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Lords amendment: No. 2, in line 21, leave out
"by the Assembly of any function"
There are circumstances in which the Assembly and the bodies listed in schedule 2 may delegate the exercise of their functions to other persons: for example, the Assembly delegates its duties to provide careers advice to the careers service. It is important that the commissioner's review function under clause 3 extends to all the Assembly's functions and to the functions of other bodies listed, whoever exercises them. Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 3 will remove any doubt about whether the commissioner can do that.
Lords amendment No. 6 is another Government amendment that will add community councils in Wales to the list of bodies whose exercise of functions is subject to review by the commissioner under clause 3. The issue of adding community or town councils was raised by Members in another place on the basis that such councils, especially larger ones, occasionally exercise functions that affect children: for example, provision of playgrounds and recreational facilities. The Government have considered that argument and agree that the addition is appropriate. The Wales Association of Community and Town Councils has been informed and welcomes the change, as does the National Assembly. There is cross-party support for the amendments.
(1) After section 75 of the Care Standards Act 2000 (c. 14) insert--
"75A Additional power of consideration and representation
(1) The Commissioner may consider, and make representations to the Assembly about, any matter affecting the rights or welfare of children in Wales.
(2) The function of the Commissioner under subsection (1) is exercisable only where he does not have power to consider and make representations about the matter in question by virtue of any other provision of this Act or any other enactment."."
(2) In section 74 of that Act--
(a) in subsection (1), after "may" insert ", in connection with the Commissioner's functions under this Part,"; and
(b) after that subsection insert--
"(1A) The reference in subsection (1) to functions of the Commissioner does not include a reference to his power to consider and make representations by virtue of section 75A(1)."
The Government have carefully considered the concerns expressed about the commissioner having no formal role in respect of policies and services that do not come within the responsibility of the National Assembly for Wales. As a result, we tabled the amendment that will empower the commissioner to consider, and make representations to the National Assembly for Wales on, any matter that affects the rights and welfare of children in Wales. That means that the commissioner will have a formal role in matters that do not fall within the National Assembly's devolved responsibilities.
I hope that will reflect the commissioner's relationship with the Assembly and the need to establish a structure for the new function, which has the potential to be extremely wide. The commissioner could, if he wanted, make representations on several matters as a part of his annual report to the Assembly, or ad hoc as he considers necessary. The Assembly will then be able to consider the commissioner's representations on matters that are Government responsibilities, and make representations to the Government under section 33 of the Government of Wales Act 1998.
The commissioner is an integral but independent part of the strategy of the National Assembly for Wales. The Government have been pleased to support the extension of the role and responsibilities of the commissioner. We remain firmly of the opinion that the commissioner's main field of jurisdiction should be bodies that have functions within the Assembly's devolved responsibilities. However, there will be opportunities for the commissioner to consider issues that are Government responsibilities and to make representations to the Assembly so that it can consider them and, if need be, using its powers under the Government of Wales Act, make representations to the Government.
Mrs. Browning: I welcome the amendments. The reason that we have not heard about the Bill for some time might be that the Government were busy reading the Committee Hansard and considering the sensible proposals made by my hon. Friends the Members for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and for North Dorset (Mr. Walter). If so, I am pleased to see that the Minister has taken their arguments on board.
The scope for the commissioner and the role that he is to perform on behalf of children in Wales mean that he must have powers that will enable him fully to represent children's interests when they are in question. Representations were made to the Government while the Bill was in Committee: the Minister knows that the National Assembly itself, with many voluntary and charitable organisations, recommended that the commissioner should have a role that extended beyond the constraints of the Assembly.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) and myself, I congratulate the Government and thank them for accepting the amendment, for which we argued strongly in Committee and which, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said, was supported by the Opposition. Clearly, that continued in the other place as well.
I shall not rehearse all the arguments that were used. I am pleased that, in the context of devolution, the Government were sufficiently positive and flexible to give the commissioner the powers that a wide range of individuals and organisations considered necessary for his job to be carried out in a way that would support children's needs in Wales. I thank the Government for introducing the amendment, to allow the Bill to go forward in a more complete form.
Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I rise to question the Minister about a matter that concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), who cannot be present this morning. It relates to Lords amendment No. 4 and the additional power of consideration and representation.
The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) referred repeatedly to the welfare of children in Wales. We are concerned that a considerable number of Welsh youngsters aged between 16 and 18 are in prison or on remand, but not many are in centres in Wales. The lack of suitable prison and remand accommodation, combined with the fact that the commissioner cannot exercise any power in respect of Welsh youngsters on remand outside Wales, means that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the commissioner to represent their interests.