Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

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Mr. Livsey: I should like to make a couple of further points about the amendments. On amendment No. 45, avoiding failures is especially important. I am worried about whether the commissioner will be involved in making appointments in the regulatory framework for fulfilling responsibilities for children in Wales. It was enlightening to learn that the Assembly had involved children in the selection of the Children's Commissioner. That bodes well, because the Assembly has shown an enlightened approach to involving children.

Clearly, the commissioner will have views on appointments. I believe that it is within the Assembly's purview to involve him in those facets of the management system in relation to children, but I should be grateful if the Minister would confirm that. The Assembly has an enlightened view in that respect. I have particularly in mind, appointments to the inspectorate, which will carry out its functions in relation to local authorities.

On amendment No. 10, and Assembly secondary legislation, it was necessary to extend the powers of the Children's Commissioner, and the only way of doing so was to introduce the Bill in the House. We are discussing a limited aspect, but it will crop up from time to time. As the hon. Member for Cardiff, North has said, other Bills will affect Wales. The Minister for the Environment is, rightly, worried about regional administration. Now that we have devolution in Wales, some aspects of primary legislation that are specific to Wales will arise on which the Children's Commissioner should have a view, and I am sure that the Assembly will direct him in that respect.

Mr. Hanson: I shall try to explain the position of secondary, as opposed to primary, legislation. The commissioner will have the power, but not a duty, to review the effect of Assembly secondary legislation on children. On some occasions, Bills will come before the House that introduce primary legislation powers that confer on the Assembly secondary legislation powers for their implementation. The commissioner will have a prime role in discussing such matters with the Assembly and, like the Assembly, in feeding to the Government comments about primary legislation issues.

Given the core function nature of the commissioner's role as we envisage it, I hope that that meets hon. Members' anxieties in relation to amendment No. 10. The commissioner will be able to comment on issues that he will have a role in implementing during their consideration. I hope that that makes the position clear.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned appointments. It is important for the commissioner to give advice on involving children in appointments to Assembly positions if required or requested to do so—indeed, he may make suggestions regarding the policy implications. It is not necessarily set down by Assembly policy nor on the face of the Bill, but if the Assembly required him to do that, I am sure he could consider involvement in that role.

I hope that I have clarified the Government's intentions regarding the functions in respect of primary legislation and answered the valid points made by hon. Members in connection with amendment No. 45. I repeat my wish that the amendment be withdrawn.

Mr. Evans: I am grateful to the Minister for the information on the budget review: after 12 months, it may be that we do not know what the core functions of the Children's Commissioner are, nor whether he would be able to deliver them effectively within the budget. Much research has been done into the budgets of other commissioners and ombudsmen around the world, and I suspect the budget has been based on that. We shall see. I note the Minister's comment that the budget might be insufficient and that more money might follow, albeit that will not be done automatically. The Welsh Assembly may consider getting extra funding by reducing the building costs and transferring the money saved to the Children's Commissioner for Wales.

Mr. Hanson: To clarify, I said that my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West had given a commitment to review the funding of the Children's Commissioner at the end of the first year of office. There is no commitment to increase or reduce funding on that basis. There is a commitment to review, and as the hon. Gentleman would expect, I am not in a position to determine detailed aspects of the Assembly's budget; the Government are involved only in the total block grant.

Mr. Evans: I thought that that is what I said.

Mr. Hanson: I was just making sure.

Mr. Evans: I thought that is what I said. I will not restate my comments about the Welsh Assembly—but it is a nice dig none the less.

With regard to race relations, I heard what the Minister said about there being a commissioner available. I know that Nick Bourne, the leader of the Conservatives on the Welsh Assembly, has already referred Seimon Glyn case to the race relations commissioner. There may be distinct aspects of discrimination that the children's commissioner might care to consider.

I accept what the Minister said about primary legislation. We do not want the role of the Children's Commissioner to become sidetracked by headline-grabbing, highly charged political issues, which will neither enhance his role nor clarify the issues. That was never the intention of amendment No. 10. Perhaps, in view of the assurances that he has given, the amendment will be reconsidered in another place.

With primary legislative powers, the Secretary of State may be able to enhance the duty and obligation at least to consult the commissioner on primary legislation that deals with children, while at the same time excluding him from other areas. However, it will be up to our colleagues in another place to consider that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I beg to move amendment No. 11, in page 2, line 23, after `Assembly,' insert

    `, with the consent of the Secretary of State'.

The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 12, in page 2, line 33, at end insert—

    `(2A) The Secretary of State may lay before Parliament an order to amend this section or Schedule 2A by—

    (a) adding any person to that Schedule;

    (b) omitting any person from that Schedule;

    (c) altering the description of any person mentioned in that Schedule; or

    (d) making provision specifying, in respect of a person mentioned in that Schedule and specified in the order, a function of the person which although exercisable in relation to Wales is not to be treated as such for the purpose of subsection (1)(b).'.

