Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

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Mr. Win Griffiths: On a point of order, Mr. Jones. There is an issue of what might be called intelligibility with the amendments that you have announced. I have looked at the amendments closely and tried to see if they make sense in the English language. Amendment No. 1 would make the Act say, ``This Part applies to a child...who is resident.'' In particular, amendment No. 2 seeks to leave out the words ``in Wales'', and would make the Act say, ``to or in respect of whom services are provided by, or on behalf of or under arrangements with, a person mentioned in schedule 2B.'' However, that schedule is entirely about Wales. I cannot therefore see how we can possibly debate the amendments. First, they do not make sense in the English language. Secondly, schedule 2B is entirely about Wales and therefore negates what I take to be the amendments' purpose.

The Chairman: The selection of amendments is a matter for the discretion of the Chair, and it is not the custom of the Chair to give reasons for that selection. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to explore the general principles that govern the selection process, he should refer to pages 405 and 406 of ``Erskine May''.

Mr. Walter: It is my pleasure to speak to the amendments to clause 1. In doing so, I may deal with some of the points raised by the hon. Member for Bridgend and, I hope, provide him with some clarification.

We tabled the amendments in a positive way. Reference has been made to the reasoned amendment that we tabled on Second Reading, when we said that we had reservations about the Bill. Those reservations relate not to the Children's Commissioner for Wales or to his being empowered in the ways requested by the National Assembly for Wales and a number of charitable and voluntary bodies in Wales, but to some of the Bill's limitations. Hence we tabled the amendments, some of which I shall deal with in a moment.

My position is a positive one. As I mentioned on Second Reading, I was a member of the Select Committee on Health that recommended that we should have a children's rights commissioner for the whole United Kingdom, not only for Wales. Many of our amendments will address that point, while recognising that the Bill relates to the Children's Commissioner for Wales, amending the Care Standards Act that was passed by this House during the previous Session.

We welcome the appointment of Mr. Peter Clarke as the Children's Commissioner. One reason for tabling the amendments, and for wanting to get the Bill out of Committee on the date that has been suggested, is so that he can start work knowing exactly what his brief is. This Committee is minded to keep to the 1 February finish date. Hon. Members may table amendments that will require in-depth discussion, and the Opposition will table further amendments, including amendments to schedules, which tie in with those already tabled.

It is the Committee's function to scrutinise and seek to improve the Bill. We want to take on board some of the comments made by voluntary bodies in Wales on the Children's Commissioner and by the National Assembly for Wales. The National Assembly thought it desirable that the Commissioner's remit should cover non-devolved matters, recognising that such a proposal would be subject to negotiation with the Government. We quoted on Second Reading comments from a number of voluntary bodies, including the Children in Wales Commissioner Campaign Group, which, in one of its reports, stated:

    many looked after children ordinarily resident in Wales live in foster homes or residential children's accommodation in England. Young offenders are also in penal institutions on the other side of the border. There is currently no children's hospital in Wales, and children frequently travel to Liverpool or Bristol for specialist treatment...The Commissioner cannot, it would seem, review issues of children's rights affected by the environment, the media or the family, by private bodies or voluntary or religious bodies unless they are providing a relevant service.

It went to point out:

    the Commissioner cannot review or monitor or comment on proposed primary legislation—i.e. Bills before Parliament at Westminster.

That particular group believes that the Bill should be amended so that

    the Children's Commissioner for Wales has a right to comment on non-devolved matters and cross-border services and a right to comment on primary and potential primary legislation as it affects children in Wales.

On Second Reading, in an intervention on the hon. Member for Cardiff, North, I referred to paragraph 29 of the excellent report of the Health and Social Services Committee of the National Assembly on the Children's Commissioner for Wales, which states:

    We have given consideration as to whether the Commissioner's remit should include policy and services that affect children in Wales but for which responsibility has not been devolved to the Assembly, such as the benefit system. We believe that such jurisdiction would be desirable to promote the rights and welfare of children in Wales. The widest possible functions in respect of non-devolved policies and services should be explored and, as a minimum, the Commissioner should be able to consider and make representations in respect of any non-devolved matters affecting children in Wales in a way similar to the Assembly's right under section 33 of the Government of Wales Act, which it can exercise in respect of non-devolved functions. However—

I drew attention to this important point on Second Reading—

    we recognise that such a proposal would be subject to negotiation with the UK Government.

