than their counterparts in England. I cannot believe that that is the wish of my hon. Friends in tabling those amendments or of the House, and I hope—


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