Reform of the Office of the Children's Commissioner: draft legislation - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

5  Devolution

140. One of the concerns identified by the Dunford Report was that the UK-wide role of the Children's Commissioner for England in respect of non-devolved matters means that there are concerns about how effectively the Commissioners in the devolved administrations are able to respond to non-devolved issues that are raised by children living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. At present, children who live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland may have to be referred to the Children's Commissioner for England where the issue they have raised relates to a non-devolved matter. The Government wants to remove this confusion and enable the devolved Commissioners to deal with an issue raised by a child in their area, even if it concerns a non-devolved matter.

141. The draft clauses seek to deal with this problem by providing for the Children's Commissioner for England to delegate the exercise of functions to the devolved Commissioners.[73]

142. We asked the Government whether the devolved Commissioners have indicated that the solution proposed in the draft clauses meets their concerns about how effectively they can respond to non-devolved issues raised by children in the devolved jurisdictions. The Government did not answer our question, but the devolved Commissioners themselves and the English Commissioner have made clear in joint correspondence with us that the proposed solution in the draft clauses would make matters worse than they currently are. This is because each of the devolved Commissioners has a different set of authorities and accountability arrangements, and the model of the English Commissioner delegating authority to them introduces new layers of complexity and uncertainty. All four Commissioners, including the English Commissioner, are of the view that this would be a retrograde step. They currently operate with a Memorandum of Understanding within the current legislative framework, and all of them would prefer to continue with this arrangement than have to deal with the complexities that the draft clauses would introduce.

143. In light of the unanimous view of the four commissioners, we are not persuaded that there is any evidence of a need to change the current arrangements concerning the relationship between the English Commissioner and the devolved Commissioners. We recommend that the draft clauses allowing the Children's Commissioner for England to delegate the exercise of functions to the devolved Commissioners be left out of the Bill. We also recommend that the four Commissioners consider whether the Memorandum of Understanding could be improved and make that document publicly available.

73   Schedule 1, paras 3(5), 4(6) and 5(6). Back

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Prepared 7 December 2012