Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

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Mr. Llwyd: I shall be brief because I agree with everything that the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire said.

On Second Reading, and earlier today, the Minister said that the commissioner would be entitled to investigate and make informal comment on reserved matters. That goes part of the way towards where we should like to see the commissioner operating, but I ask him to differentiate between the wording of the amendment and what he claims the commissioner can do. I cannot see a real difference between ``informal comment'' and ``may make appropriate representations''; they are one and the same. Before he gets up and says, ``Therefore the amendment is otiose,'' I shall say to him that I would prefer to see it in the Bill.

There is nothing objectionable in the amendment from a drafting, or any other, point of view. Indeed, it aligns with the views the Minister expressed on Second Reading and earlier today. By including reserved matters, it will hopefully assist the commissioner to be a full and wholehearted champion of children and young people in Wales, even if he makes only informal comments and/or appropriate representations. When that issue was debated earlier, we hoped that the commissioner's informal comments would be informed comments.

Will the Minister explain in detail why the amendment is unacceptable? I cannot see any difference between what he said earlier today, and on Second Reading, and the amendment.

Mr. Griffiths: I do not believe that there is anything but a technical difference between amendment No.46, in which I am joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North, and that moved and supported by the hon. Members for Brecon and Radnorshire and for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy. The difference is simply the place to which the commissioner will make his representations.

The amendment would allow the commissioner to report on primary and potential primary legislation; to comment on non-devolved matters and functions when they impact on children in Wales; to represent the interests of children ordinarily resident in Wales, who are receiving services outside Wales paid for through the Welsh purse; and to consider and make representations on any matters that emerge as key concerns through consultation and other contact with children and young people in Wales.

The difference that I propose is that the commissioner's representations be made through the National Assembly, which would be consistent with the devolution settlement and the Government of Wales Act 1998. Furthermore, that would provide a proper focus for the Children's Commissioner. Instead of flicking from Department to Department with the appropriate representations, he would make his representations to the National Assembly, who—with the full force of the Government of Wales Act 1998 behind it—could make representations directly, and through the Secretary of State for Wales, to Departments. That is a more satisfactory way to deal with the situation because it gives a clear, formal structure within which the commissioner would operate and would make his representations more appropriate.

Mr. Rowe: The hon. Gentleman talks a lot of sense. As the Minister is being open and supports the concept, we should like to hear some examples of the things upon which representations would not be allowed.

Mr. Griffiths: Obviously, my hon. Friend the Minister could comment upon that.

The amendment deals with some of the objections that may be felt in Government circles. I that hope my hon. Friend will take amendment No. 46 back to those circles to see whether it is acceptable, or whether another amendment with the same purpose would be. I hope that the Committee understands that I am trying to work within the devolution settlement in order to make the commissioner more effective in his work.

Mr. Walter: I nearly intervened on the two previous hon. Members because all three hon. Members have made the point that they are trying to achieve some of the objectives to which I alluded this morning in terms of cross-border and non-devolved matters. In the words of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, this is a catch-all clause. My concern is that it catches more than non-devolved and cross-border matters.

Does the Minister think it appropriate for the commissioner to make representations about what goes on in the home of a normal family? Or should he be restricted to public bodies and statutory agencies?

Mr. Griffiths: This is where we need to tread carefully. One interpretation of what the hon. Gentleman said is that there should be no investigations by the commissioner of child abuse in families if he felt that it was simply something that happened within families.

The Bill and amendment are related to the concerns of children. The commissioner would have to judge whether the concerns of children would lead him to find a problem in a family that the social services inspectorate might not have dealt with properly. He would certainly not be allowed simply to say something about the relationship between a child and his family. We need to put that point aside and consider matters clearly in the context of the representations made to the commissioner.

6.45 pm

Mr. Walter: I do not want to suggest that the commissioner would not be concerned about child abuse in the home. Clearly, he should be, as it is rightly a matter of concern to social services departments throughout Wales.

If we take the amendment at face value, the commissioner could take it upon himself to act like a health education authority and say what is good practice and that all parents should do X, Y and Z. We do not want him to do so. It is right that he should consider child abuse in the home, problems in non-devolved bodies and cross-border issues. However, I am concerned that he should not somehow become the arbiter of good practice in bringing up our children in normal family situations.

Mr. Griffiths: I do not think that the Bill or the amendment would allow that. The Bill must be seen specifically in the context of promoting the rights and welfare of children, and in the context of the commissioner consulting children about what interests or concerns them. I do not envisage the commissioner delivering tablets of stone from on high about any subject, unless it could be shown that the subject concerned children widely and was not a problem for only one child. On such matters, there should be debate.

My amendment would work through representations to the Assembly, so that the commissioner could not take action separately. The Assembly would consider those representations, as should be the case in any democratic society. I hope that that has set the hon. Gentleman's mind at rest, and I hope that the Minister will respond positively about the way in which the commissioner may be able to make appropriate representations. The most appropriate way would be through the Assembly, to be consistent with the devolution settlement.

Debate adjourned.—[Mr. Touhig.]

Adjourned accordingly at twelve minutes to Seven o'clock till Thursday 25 January at half-past Nine o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Jones, Mr. Barry (Chairman)
Ainger, Mr.
Evans, Mr.
Gray, Mr.
Griffiths, Mr. Win
Hanson, Mr.
Kelly, Ms
Livsey, Mr.
Llwyd, Mr.
Morgan, Ms Julie
Mudie, Mr.
Rowe, Mr.
Ruane, Mr.
Smith, Mr. John
Touhig, Mr.
Walter, Mr.

 
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