No. 13, in page 2, line 34, after `(2)', insert `or (2A)'.

No. 16, in Clause 4, page 4, line 35, after `Assembly', insert

    `, with the consent of the Secretary of State'.

No. 30, in Clause 4, page 4, line 45, at end insert—

    `(5AA) The Secretary of State may lay before Parliament an order to amend this section or Schedule 2B by—

    (e) adding any person to that Schedule;

    (f) omitting any person from that Schedule;

    (g) altering the description of any person mentioned in that Schedule; or

    (h) making provision specifying, in respect of a person mentioned in that Schedule and specified in the order, services which although provided by the person are not to be treated as such for the purposes of the exercise of the Commissioner's functions.'.

No 31, in Clause 4, page 5, line 1, after `(5A)', insert `or (5AA)'.

Mr. Walter: I might call this group of amendments empowerment amendments, as they go some way towards answering some of the points that were made in the preceding debate, especially in connection with secondary legislation, as well as some of the points that we made earlier in the Committee. Our aim is to repair some of the deficiencies in the legislation by bringing the Secretary of State into play to enhance the Assembly's power to consider non-devolved matters and cross-border matters. We also want to enable the Secretary of State, acting alone, to bring orders before this House with regard to a number of non-devolved matters.


I said earlier that the principal concern that I have with this Bill is that it covers bodies in Wales which are subject to the National Assembly for Wales. There is no way, however, that child abuse or children's rights are challenged only in bodies that are subject to devolution to the National Assembly. Incidents of child abuse and neglect of children's rights can take place right across the whole gamut of public bodies. Therefore, we believe that it is necessary to bring into the Bill the power for the Secretary of State to become involved in bringing forward secondary legislation that can add to the list of bodies that the Children's Commissioner can deal with.

I do not want to labour the point as the Committee has before it a number of amendments that would extend the schedule of bodies that can be covered, but I will allude to that in my remarks. My hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley asked whether or not the commissioner would have views on the Child Support Agency. I would broaden that query to include the Benefits Agency and the Inland Revenue, booth of which are concerned with the welfare of children. It seems illogical to me that the Children's Commissioner should be precluded from getting involved in the policy of those bodies where they affect children in Wales. To extend beyond those, one could talk about the Department for National Savings, the Charity Commission, the office of the National Lottery and so on, all of which are non-devolved areas which, none the less, the House, through secondary legislation, could add to this Bill if our amendments were accepted.

More important than any of those are the activities in Wales of the police authorities, the Prison Service, the Crown Prosecution Service and of the Youth Justice Board. These are important because when we look at the Bill in its present construction, it covers social services departments of local authorities in Wales which would be responsible for children in care, in residential homes and in foster care. I do not believe that those forms of care are much different from being held in custody either in a police station pending charges or in a young offenders institution. It is illogical to say that it is acceptable for the Children's Commissioner to look at the functions of local authorities, but unacceptable for him to look at the functions of the Prison Service or police authority.

The schedules to the Bill set out a whole host of bodies that the Children's Commissioner will start to look at, for example, the Welsh Language Board, the Arts Council of Wales, the National Library of Wales, the National Museums and Galleries of Wales and the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales. The commissioner is precluded, however, from commenting on the BBC in Wales, the Independent Television Commission, the Radio Authority or, more particularly, Sianel Pedwar Cymru, which one would have thought was a Welsh body in which the commissioner might definitely want to have some involvement, if he is having a say on the Welsh Language Board, the Arts Council and the National Library. It seems to me that simply because S4C is administered by the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, that the commissioner is somehow being excluded from expressing an effective opinion on the policy of that body. We have already mentioned that the commissioner has no power over youth bodies, such as the Army Cadet Corps, the Air Training Service and the Combined Cadet Force, whereas he will have power over youth clubs that are under the supervision of local education authorities, and over youth facilities that would come within the remit of the Wales Tourist Board. We discussed the Commission for Racial Equality at length under the previous group of amendments, so I shall not rehearse the arguments again. The schedule refers to the agricultural wages committee, and I see the logic of that; children are employed in agriculture. However, the commissioner's remit does not extend to the Employment Service or to the Health and Safety Executive, which are also bodies concerned with the employment of children in Wales.

Amendment No. 11 seeks to suggest that the Assembly, with the consent of the Secretary of State, can, by order, amend the clause or schedule 2A by adding any person to that schedule, and so on. More particularly, amendment No. 12 seeks to give the Secretary of State the power to lay before Parliament an order to amend the clause or schedule 2A by similarly adding any person to that schedule, or omitting any person from that schedule. I shall not read them out. The important point is that we seek to empower the Secretary of State.

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Prepared 25 January 2001