Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

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

The Chairman: With this we may discuss new clause 4—Right of access to institutions—

    `( ) In section 74(3) of the Care Standards Act 2000 (examination of cases) before paragraph (a) insert—

    ``(a1) requiring persons to allow the Commissioner access to institutions which include children to whom this Part applies;''.'.

Mr. Griffiths: The new clauses are the result of concerns that have been raised by the Children in Wales Commissioner Campaign Group. Children in Wales has representative organisations affiliated to it in Wales, which include Save the Children, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Cymru, Barnardos Cymru, the Children's Society in Wales and representatives of professional bodies such as the Royal College of Paediatrics and the Institute of Child Health, the Wales branch. Children in Wales is a significant umbrella organisation, which combines voluntary bodies that work with children in Wales and professional organisations that care for children in Wales. As such, the two new clauses are important.

New clause 3 would remove the words

    ``or has been determined by''

from section 77(1) of the Care Standards Act 2000. It is important because the restriction on the commissioner threatens—I believe, and the Children in Wales Commissioner Campaign Group believes—to undermine seriously his role as a children's champion and whistleblower. The Children in Wales Commissioner Campaign Group does not want the commissioner to second guess court decisions or comment on matters that are sub judice. The group and I recognise that that would be entirely inappropriate. However, there will be circumstances in which the commissioner would need to speak out. My hon. Friend the Minister may be able to reassure me that there will be appropriate circumstances in which the commissioner might be able to refer to such matters.

Under the Bill, and according to my hon. Friend the Minister's responses so far, there is a degree of ambiguity and confusion as to the commissioner's powers to inquire into and comment on concluded criminal and other cases, including specific matters of concern raised by trial judgments and judgments arising. The restrictions under the Care Standards Act ban the commissioner from inquiring into or reporting on any matter in so far as it has been determined by a court or tribunal. I am aware of the Government's broad interpretation of the commissioner's role, as indicated by the Minister, and of their support for informal comment.

Although we appreciate that it is not a likely prospect for a decade or two, we must admit that the party in government can and does change. I am therefore taking a long-term view—such a change may even be half a century ahead, in which I case I will not be around—but it is right, given that this Bill can become an Act of Parliament, that we consider that distant prospect. Even when there are Governments of the same party but different Ministers, interpretations of the law can vary. It is right to take that into account, notwithstanding the supportive attitude of my hon. Friend. He has made it clear that the commissioner may comment informally on such cases, but I wonder whether that is sufficient. I know that the Children in Wales Commissioner Campaign Group believes that it is insufficient. It feels that the Children's Commissioner for Wales must be able to make informed judgments on which to base his comments. That will mean acquiring knowledge and understanding, which other bodies or persons may challenge as amounting to—in the context of the Bill—inquiring and reporting.

On the question of whether the commissioner is inquiring and reporting in making informal comments about cases and tribunals, even informal comments, because of the status of the Children's Commissioner's office, would have greater import and significance than those of most other individuals. That may give rise to legal challenges that such comments are, in effect, a violation of the clause. I hope that the Committee will recognise that that may put a restriction on the ability of the commissioner to initiate inquiries.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Four 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.
Powell, Sir Raymond
Rowe, Mr.
Touhig, Mr.
Walter, Mr.

 
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