Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

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Mr. Griffiths: I thank my hon. Friend for his positive contribution and for making a strong commitment to the aim of amendment No. 43. I was taken particularly by his saying that the National Assembly for Wales will in any event be able by order to include specific matters in any job description of the Children's Commissioner. Bearing that in mind, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 6 and 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 8

Commencement, short title and extent

Mr. Walter: I beg to move amendment No. 47, in page 6, line 3, after `Children's', insert `and Youth'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take the following: New clause 2—Children's and Youth Commissioner for Wales—

    `In section 72 of the Care Standards Act 2000 for the words ``Children's Commissioner for Wales'' there shall be substituted ``Children's and Youth Commissioner for Wales''.'.

Amendment No. 49, in Title, page 1, after `Children's', insert `and Youth'.

Mr. Walter: The amendment is interesting. It challenges the title of Children's Commissioner. Proposed new subsection (1A) of section 78 of the Care Standards Act 2000 states:

    Regulations may provide that, for the purposes of this Part of this Act, ``child'' includes a person aged 18 or over who falls within subsection (1B).

That brings into question whether we are dealing with a Children's Commissioner or with somebody who deals with young people as well. From the definitions on page 1 it is clear that there is a wider remit.

The Care Standards Act 2000 and its interpretations suggest that the provision applies to a child. We have previously debated ``ordinarily resident in Wales.'' New subsection (1) states:

    ``This Part applies to a child . . . to or in respect of whom services are provided in Wales by, or on behalf of or under arrangements with, a person mentioned in Schedule 2B; or . . . to or in respect of whom regulated children's services . . . are provided''.

Under the Bill, a Children's Commissioner will be responsible for services for children and young people. Our contention is that we should amend the Bill by agreeing to new clause 2 to change the title of the commissioner to the Children's and Youth Commissioner for Wales.

That may seem pedantic, but we want young people to have confidence in the commissioner, and for the commissioner to feel that his remit extends, if not to all the bodies mentioned in earlier amendments, to institutions of further and higher education. I remind the Committee of paragraphs 5,6,7 and 8 of proposed new schedule 2A to the Care Standards Act 2000. Those bodies deal not with children under any usual definition, but with young people who come within the remit of public bodies involved in education. The proposed new schedule includes the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales, which is examining 16, 17 and 18-year-olds' pay. The Qualifications, Curriculum and Assessment Authority for Wales, the Sports Council for Wales, the Wales Tourist Board and the Welsh Development Agency as well as the Welsh National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting deal not only with children, but with youths. That wider definition should be reflected in the title of the Bill and the title of the Children's Commissioner. I lay before the Committee the proposition that we should add the words ``and Youth'' to make the title of the office that we are creating under the Bill the Children's and Youth Commissioner for Wales.

Mr. Livsey: I support the amendment. Young people are sensitive about how they are described, but it is not politically incorrect to describe them as youths. If one looks, for example, at transgressions, such as young people not being paid properly in workplaces where statutory legislation has to be enforced. That can occur with the Agricultural Wages Board for England and Wales, with which I have dealt in the past. It must be a good thing to describe those young people as ``youth''. The same applies to what was said earlier about the services. Aspects of the services in Wales can be described as ``youth'' services; they too have rights. Amendment No. 47 is a grown-up amendment; we support it.

Mr. Llwyd: I too am unhappy with the term ``Children's Commissioner'' and agree with what has been said. It is important to consider changing the name; that would not extend the remit, nor would it impose further duties or obligations on the office of commissioner.

Hon. Members who have referred to their teenage sons or daughters as ``children'' know that that is a cardinal and unforgivable sin. I am reminded of the redoubtable actress Kathleen Turner, who was over here a few months ago acting in ``The Graduate''. I did see it, but I will not go into that now. [HON. MEMBERS: ``All of it?''] Yes—but no doubt I would be straying if I were to go further down that road. Suffice it to say that she is a redoubtable actress—and a tough character, they say. She was interviewed on a chat show and someone asked the innocuous question, ``Miss Turner, does anyone ever call you Kath?'' The answer was, ``Only the once.'' Similarly, calling teenage young people children is not sensible.

