Clause 3 - Review of exercise of functions of Assembly and other persons
Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill

Amendment moved [25 January]: No. 11, in page 2, line 23, after `Assembly,' insert—

`, with the consent of the Secretary of State'.— [Mr. Walter.]

10:30 am
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Mr Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside, Labour)

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 12, in page 2, line 33, at end insert—

`(2A) The Secretary of State may lay before Parliament an order to amend this section or Schedule 2A by—

(a) adding any person to that Schedule;

(b) omitting any person from that Schedule;

(c) altering the description of any person mentioned in that Schedule; or

(d) making provision specifying, in respect of a person mentioned in that Schedule and specified in the order, a function of the person which although exercisable in relation to Wales is not to be treated as such for the purpose of subsection (1)(b).'.

No. 13, in page 2, line 34, after `(2)', insert `or (2A)'.

No. 16, in clause 4, page 4, line 35, after `Assembly', insert

`, with the consent of the Secretary of State'.

No. 30, in page 4, line 45, at end insert—

`(5AA) The Secretary of State may lay before Parliament an order to amend this section or Schedule 2B by—

(e) adding any person to that Schedule;

(f) omitting any person from that Schedule;

(g) altering the description of any person mentioned in that Schedule; or

(h) making provision specifying, in respect of a person mentioned in that Schedule and specified in the order, services which although provided by the person are not to be treated as such for the purposes of the exercise of the Commissioner's functions.'.

No. 31, in page 5, line 1, after `(5A)', insert `or (5AA)'.

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Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset, Conservative)

I shall not repeat the arguments that I advanced at our previous sitting on Thursday 25 January as they are recorded in Hansard. Opposition Members are anxious to stick to the Bill's timetable, so, God willing, we shall complete our proceedings today.

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Mr James Gray (North Wiltshire, Conservative)

My hon. Friend may have inadvertently made a small error. We are under no commitment to end our proceedings in Committee today, although we may well do so.

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Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset, Conservative)

I was not making a commitment to finish our proceedings today, just saying that I hoped that we would be able to do so.

The amendments give powers to the Assembly and, more particularly, to the Secretary of State, to extend the Children's Commissioner's remit beyond those matters that are devolved to the National Assembly for Wales to non-devolved areas that may be described as cross-border issues. At our previous sitting, I referred to several issues, including some non-devolved issues that were specifically Welsh, such as S4C, whose privatisation the Conservative party is not favour of, which we compared with the Welsh Language Board, both of which may have areas that cross over with each other, yet the Children's Commissioner will have a remit over only one of those areas.

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Mr Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

One matter causes me concern. Amendments Nos. 12 and 30 would authorise the Secretary of State laying before Parliament orders to amend schedules 2A and 2B by

adding any person to that Schedule . . . omitting any person from that Schedule . . . altering the description of any person mentioned in that Schedule.

The amendments would give the Secretary of State much power and could be seen as an attempt by the Conservative party to ensure that if, in future, the electorate returns a Government of a different colour, the Secretary of State for Wales would possess greater powers than the National Assembly with regard to the welfare of children. That is another example of the Conservative party attempting to restrict the powers of the Assembly.

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Mr Win Griffiths (Bridgend, Labour)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to ask a question on the issue. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister will respond. Does the Secretary of State still have the power to make such orders? Under the Government of Wales Act 1998 and the devolution settlement, such powers would, by and large, have been passed to the National Assembly.

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Mr Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

I have similar suspicions about the issue. We must keep a clear focus on the fact that the Children's Commissioner for Wales is accountable almost exclusively to the National Assembly. We have previously debated widening the commissioner's remit to include non-devolved issues. When the hon. Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) sums up the debate, will he clarify some of the problems involved?

The commissioner has basic powers to monitor, review and report on all matters that may affect the human rights of children in Wales. That does not conflict with the devolution settlement. The commissioner could be given powers, similar to those of the Assembly under section 33 of the Government of Wales Act, to consider and make appropriate representation about matters affecting children in Wales. I am concerned that the amendments may water down the powers of the Assembly by transferring to the Secretary of State powers that could be adequately carried out by the Assembly.

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Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff North, Labour)

Like the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), I am concerned that the amendments appear to extend the devolution settlement by putting non-devolved matters into a list, but giving powers to the Secretary of State over devolved matters. Have the official Opposition thought about the implications of such amendments? Some of them are very prescriptive. For example, if the amendments were made, the National Assembly for Wales would not be able to change the name of the Care Council for Wales without the permission of the Secretary of State. The amendments have difficult implications, which the Opposition do not seem to have not thought through completely.

