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Lord Prys-Davies: I am grateful to Members of the Committee who have spoken in favour of the amendment and I shall comment on the arguments advanced against it by my noble and learned friend the Attorney General.

First, he suggested that as the UN convention has not been incorporated in UK law, the amendment would be inappropriate. With all due deference to my noble and learned friend, I am not sure that that is correct. I recall that the Welsh Assembly was placed under a duty to comply with the European Convention on Human Rights before the convention was in force as part of UK domestic law. Therefore, I should like to reflect on that point.

Secondly, my noble and learned friend suggested that as the United Nations is mentioned in the advertisement for the post of commissioner, we should be content. That merely reflects the thinking of the Assembly at this point in time. That may not necessarily be the thinking of the Assembly in the future. The amendment recognises the fact that the

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principle should be an enduring one and therefore should be incorporated in the legislation and not merely left to an advertisement or administrative arrangement which can be altered to meet changing conditions and circumstances. Therefore, I do not find my noble and learned friend's reply to my amendment convincing.

Thirdly, there is a distinction between this amendment and that moved by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy. Amendment No. 5 is clearly intended to be no more than a purpose clause setting out an objective and principle and not seeking to enact a binding commitment.

For the time being, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment but I may return to it at a later stage.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Baroness Young moved Amendment No. 6:

    Page 2, line 14, at end insert--

"(2) In exercising his functions, the Commissioner shall have particular regard to the rights and responsibilities of any parents or guardians of children to whom this Part applies.""

The noble Baroness said: I regret that I was unable to be present at the Second Reading of the Bill. Unfortunately, a long-standing commitment meant that I could not be here. I support the principles of the Bill. On reading the Second Reading debate, I recognised that not only does it have the support of the Welsh Assembly but that it was given a warm welcome by all noble Lords who spoke in that debate.

I am pleased that the Government have accepted the important recommendation contained in the important report of Sir Ronald Waterhouse, in particular in respect of the events in North Wales.

My amendment is not in any way difficult to understand but it is an important point to make. I would like to believe that the importance of parents is common ground among Members of the Committee. No piece of evidence on any subject connected with social or domestic affairs does not stress the importance of parents and their role.

I am conscious that the issues which Sir Ronald Waterhouse largely addressed related to children who were removed from their parents and were in care. Nevertheless, the fact that there is no reference in the Bill to parents should be put right. In talking about parents, I am talking about "good enough" parents. Often when one talks about parents people believe that one must be talking about the most saintly individuals who never make a mistake. I expect that all of us here today are parents. All of us know that we have done things which on reflection and with hindsight we believe we could have done better. However, I am speaking of the "good enough" parents who should not be excluded.

The point about parents was raised at Second Reading by my noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy and by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Coity. It was also raised in another place by my honourable friend Gerald Howarth. All stressed the point about parents,

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and my noble friend Lord Roberts drew attention in particular to children in the Orkney Islands and in Cleveland who were removed from their parents.

I have carefully re-read what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, in winding up the debate at Second Reading and what was said in another place. I regret that in neither House of Parliament did any Government Minister refer to parents.

I also looked to see what was said in the Welsh Assembly. I understand that on 7th June 2000, when the recommendations of the Health and Social Services Committee were accepted by the Assembly, Jane Hutt, Secretary for Health and Social Services, said:

    "Children's rights of participation should be key to the commissioner's role. The commissioner's agenda should be determined by children and young people themselves, rather than the providers of services. That is why we envisage a role for children and young people from the outset with the appointment procedure. That role should continue in terms of letting the commissioner know of children and young people's priorities and concerns".

She went on to say:

    "Finally, the commissioner should have an impact on the full range of provision affecting all children in Wales, through raising the profile, and taking an overview, of the impact of policies, procedures and services on children. The commissioner will be able to produce reports and recommendations in the exercise of her or his functions, including an annual report to the Assembly on the position of children in Wales. She or he will be a constant reminder, including to the Assembly, of the need to give children's services the priority that they deserve".

Once again, there is no mention of parents.

We live in a world in which the old philosophies that govern parents are being questioned. In the past--perhaps before the Convention on the Rights of the Child--the main justification for protecting children was that they were different from adults because they were immature and vulnerable. It was, therefore, accepted that they required parental protection, education and supervision to ensure that they developed in such a way that when they grew up and became adults they would be able to exercise their autonomy responsibly. Today, there is a switch away from the role of parents to a theory based on the assumption that children should, as much as possible, be free to exercise choice and self-determination in all important areas of their lives. That is the other side of the coin.

I shall not open up a great debate as to which side is right. However, it is unfortunate to leave out parents in all this if the commissioner's remit under this legislation, which I support and regard as important, is to extend to all children. We are all too well aware of some cases in which social workers remove children from their parents which subsequently proves to be a mistake, and other cases in which they should be rather more assiduous and remove the children but fail to do so. I believe that in this very difficult area where we are dealing with many different cases in which the child has parents--sometimes not--it is a mistake for the Bill to make no mention of their role.

As the Committee is aware, I believe profoundly in the importance of marriage, the family and the support of parents. One of the great dangers in society today is

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the breakdown of marriage and the break-up of families. Where one has such important legislation one should constantly underpin and strengthen families rather than weaken them. I would have thought that that was a matter on which we could all agree. That is the principle which lies behind the amendment. I have very much at heart the best interests of all children. I cannot believe that their best interests will be served by omitting from the Bill any reference to parents. I beg to move.

Lord Morris of Castle Morris: It is not often in the course of the past 10 years that I have been able to support the noble Baroness, Lady Young, in amendments that she has tabled and Bills she has introduced. On this occasion I rejoice with exceeding great joy that I am able and eager to do so. I support her lock, stock and barrel; hook, line and sinker; horse, foot and guns. It is obvious that the form of words of the amendment gives rise to tricky moments. It would be rather difficult to define in law,

    "the rights and responsibilities of any parents",

but we all know what we mean. In many cases the parents might be unknown or untraceable. I was relieved to find in the amendment the word "any". That allows one to bypass almost all causes of contention, even in the wording of the amendment itself. I hope that my noble and learned friend is able to welcome the amendment and give it a fair wind.

5.15 p.m.

Baroness Walmsley: I, too, rise to support Amendment No. 6 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Young. No one in this House has a greater reputation as a fighter for the rights of parents and the importance of the position of the family in society than the noble Baroness. Although we may have disagreed about other matters, I, too, rejoice and agree with her on this matter. It is widely accepted by those who are concerned with child protection that, wherever possible, the best setting in which a child can grow up is the family where it is looked after by the parents. Parents have a unique role. However, there are circumstances in which parents cannot carry out their usual responsibilities. When that happens parents should not also forfeit their right to have their views considered. For that reason I believe it is desirable that reference should be made on the face of the Bill to the need for the commissioner to have particular regard to parents' rights and responsibilities.

Although families vary in type and parents do not own their children they should not be left out of the picture when the fate of their children is at stake, and I should like to be reassured that they never will be by the children's commissioner for Wales.

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