Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

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Mr. Hanson: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his suggestion, and I am sure that in due course the Government will examine some of those concerns. I am afraid that I cannot do more than soak up the suggestion this morning and reflect upon it, because there are myriad departmental responsibilities in the areas that he has mentioned. There are certainly issues that could be explored, and before he retires, there may still be opportunities for private Member's legislation on those subjects.

I return to what I was saying about having had no representations. That is important in the context of the appointment procedure for the Children's Commissioner because, as hon. Members will know, the National Assembly involved young people and children in that procedure. Many 16 and 17-year-olds were involved, and none of them commented on the fact that the word ``children'' appeared in the title. Young people themselves seem to recognise the appropriateness of using the title Children's Commissioner.

Ms Julie Morgan: I agree with my hon. Friend about using a short title that is easily recognisable and usable, and which has been accepted by young people in Wales. Does he not agree that the important point is how the commissioner operates in relation to the different age groups that come under the banner of ``children''? Will he make certain that all his communications and his efforts to reach disadvantaged children are made in a way, and in language, that recognises the whole range of ages under that banner?

Mr. Hanson: I do agree. It is important for the Children's Commissioner to reach out to all children and young people within his sphere of influence.

I return to the fact that we have several issues before us: current legislation and the definition of children, the anticipation that the Children's Commissioner post has generated and the understanding of it over the past 12 months, and also the general recognition of the title Children's Commissioner on a worldwide basis. All that leads me to say that that title reflects the needs, wishes and aspirations of children generally. I sympathise with the points that have been made and, in echoing what my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North has said, I hope that the Children's Commissioner, once fully in post and with the new powers that we have given him in the Bill, will devise a strategy to ensure that all people within his jurisdiction in Wales feel that they can approach him, that he reaches out to them, and that the activities that he undertakes reflect all their needs.

I hope that the hon. Member for North Dorset understands where the Government stand on the issue and that, on reflection, he will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Walter: I hear what the Minister says, and I am grateful for the support of other hon. Members. I suspect, however, that this may be an academic discussion because, as we saw with the Government of Wales Act 1998, giving titles to posts in the Welsh Assembly does not seem to mean that those who hold them are in any way limited to using those titles. They seem to be able to make up their own titles as they go along. The First Secretary has become the First Minister, and the other Secretaries also call themselves Ministers.

To turn to the more serious point—that is not to say that renaming posts in the Welsh Assembly is not serious—although my own children are well beyond being teenagers, I still refer to them as children, despite the fact that they are in their 20s. None the less, I am sure that they would have been exceedingly upset if public bodies had referred to them as children, even when they were 16, 17 or 18 years old and entering higher education. As my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent said, some anomalies are involved in that people may marry at 16 but cannot drink until they are 18, and there are various other things that they cannot do until they are 21. None the less, not necessarily during the passage of the Bill but as the Children's Commissioner starts work, we shall revisit the question of whether it would be more appropriate to call him the Children's and Youth Commissioner for Wales. In the light of what has been said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Commissioner's annual report

    `After section 77 of the Care Standards Act 2000 insert—

    ``77A. The Commissioner shall lay a report before Parliament annually. It shall:

    (a) provide details of the Commissioner's work in the course of the year;

    (b) provide a breakdown of the Commissioner's total expenditure for the year; and

    (c) make any recommendations about the scope of the Commissioner's remit as the Commissioner may deem necessary.''.'.—[Mr. Evans.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

12.30 pm

Mr. Evans: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

New clause 1 is fairly straightforward. It would make three alterations. It states:

    ``The Commissioner shall lay a report before Parliament annually.''

Much has been said about the Assembly's ability to ask the Children's Commissioner to report on various issues, and no doubt an annual report will be laid before the National Assembly for Wales. As the Committee has discussed, the commissioner may want to comment on non-devolved aspects even though they are not core issues for him, and no doubt he will do so in a report to the National Assembly. Forty Members of Parliament represent Welsh constituencies, and they all have an interest in matters affecting Wales and children, as is clear not only from this debate but from other debates on the Floor of the House. It is only right that if the commissioner wants to comment on non-devolved aspects, a report should be laid before this House.

Paragraph (c) of proposed new section 77A of the Care Standards Act refers to making

    ``any recommendations about the scope of the Commissioner's remit as the Commissioner may deem necessary.''

After 12 months of operating under the Bill, the Children's Commissioner may say that he feels constrained in certain areas, and he may want to make recommendations about his own powers. As primary legislation may be necessary to alter those powers, it is only right to encourage him to examine them and find out whether there is anything else that he might want to say about them.

The commissioner may comment on secondary legislation introduced in the National Assembly for Wales, and he may, as we have discussed ad nauseam, want to comment on primary legislation. He should be able to comment on any primary legislation that affects children in Wales. He may easily comment informally, but his report to Parliament would enable him to do so in a more detailed fashion. As primary legislation is introduced here, surely we should be able to examine his comments. Paragraphs (a) and (c) would enable us to do that, and paragraph (b) would provide a breakdown of the commissioner's total expenditure for the year, which would enable us to consider more carefully how money is spent.

Several members of the Committee have advanced the case for the commissioner's having extra powers. The hon. Member for Bridgend spoke about his role in education about the human rights of children, and in facilitating research on that subject, which would cost money. I assume that under his current powers, he will be able to advance research on all devolved aspects. That would cost a certain percentage of his money, and it is only right for us to have a full breakdown so that we can examine the pressures on his budget.

It would help the Treasury and the National Assembly for Wales to examine whether the Children's Commissioner would be more effective if more resources were pumped into specific areas. That would also give hon. Members an opportunity to see whether there was a lack of monitoring in some areas because of lack of money. That could certainly come out under paragraph (b). New clause 1 is straightforward and I hope that the Government will look favourably upon it. It is not radical, but it enables hon. Members to take an active interest in what the Children's Commissioner is doing, especially with regard to primary legislation, which resides at Westminster.

Ms Julie Morgan: The new clause should be resisted. It is linked with previous amendments tabled by Conservative Members, and would undermine the devolution settlement. The report is the property of the National Assembly, and if the Assembly wished to take it further by channelling it to the House, that would be acceptable. The new clause undermines the principles according to which the National Assembly has created the post and set aside money from its budget to implement and operate it. If we start to interfere with the budget, that will cause difficulties.

Mr. Win Griffiths: My hon. Friend has raised an important point about the annual report and the position of Members of Parliament. Is it not true that, with the systems already established, right hon. and hon. Members of this House have pretty direct access to documents published by the National Assembly, and can obtain them in much the same way as parliamentary reports?

Ms Morgan: Yes, we do get easy access to all reports produced by the National Assembly. Writing into the Bill that the commissioner's report should be submitted to this Parliament would undermine the way in which the system works. The Children's Commissioner should have wide-ranging powers, but his ability to comment and make representations on any powers that he has—or wishes that he had—should be channelled via a report to the National Assembly. The amendment should be resisted.

Mr. Llwyd: This is an example of rather muddled thinking. The commissioner has been set up by the National Assembly for Wales and is answerable to that Assembly. His over-arching remit is devolved matters, so how on earth can this House second-guess whether he or she did the right thing, when it has no responsibility for devolved matters? That is the first muddle.

 
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