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Lord Williams of Mostyn: As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, correctly pointed out, Amendments Nos. 5 and 8 go together although they are not exactly the same. The first amendment, which was the product of late-night deliberations and which was signed by four noble Lords--none of whom has resiled--in effect directs the commissioner to have regard to the principles laid down in the United Nations convention. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, is right in saying that the second amendment is different. In that case, the commissioner's functions are to have regard to the need to promote compliance, which is slightly different, and to,


although he put them the other way round.

The United Nations convention, of course, is not part of domestic law. I sympathise with what has been said and I think I can assist, not by accepting the amendment because it is not necessary, but simply by pointing out what has happened so far. The advertisement for the commissioner, who has already been in post for a little while, was not drafted by me. I am sorry to use these inelegant words. It reads:


    "The job purpose: the Commissioner will promote the rights and welfare of children and young persons, and people who are in receipt of services regulated under the Care Standards Act".

Essentially one is referring there, as the noble Lord, Lord Hooson, said, to Clause 72A as it will become, but it is important to go further. I will, if I may, read the basis on which the commissioner is appointed:


    "It is envisaged that the principles in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child will be one of the matters to which the commissioner will have regard in the exercise of his functions".

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So it is there. That is the job purpose. As regards person specification--again I did not write this--the essential requirements include the ability, first, to apply the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; secondly, the Human Rights Act 1998, secondly, and the principles of equal opportunities across the range of activities encompassed in his office. Therefore he is in post on those bases.

The other aspect of Amendment No. 8 is also dealt with in that same document which was the basis of the appointment; namely:


    "To advise appropriate statutory and non-statutory organisations that complement the functions of the Children's Commissioner, including local authorities and health services, Childline, Samaritans, Citizen's Advice Bureaux and local advocacy schemes".

That was specifically included in the advertisement which led to the appointment of Mr. Clarke. To bring the matter even more up to date, my understanding is that the Assembly has already gone out to consultation on proposals for regulations, including the first part of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, relating to the commissioner's contact and consultation with children and young people.

I do not think there is really anything between us, but I simply say that the UN convention is not part of domestic legislation. It would be decidedly odd to find it in this Bill and in no other.

Lord Hooson: Is the noble and learned Lord really saying that the second part of an advertisement for a commissioner's job will satisfy those who think that the purpose clause in this Bill should have the effect of drawing the attention of the commissioner, whoever he may be, in the future, perhaps when the advertisement may have been changed?

Lord Williams of Mostyn: I do not think it will satisfy those people who are wedded to purpose clauses. I am not myself wedded to them, but I sympathise with the stance that has been adopted. The commissioner is working on the basis that these are indeed his obligations. I find it inconceivable that any subsequent commissioner--because this is a seven-year non-renewable term--could possibly be appointed on less onerous terms. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hooson. I do not suppose it will satisfy those who like to have purpose clauses. My only point was to try to be helpful by showing that this is how the man is working at the moment. It is part of the basis on which he was appointed.

Lord Renton: I must apologise to your Lordships for not having been here when the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, moved Amendment No. 5, to which my name is attached. Not having been here for the whole of the discussion on Amendments Nos. 5 and 8, I may have missed a point. However, I should like to point out that Clause 2 as it stands states that the principal aim of the commissioner should be to promote the rights and welfare of children.

That therefore will become part of the law. But I suggest that any indirect obligations placed upon the commissioner, but not included in this Bill, would not

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have the same effect as a statement in Clause 2, which would become part of the law and therefore a direct obligation, such as is proposed in these two Amendments Nos. 5 and 8.

I am not asking the noble and learned Lord for an immediate reply on this, but I assume that he would wish to consider this important matter further between now and Report stage. I would ask him to consider the need--not merely the desirability--to have in the Bill a clear statement setting out the rights of the child.

Lord Northbourne: Perhaps I may intervene at this particular moment to speak against the amendment. It seems to me that the wording, as set out in Clause 2, is wider than it would be if it were restricted by the amendment. I suppose it is unthinkable that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child should by any chance be wrong. If we say that we have got to obey it, then we have to obey the detail of it. Surely it is important for the commissioner to have a general obligation to promote the rights and welfare of the child. He will follow the Charter, provided he is satisfied that it is in the best interests of the child.

Lord Williams of Mostyn: The noble Lord, not for the first time, has put it more elegantly than I managed to do. I sought to say that he has his contractual obligations on the basis of what I have read out. There is no benefit to be had from the amendments that have been put forward, because we all recognise that these are his obligations. The description of the principal aim in Section 72A, as I hope it will become, is absolutely appropriate for our present purposes.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: We are grateful to the noble and learned Lord for his comments on both the purpose clause put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, and his co-signatories and on the amendment that I have put forward. I am certainly impressed by the fact that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, although ratified by Her Majesty's Government, is not in fact part of our domestic law. I should have thought, with due respect to your Lordships, bearing in mind that I am not myself a lawyer, that if we were to accept the UN convention into domestic law, we would wish to discuss it in considerable detail.

Having read the convention, I know that it is a very substantial document. If I were to be pushed on my amendment and asked to choose between the particular form of words used in Amendment No. 8--namely, that the commissioner should have regard to the need to promote compliance with the UN convention--or the version chosen by the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, to have regard to the principles, I think that the objective of having regard to the principles would lie more easily with the fact that this convention is not part of our domestic law, and would furthermore involve the commissioner in rather less onerous, indeed burdensome, duties than promoting compliance with the convention would involve.

I am also reassured by the fact that there was reference to the convention in the advertisement for the post of commissioner. Clearly, there are echoes of

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both amendments in that advertisement, despite the fact that its wording is not as facile as the noble and learned Lord the Attorney General would wish. Nevertheless, the point is that the convention is covered in that job advertisement. That pleases me and I cannot see how the Government can accept either amendment without the convention being part of domestic law. Surely, its adoption into domestic law should come first.

I am also pleased to hear that the Assembly is consulting on subsection (a) of my Amendment No. 8, which requires the commissioner to,


    "have regard to the need to ... maintain direct contact with children and children's organisations".

I am sure your Lordships would agree that the campaign group and its members are familiar with the problems of children. It has contributed significantly to the demand for the Bill and the office of the commissioner. It has stressed the need for direct contact with children at all levels and we shall return to that point when we discuss later amendments.

5 p.m.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: I am moved to say that the reference to the convention not being part of English law seems irrelevant. All the amendments seek to do is to lay upon the commissioner the duty to have regard to the principles in the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, or to promote compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

If the wording was that the commissioner shall "promote the principles of the Ten Commandments" or have regard to their compliance, that would be perfectly all right. There is no reason why one should not state in such a way some form of aspiration or objective rule, as my noble friend Lord Hooson said.

An objective standard is being called for in these amendments and I support them.


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