Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

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Mr. Rowe: The nearest equivalent I can see in the present structure is Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales. Is not the history of that role a remarkable demonstration of how, if what that person has to say is unattractive to the Government, little happens?

Mr. Walter: That is absolutely right. I have an establishment in my own constituency that is both a prison and a young offenders' institution. On the last two occasions on which Her Majesty's inspector was there, he was critical of the lack of division between the adult prisoners and the young offenders. I should have thought that the Children's Commissioner would be interested in that subject. I shall discuss the non-devolved matters that are the thrust of our amendments. The Children's Commissioner will not be able to get involved in such Home Office functions in Wales.

There seems to be a lot of hope and good will among Labour Members. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent said, even when the chief inspector of prisons makes a report on conditions on prisons, little notice is taken by the Government. If the Children's Commissioner made comments in a spirit of good will on an area of policy over which he has specifically been excluded from jurisdiction, would the Home Secretary or head of the Prison Service want to take any notice?

My hon. Friends and I have tabled amendments that extend, by an order made by the Secretary of State, the scope of the Children's Commissioner to look at the Prison Service, any police authority in Wales and custodial questions that particularly relate to children held in custody at police stations. That is an important matter for the Children's Commissioner to look at. We are not seeking to express a pre-judgment on the way in which a police authority looks after children. However, it is important that the way in which children are held in custody is transparent and that there is public confidence that those children are held correctly. That is a major concern of mine.

We should also consider non-devolved matters, such as children in the army cadet force or the air training corps, which would fall within the ambit of the Ministry of Defence. We should also discuss the way in which children are treated in the media. There is no provision in the Bill for the Children's Commissioner to become involved in non-devolved areas such as the Independent Television Commission or the BBC's governing body. We are still concerned about those matters and hope to address them in our amendments.

I hope that I teased from the Minister some response on cross-border matters. Would children in hospitals or care in England, or whose parental custody was split between parents residing in England and Wales, slip through the net if they were resident in Wales and being paid for by Welsh public bodies administered by the Assembly, rather than from the national Exchequer directly? I continue to have concerns about that matter.

Mr. Win Griffiths: To return to a theme raised by hon. Members, surely in all the specific instances that the hon. Gentleman cited, there is a regulatory framework that should ensure that such cases would not slip through the net. If they did, that is when the commissioner could become involved.

Mr. Waterson: I mentioned, in an intervention which I made on the Minster, the Health Committee's report on children in care. We raised considerable concerns about children who were fostered outside the area of the local authority that was fostering them. There were children from London boroughs, where it is sometimes difficult to get hold of foster carers, who were fostered several hundred miles away. There was a lack of supervision, because those foster carers, although technically under the supervision of that local authority, were not under the supervision of the local authority in the area in which they resided. That concern was not answered, and it is not answered in the Bill.

It being One o'clock, the Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Jones, Mr. Barry (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Evans, Mr.
Gray, Mr.
Griffiths, Mr. Win
Hanson, Mr.
Kelly, Ms
Livsey, Mr.
Llwyd, Mr.
Morgan, Ms Julie
Mudie, Mr.
Powell, Sir Raymond
Rowe, Mr.
Ruane, Mr.
Smith, Mr. John
Touhig, Mr.
Walter, Mr.

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