Fortunately for the Committee, representatives of the UK Government are sitting in this Committee, and therefore will be able to comment in a moment.

Paragraph 30 states:

    We have also given consideration as to whether the Commissioner should have jurisdiction over services provided in England for children normally resident in Wales—`cross-border provision'. Again, we believe that such jurisdiction would be desirable to promote the rights and welfare of children normally resident in Wales, especially in the context of commenting on why the services may not be available here. Therefore we also recommend that the widest possible functions should be explored in respect of cross-border provision, with at least a power similar to the Assembly's under section 33 of the Government of Wales Act but, as with non-devolved issues, recognise that this matter would be subject to negotiation with the UK Government.

Mr. Rowe: Is it correct that, if, for example, a child in Wales were sent to the Great Ormond Street hospital for children, and there was some abusive incident, the Children's Commissioner could make no comment on the way in which the services to that child were delivered?

Mr. Walter: That is correct. The services at the Great Ormond Street hospital for children would be funded by the national health service in Wales—over which the Children's Commissioner for Wales would have some remit—but, because those services were provided by a hospital outside Wales, the Children's Commissioner would not be able to comment on or investigate any alleged abuse in that institution. That is why we have proposed this series of amendments.

Most of the amendments to clause 1, starting with amendment No. 1, the first before the Committee, deal with the questions of cross-border provision and non-devolved matters, which is why a number of the amendments delete subsections dealing specifically with Assembly functions, which are not non-devolved matters. As we progress through the Bill we can start to deal with non-devolved matters.

On cross-border matters I hope to be brief, because the point is clear. My hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent asked about children who are provided with services in England which are funded by authorities in Wales, which come under the jurisdiction of the National Assembly, the national health service being one of them. In other instances, children in care may well be provided for in homes in England. There is also the cross-border problem, which the Minister might like to address, of children from homes where the mother and father live apart, both with custodial responsibilities given to them by the courts, one living in Wales and the other in England. That brings us to whether a child is ordinarily resident in Wales if both parents have joint custody. In those instances, the Bill would result in confusion.

Mr. Rowe: If a service were provided in England for which the taxpayer in Wales was not liable—for example, an independent school, to which a number of Welsh children may be sent, which turned out to be abusive—would the Children's Commissioner for Wales not be able to comment on that either?

11.15 am

Mr. Walter: As the Bill is drafted, the Children's Commissioner would not be able to comment.

Sir Raymond Powell (Ogmore): On a point of order, Mr. Jones. Since 10.30 am I have been asking for the window behind me to be closed. I shall leave the Committee until it is closed.

The Chairman: I should be grateful if the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Mr. Ruane) would consider standing on the radiator and attempting to close the window.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): Further to that point of order, Mr. Jones, it might be better if the hon. Gentleman did not do so, because it is bound to end in disaster.

The Chairman: That is not a point of order.

Mr. Walter: I look forward to two imminent by-elections.

I had just taken an intervention from my hon. Friend about services provided in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland for children who are ordinarily resident in Wales. That is why we have tabled the series of amendments, which hon. Members may be forgiven for thinking are repetitive. Amendment No. 1 removes the word ``ordinarily'' from ``ordinarily resident in Wales''. Amendments Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5 and 7, as well as later amendment Nos. 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29 and 32, take out the reference to Wales, which would give the commissioner powers on cross-border issues.

I come now to amendments Nos. 17, 18, 33 and 35 , which look more particularly at non-devolved matters. It might appear that we are limiting the orders that could be made. For example, amendment No. 18, relating to proposed section 72B(6), states:

    The Assembly may not make an order under subsection (2) if the result would be that the Commissioner could review the effect of the exercise or proposed exercise of a person's function in a field in which the Assembly does not have functions.

We want the commissioner to have powers to exercise his remit where the Assembly does not have functions, so we designed the amendment to delete that subsection.

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