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Standing Committee Debates
Children Bill [Lords]

Children Bill [Lords]

Column Number: 119

Standing Committee B

Thursday 14 October 2004

(Afternoon)

[Dame Marion Roe in the Chair]

Children Bill [Lords]

Clause 4

Inquiries initiated by the Commissioner

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 11, in

    clause 4, page 3, line 22, after 'child', insert 'in England'.—[Mr. Touhig.]

2.30 pm

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

Government amendment No. 178.

Amendment No. 12, in

    clause 4, page 3, line 41, leave out 'and Wales'.

Government amendments No. 13, 17 and 182.

Amendment No. 18, in

    clause 5, page 4, line 34, leave out 'and Wales'.

Amendment No. 19, in

    clause 5, page 4, line 36, leave out subsections (8) and (9).

Amendment No. 195, in

    clause 6, page 5, line 4, leave out paragraphs (a) to (c) and insert—

    '(a) any matter regarding children in Wales;

    (b) any matter relating to children in Scotland; or

    (c) any matter relating to children in Northern Ireland.'.

Amendment No. 198, in

    clause 6, page 5, line 4, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

    '(a) any matter relating to children in Wales'.

Amendment No. 21, in

    clause 6, page 5, line 11, at end insert—

    '( ) The Secretary of State, in regulations, must specify procedures for applying this legislation to children normally resident in England engaged in education, treatment and other activities in another part of the United Kingdom, and specifying which body is to be the responsible authority.'.

Amendment No. 196, in

    clause 6, page 5, line 14, at end insert—

    '(3) It shall be the sole responsibility of the Children's Commissioner for Wales to—

    (a) hold an inquiry under sections 4 and 5 as regards to children in Wales; and

    (b) consider, and make appropriate representations about, any matter affecting children ordinarily resident in Wales.

    (4) It shall be the sole responsibility of the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Scotland to—

    (a) hold an inquiry under sections 4 and 5 as regards children in Scotland; and

    (b) consider, and make appropriate representations about, any matter affecting children ordinarily resident in Scotland.

    (5) It shall be the sole responsibility of the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Northern Ireland to—

    (a) hold an inquiry under sections 4 and 5 as regards children in Northern Ireland; and

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    (b) consider, and make appropriate representations about, any matter affecting children ordinarily resident in Wales.'.

Clause 6 stand part.

Government new clause 27—Functions of Commissioner in Wales.

Government new clause 28—Functions of Commissioner in Scotland.

Government new clause 29—Functions of Commissioner in Northern Ireland.

New clause 6—Relationship between Commissioners—

    '( ) The Children's Commissioner shall consult and work together with—

    (a) the Children's Commissioner for Wales, the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Scotland and the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Northern Ireland on matters concerning children's rights and interests throughout the United Kingdom; and

    (b) the appropriate Commissioner or Commissioners on matters concerning children's rights and interests which appear to affect children in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland in addition to England, unless the matter relates principally to events or circumstances in England.'.

New clause 7—Relationship between Commissioners (No. 2)—

    'The Children's Commissioner shall consult and work together with—

    (a) the Children's Commissioner for Wales, the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Scotland and the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Northern Ireland on matters concerning children's rights and interests throughout the United Kingdom; and

    (b) the appropriate Commissioner or Commissioners on matters concerning children's rights and interests which appear to affect children in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland in addition to England.'.

New clause 18—Extension of the powers of the Children's Commissioner for Wales—

    '(1) Section 75A of the Care Standards Act 2000 (additional power of consideration and representation) is amended as follows.

    Leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—

    ''( ) The Commissioner may consider, and make representations about, any matter affecting the rights and welfare of children in Wales to—

    (a) the Assembly, and

    (b) where the matter is not devolved and the Commissioner considers it appropriate, the responsible United Kingdom Minister of the Crown or government department.''.'.

New clause 33—Requirement to review the working of the effect of the creation of a UK children's commissioner on the function of the existing commissioners in the nations of the UK—

    '(1) Each of the Children's Commissioners in the UK shall monitor the effect of having more than one Children's Commissioner operating in their nation simultaneously.