12.15 pm

It is entirely appropriate to look at the commissioner's title. To change it would not extend the remit; that already extends to further and higher education. People at university, at the age of 20 or 21, are by no means children.

We need to ensure that children and young people are comfortable with the commissioner and his role. People over 16 or 17 would feel unsure and unhappy about going to his department if he were known as the Children's Commissioner for Wales. This is not a back-door way of extending his remit, but a highly desirable and appropriate change of name.

Mr. Hanson: As the parent of one teenager, and of two other children who are on the cusp of becoming teenagers, I concur with what the hon. Gentleman has said. There are occasional flashes of childlike qualities, and occasional flashes of growing adulthood. I recognise that when dealing with teenagers, we must all tread carefully—I will say no more—especially if we are absent parents on occasion, as I am , because of the demands of the House.

In general terms I sympathise with the points that have been made by hon. Members, because it is important that the Children's Commissioner be relevant to all groups that fall within his jurisdiction, and be seen by them as their champion. That goes for children of pre-school, primary or secondary school age, and for some of the children defined by the Bill who are at the older end of the commissioner's jurisdiction. He must be the champion for all children. When he takes up the post, the commissioner will need to develop a communications strategy and an understanding of the nature of the role, to ensure that that is so.

However—I trust that hon. Members will accept this in the spirit in which I say it—if we change the name at this stage, given the discussions that we have had to date, there may be difficulties. By statute, under the Care Standards Act, Wales already has its first Children's Commissioner designate. Peter Clarke has been appointed and is in post. All the recruitment work, the selection work, the adverts and the attendant publicity use the title ``Children's Commissioner''. That is how the office has been referred to by the National Assembly, by Parliament, by the groups involved in promoting the Bill, by hon. Members, by Assembly Members—by every individual involved to date, in fact. ``Children's Commissioner'', or its equivalent, is also the title that is commonly used for all the parallel positions in the rest of Europe and elsewhere. There is therefore a global resonance to the phrase ``Children's Commissioner''.

Because of that resonance, and given the nature of the political and social discussions that we have had about the nature of the post last year and this year, in the Assembly, in the House of Commons, in Committee and in the outside world, I doubt whether the commissioner's post would be referred to as anything other than the Children's Commissioner, even if we were to change the name. That is not to say that I do not recognise the points that have been made.

Another important issue has even greater resonance. The title Children's Commissioner also links in with references in other legislation passed by this House dealing with people under the age of 18, such as the Children Act 1989. The title Children's Commissioner is therefore consistent with the general understanding of what is meant by statute in parliamentary legislation.

Mr. Llwyd: But equally, it is inconsistent with all statutes dealing with higher and further education.

Mr. Hanson: The commissioner will cover universities and higher education only in so far as they deal with those who are under the age of 18. We have to recognise that there is a definitive split-off point at the age of 18 for the commissioner's roles and responsibilities under the legislation. I emphasise again that the title is consistent with the general understanding of the age group covered by the term ``children'' in statute.

As I said in opening my remarks—this echoes what the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy said—I recognise that some teenagers may object to being referred to as children, but most members of the Committee will recognise that we need to have an unambiguous title that is as short as possible. Referring back to the appointments procedure for the Children's Commissioner for Wales, neither the Assembly nor the Wales Office has had any representations about the name of ``Children's Commissioner'' from any young people during consideration of the Bill.

Mr. Rowe: I have considerable sympathy with what the Minister is saying. The business of names is difficult to resolve. However, I wonder whether the Government have ever considered looking again at the thorny problem that has been around in our society for as long as legislation has—that the law alternates between the responsibilities of children, young people and adults in the most inconsequential way. We all know, for example, that people can get married at 16 but they cannot buy a drink. At some point, when Ministers have nothing else to do, they might like to consider, among other things, the opening paragraphs of the Kilbrandon report, which established children's hearings in Scotland. They would see what a wonderful portrait it paints of the anomalies at the time, and realise that, although they have changed, the anomalies remain every bit as incomprehensible now as they were then.

 
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