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Mr. Llwyd: I hope that the hon. Gentleman is not suggesting China as a democratic model to follow.

Sir Raymond Whitney: No. Had the hon. Gentleman been listening a little more carefully, he would have heard

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me say that, of all countries, we were being visited by a constitutional commission from China. I think that Hansard will confirm that. I have some background in China, which is why I was involved in that visit. I find the country particularly intriguing and let us have our fun, but I hope that he accepts that my point is a serious one. Indeed, he referred to the unsatisfactory nature of the issue of non-devolved legislation. Having said that, we all agree that the Bill deals with an immensely important matter and anyone who has been closely involved in it for any time and in any capacity knows just how difficult it is.

Mr. Hayes: Before my hon. Friend moves on to describe his own insight on those matters, which I know is profound, will he acknowledge that the picture of inconsistency that he paints could be worse than even he foresees? Expectations will be raised by the measure, which is precisely why I posed my question about the scope and extent of the commissioner's responsibilities. If expectations are raised but are then thwarted because the constitutional bars that he describes are in place, we may be in a situation even worse than that which he describes.

Sir Raymond Whitney: I would not vie with my hon. Friend to paint the darkest shade of black, but we have the same misgivings.

Work with young people was difficult when I had to deal with it. In my experience, it has become more difficult in the past 10 or more years. For example, until recently, my own charity always targeted young teenagers--the 12 to 14-year-olds. The idea was to spot trouble, head it off and lead their energies into productive rather than destructive areas. We opened a new venture a few months ago and the people on the ground--parents, the residents association, teachers and the Churches--said to us, "No, no, no. It is no good leaving it until the children are 12 or 14. You have to go in much earlier." They suggested five; we compromised on eight. That is a measure of the challenge facing society.

The other challenge is to strike a balance, as always, between rights and duties, in particular those of parents. I always felt great admiration for many and sympathy for all the social workers with whom I dealt. They had an immensely difficult job. Social workers will always get some things wrong. They either intervene too quickly and too strongly or hold back and things go wrong. That results in the terrible reports that we read all too regularly in the press. We were reminded only last week of how bad that can be.

There are great dangers. Knowing of them, I was somewhat worried by another phrase used by the Secretary of State, who said, "The role of the commissioner extends to all children in Wales." Well, yes, but there is an awfully worrying echo in that statement. I do not know Mr. Peter Clarke, but everyone speaks highly of him, and I am sure that he will be aware of those anxieties. His remit should not, need not and must not cover certain areas, and many children and many homes will not need his intervention. We must ensure that the family is sound and well supported by the other agencies of government. It is open to challenge whether Chancellors of the Exchequer, either of the previous Conservative Government or this Government, and

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policies concocted in the Treasury are conducive to achieving the objective that we all share: the solid family unit.

Mr. Dawson: Does the hon. Gentleman agree that good, decent, ordinary parents want to promote the rights of their children and the participation of their children in society, and want to know that their children, wherever they are inside or outside the home, are protected and have their rights upheld?

Sir Raymond Whitney: Absolutely. I spend some of my spare time helping to achieve that very end--there is no doubt about that. We are putting great onus on the Children's Commissioner, which is a good thing, but I strongly endorse the points that many hon. Members have made. This measure is no panacea, and the problem cannot be left entirely to the commissioner. The other agencies concerned must not think that they have been let off the hook. That is the strong message coming out of the debate. I have no doubt that Mr. Clarke does not need to hear that message, because if he is as good as everyone tells me he is, he will know it already.

An important balance must be struck. One can feel the tensions only when one is working on the ground. I have no reason to suppose that this measure will not be a useful pathfinder. I share the view of my right hon. Friend the Member for Fareham (Sir P. Lloyd). There may be a case for going a little slower. My first reaction as an Englishman is to say, "What about England?" Having got to where we are, perhaps we should see how the concept works in practice in Wales, and adopt it or modify it.

The English dimension is important, but it often gets forgotten, and this is a glaring example of that. It behoves the Government to take note of that. So far, they have had a pretty easy ride. The English are very quiescent and quiet, and the eyes of people in the audience often glaze over when I try to warn them about the impact of devolution. So far the penny has not dropped, but it is beginning to drop. There will be trouble ahead when people realise that the Scottish people enjoy different treatment and that there are differences in Wales. It behoves all of us to take note of that danger and to avoid that trouble.

I welcome the creation of this new post, with the caveats that many hon. Members have made. I shall deal with the famous reasoned amendment--[Hon. Members: "Infamous."] I thought hon. Members might say that, as it has come under so much criticism. The procedures of this extraordinary place in which we do our business lead to such oddities. I entirely agree with the thrust of the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). We are trying to probe the Government to ensure that all the issues are brought out into the open and examined, especially in Committee. Before making up my mind about the reasoned amendment, I shall listen carefully to the winding-up speech of my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter).

7.55 pm

Mrs. Betty Williams (Conwy): I have received many letters and telephone calls about the Bill before and after its publication. I should like to thank children's organisations in Wales--I shall not mention them, in case I leave any of them out--for their highly responsible

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lobbying of Members of Parliament and Members of the National Assembly for Wales to achieve the aims of the Bill.

The Care Standards Act 2000 was an excellent start and offered protection for children. It has been welcomed by scores of individuals, organisations and local authorities. The Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill is a further measure to protect children, so 12 December, which was when it was published, is another important milestone. The Bill is another clear example of how much the Government care about children's welfare and safety.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Wales and my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Wales on the speed with which they and the Government responded to the calls for the appointment of a Children's Commissioner. After the Waterhouse report recommended the creation of that post in February last year, the Care Standards Bill was amended. At the beginning of December, Peter Clarke was appointed commissioner. I am sure that the House will join me in wishing him all the very best in his new post. We must not underestimate the enormous task that he faces.

Peter Clarke comes from Childline Wales, which is a successful organisation where he gained valuable experience in dealing with highly sensitive and complex issues concerning children in Wales. The National Assembly for Wales and child care organisations called for an extension of the commissioner's powers, and the Government have responded with this new Bill. That is further proof of how the partnership between the National Assembly for Wales and the Government is working and delivering for Wales. It is an excellent example of devolution working for Wales by responding quickly with primary legislation in Westminster to address the particular needs of Wales.

Wales has led the way in the United Kingdom with the creation of this post. It shows that the Government accept that devolution means tackling problems in different ways in different parts of the United Kingdom.

Yesterday in Cardiff, the Select Committee on Welsh Affairs published its report on social exclusion in Wales. During our inquiry, we took evidence from children's organisations and from young people themselves. We said in our report:

We also said:

I should like my right hon. Friend to clarify two matters. First, if a child from Wales receives education, health care or social care outside Wales, what remit does the Children's Commissioner for Wales have to make decisions and consider issues that relate to those providing authorities? My second point is more complex and concerns another vulnerable group in society. Adults with severe learning disabilities might never be able to become

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witnesses in a court of law. The main fears of a parent of such a child is how that child is protected against possible abusers and who will protect him or her when the parents die.

I speak as a mother of a 27-year-old young man who has the mind of a very young child. He would never be able to tell me if he had been physically or mentally abused. I hope that what we are discussing is welcome on both sides of the House. However, I should be grateful if my right hon. Friend could say whether he is willing to extend the commissioner's remit even further to cover that vulnerable group of people.

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