    (2) Each of the Children's Commissioners shall make reports to the Secretary of State, the National Assembly, Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly on the findings of the provisions specified in section 1(a) and (b) above and in accordance with the following provisions of this section.

    (3) The report shall, in particular, consider the impact of having more than one Children's Commissioner representing children in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, including—

    (a) the overall level of understanding of children in the UK nations as to the division of responsibility between the different Commissioners representing them;

    (b) the effectiveness and role of the Children's Commissioner for Wales, the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Scotland and the Commissioner for Children and Young People in Northern Ireland; and

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    (c) any evidence of duplication in work undertaken by the commissioners.

    (4) The reports under this section shall be made as soon as practicable after the second anniversary of the coming into force of Part 1 of this Act.

    (5) In producing a report under this section the Children's Commissioners shall consult—

    (a) children;

    (b) representatives of organisations concerned with children's rights and interests; and

    (c) the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly.

    (6) A Report under this section—

    (a) shall include the views of the Children's Commissioner on the adequacy and effectiveness of this part; and

    (b) may contain recommendations to amend this Act.

    (7) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of every report sent to him under this section before each House of Parliament.'.

New clause 35—Review of exercise of functions of Assembly and other persons—

    '( ) Section 72B of the Care Standards Act 2000 (c.14) (review of exercise of functions of Assembly and other persons) is amended as follows.

    ( ) In subsection (3), omit paragraphs (a) and (c)

    ( ) Omit subsections (4) and (6).'.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre) (Lab): Welcome, Dame Marion, to this excellent Committee. As I was saying when Mr. Benton wisely interrupted me, I accept entirely the good sense of what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Julie Morgan) was saying, but given the provision in clause 5 for the English commissioner to be directed by the Secretary of State, is there not a problem about the establishment of protocol between the commissioners of the various parts of the United Kingdom? Will not that inevitably lead to the other commissioners feeling unwilling to engage in any protocols when they could be directed by the English commissioner, or when he could be directed to deal with children from their countries, rather than them dealing with matters themselves?

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig): I welcome you, Dame Marion, to the Chair, and look forward to your guidance and direction throughout this sitting.

In response to the point made by my hon. Friend, I simply say that I hope that they would not be so childish. The Bill is intended to promote the interests of children. People may not like aspects of the Bill, but I hope that the fact that it gives power to the Minister to give directions to the commissioner for England will not mean that colleagues in other parts of the UK will feel unable to co-operate or work with that commissioner. Parliament, not the commissioner, will decide what powers the commissioner will have. He or she will in no way be able to influence that, and I hope that that will not happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North opened her remarks by saying that this is a good Bill. I understand her concerns about the powers of the commissioner in Wales, and the overlap of the powers of the English commissioner to investigate matters in Wales in reserved matters, but I am sure she would

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agree that the narrow point on powers, which perhaps divides us, should not take away from the fact that the Bill will benefit children. She made the point that members of the Welsh Affairs Committee and others feel that the Children's Commissioner for Wales should have powers to look into matters currently reserved to the Government here in Westminster.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) asked where the buck stops. The buck stops here in Parliament, with us. That is the devolution settlement under which we are working; it was proposed by this Government, it was approved by Parliament and it received the consent of the Welsh people in a referendum. We are not, in this Bill, rewriting the devolution settlement. I must make it clear that the Government line has been, and remains, that the Children's Commissioner, appointed by the Government in Westminster, must have responsibility for matters within the remit of this Parliament. To do otherwise would, as I have said, be contrary to the devolution settlement, and outside the scope of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North went on to ask if the Government had done any detailed work on the possibility of a memorandum of understanding, which would allow the commissioners throughout the UK to work collaboratively. The short answer is no. We think that it would be wrong to do so, because it would pre-empt the commissioners and impinge on their independence. We consider that independence important, and we would expect the commissioners themselves to agree the protocols and the details of how they would work together.

 
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