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Clause 3

Principal aim of the Commissioner

Lords amendment: No. 2, in line 21, leave out
"by the Assembly of any function"

and insert

Mr. Hanson: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 3 and 6.

Mr. Hanson: The amendments are technical amendments that have been discussed with the Opposition, considered in the other place and received full support from Members in both Houses.

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There are circumstances in which the Assembly and the bodies listed in schedule 2 may delegate the exercise of their functions to other persons: for example, the Assembly delegates its duties to provide careers advice to the careers service. It is important that the commissioner's review function under clause 3 extends to all the Assembly's functions and to the functions of other bodies listed, whoever exercises them. Lords amendments Nos. 2 and 3 will remove any doubt about whether the commissioner can do that.

Lords amendment No. 6 is another Government amendment that will add community councils in Wales to the list of bodies whose exercise of functions is subject to review by the commissioner under clause 3. The issue of adding community or town councils was raised by Members in another place on the basis that such councils, especially larger ones, occasionally exercise functions that affect children: for example, provision of playgrounds and recreational facilities. The Government have considered that argument and agree that the addition is appropriate. The Wales Association of Community and Town Councils has been informed and welcomes the change, as does the National Assembly. There is cross-party support for the amendments.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendment No. 3 agreed to.

After Clause 4

Lords amendment: No. 4, to insert the following new clause--

9.45 am

Mr. Hanson: I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Speaker: With this we may discuss Lords amendment No. 5.

Mr. Hanson: The amendments are more substantial than the technical amendments that we have considered hitherto. The Government have reflected on the issues and

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taken steps in the other place to ensure that this House has the opportunity to discuss the amendments. I pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) and for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths), who raised the matter in Committee and persuaded the Government to table amendments.

The Government have carefully considered the concerns expressed about the commissioner having no formal role in respect of policies and services that do not come within the responsibility of the National Assembly for Wales. As a result, we tabled the amendment that will empower the commissioner to consider, and make representations to the National Assembly for Wales on, any matter that affects the rights and welfare of children in Wales. That means that the commissioner will have a formal role in matters that do not fall within the National Assembly's devolved responsibilities.

I hope that will reflect the commissioner's relationship with the Assembly and the need to establish a structure for the new function, which has the potential to be extremely wide. The commissioner could, if he wanted, make representations on several matters as a part of his annual report to the Assembly, or ad hoc as he considers necessary. The Assembly will then be able to consider the commissioner's representations on matters that are Government responsibilities, and make representations to the Government under section 33 of the Government of Wales Act 1998.

The commissioner is an integral but independent part of the strategy of the National Assembly for Wales. The Government have been pleased to support the extension of the role and responsibilities of the commissioner. We remain firmly of the opinion that the commissioner's main field of jurisdiction should be bodies that have functions within the Assembly's devolved responsibilities. However, there will be opportunities for the commissioner to consider issues that are Government responsibilities and to make representations to the Assembly so that it can consider them and, if need be, using its powers under the Government of Wales Act, make representations to the Government.

I hope that we shall have cross-party support for the change. I have discussed the matter with right hon. and hon. Members and I believe that it is welcome in both Houses.

Mrs. Browning: I welcome the amendments. The reason that we have not heard about the Bill for some time might be that the Government were busy reading the Committee Hansard and considering the sensible proposals made by my hon. Friends the Members for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) and for North Dorset (Mr. Walter). If so, I am pleased to see that the Minister has taken their arguments on board.

The scope for the commissioner and the role that he is to perform on behalf of children in Wales mean that he must have powers that will enable him fully to represent children's interests when they are in question. Representations were made to the Government while the Bill was in Committee: the Minister knows that the National Assembly itself, with many voluntary and charitable organisations, recommended that the commissioner should have a role that extended beyond the constraints of the Assembly.

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In its report on the Children's Commissioner for Wales, the Health and Social Services Committee of the National Assembly said:

That is not a devolved matter, but it is easy to see how a commissioner acting in children's interests would need to have influence on it. The report continues:

In that connection, I draw attention to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset in Committee, where he argued that it was impossible to legislate on the basis that in investigating child abuse, the only officials with whom the commissioner would have contact were those from organisations that fell within the remit of the National Assembly for Wales. Clearly, people who abuse children may be working for or in contact with agencies other than those for which the National Assembly has responsibility. The measure is a practical one that genuinely represents the interests of children, which is what the commissioner is all about.

Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) and myself, I congratulate the Government and thank them for accepting the amendment, for which we argued strongly in Committee and which, as the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) said, was supported by the Opposition. Clearly, that continued in the other place as well.

I shall not rehearse all the arguments that were used. I am pleased that, in the context of devolution, the Government were sufficiently positive and flexible to give the commissioner the powers that a wide range of individuals and organisations considered necessary for his job to be carried out in a way that would support children's needs in Wales. I thank the Government for introducing the amendment, to allow the Bill to go forward in a more complete form.

Dr. Jenny Tonge (Richmond Park): I rise to question the Minister about a matter that concerns my hon. Friend the Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), who cannot be present this morning. It relates to Lords amendment No. 4 and the additional power of consideration and representation.

The hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning) referred repeatedly to the welfare of children in Wales. We are concerned that a considerable number of Welsh youngsters aged between 16 and 18 are in prison or on remand, but not many are in centres in Wales. The lack of suitable prison and remand accommodation, combined with the fact that the commissioner cannot exercise any power in respect of Welsh youngsters on remand outside Wales, means that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the commissioner to represent their interests.

That is in marked contrast to the case of children who are unfortunate enough to be in hospital, for example. Health is a devolved matter, and the trusts and health

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authorities are accountable to the Assembly, so the children's commissioner can work to support their welfare. Can we have the Minister's assurance that the Government will do all that they can to facilitate the commissioner's access to children being detained outside Wales, and that they will consider how the commissioner might act as advocate on behalf of such children?

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