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Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset, Conservative)

Before we chase the issue, which was also raised by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, this, to use the words of the current Government, is joined-up government. We are trying to extend the powers of the Children's Commissioner so that his remit extends to cross-border and non-devolved matters. Clearly, the commissioner could not derive those powers from the National Assembly, because it has no remit over such matters. The Secretary of State, however, does. To join everything up, the amendment would bring the Secretary of State into the decision-making process in adding and subtracting people from the schedule. It is simply a case of joined-up government.

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Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff North, Labour)

I understand the points that the hon. Gentleman is making, but, as a consequence of the amendments, should the National Assembly for Wales wish to change the name of one of the bodies listed in the schedules, the Secretary of State would have to grant permission. That is not in the spirit of the devolution settlement.

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

Hon. Members will not be surprised to hear that I side more with the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire and my hon. Friends the Members for Bridgend (Mr. Griffiths) and for Cardiff, North (Ms Morgan) on the amendments than with the official Opposition, so it is back to normal.

I understand that the intended effect of the amendments is, as the hon. Member for North Dorset said, to widen the range of bodies that could be included in the commissioner's jurisdiction. That would be done through the framework that the hon. Gentleman mentioned of vesting order-making powers in the Secretary of State, rather than in the Assembly. The points made by my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire are valid.

The Committee has debated at length the principle of the commissioner's jurisdiction, which falls within devolved spheres and, therefore, relates to bodies with functions in the Assembly's devolved areas of responsibility, so the order-making power proposed in the amendments to add bodies in future should be underpinned by such a principle. The amendments are not consistent with the principle of allowing the Assembly maximum discretion in secondary legislation.

Clauses 3 and 4 give the Assembly discretion to amend the list of bodies proposed in schedules 2A and 2B, but they do so in particular defined circumstances, which are essentially those that I have often mentioned in Committee. The Assembly must have a locus in the devolved or shared responsibility for those bodies. The Bill requires the Secretary of State's consent only if the relevant body is not 50 per cent. funded by the Assembly. That is an important principle, but under the Bill the Secretary of State cannot add bodies unilaterally. That chimes with the comments of my hon. Friends and the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire.

That condition echoes the condition specified in the Government of Wales Act under which the Assembly may add bodies to the Welsh Administration ombudsman's remit. The most obvious examples of such bodies will be those whose functions span both devolved and non-devolved fields of responsibility. The Secretary of State may give his consent if the funding condition is not fulfilled, but the body would still have to have functions in devolved areas of responsibility.

I accept the spirit of the amendments, which would require the Secretary of State's consent in all circumstances. As my hon. Friends said, the amendments would also allow the Secretary of State to make orders amending the schedules. Given that the Bill relates solely to Wales and bodies with functions in devolved spheres of responsibility, I accept that it would be an unacceptable interference in the Assembly's responsibility to give an order-making power to the Secretary of State over aspects that are rightly the Assembly's responsibility.

If the Assembly's spheres of responsibility are to be extended in future, the range of bodies that the Assembly could add to the commissioner's jurisdiction, with or without the Secretary of State, would be extended accordingly, reflecting the wider range of bodies coming within the devolved field. Any extension of the Assembly's functions is a matter for primary legislation, considered by the House; further transfer of functions orders; further legislation; or motions and procedures that are subject to affirmative resolution and therefore open to consideration by hon. Members.

It is important to give the Assembly flexibility to examine its spheres of responsibility and not to allow the Assembly unilaterally to stray into non-devolved spheres or allow the Secretary of State unilaterally, without reference to the House, to add functions to the Assembly. Given the comments of the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire and my hon. Friends, those arguments—

10:45 am
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Mr Win Griffiths (Bridgend, Labour)

Is my hon. Friend saying that, constitutionally, it would be in order for the Secretary of State to have the order-making powers provided for in the Bill, although, technically, the Government of Wales Act handed those powers over to the Assembly. What is the constitutional propriety of that? Is anything permitted in relation to an Act of Parliament, simply because we do not have a written constitution?

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

If the Bill were to give the Secretary of State the powers mentioned by my hon. Friend, he could make the necessary orders. However, we must ask whether the House and the Assembly would consider that desirable; given the devolution settlement, I do not think that they would. The Assembly and the House can examine areas within their spheres of influence. If we adopted the amendments, we would give the Secretary of State greater influence over the daily running of the Assembly than is allowed under the devolution settlement.

I hope that the hon. Member for North Dorset will reflect on that and on the remarks made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, and withdraw the amendment.

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Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset, Conservative)

We are dealing with primary legislation, and it is within the House's power to legislate as it thinks fit throughout the United Kingdom. The Government of Wales Act 1998 should not act as a constraint on our powers. The areas devolved to the Assembly are not the only ones in which there is child abuse or a challenge to children's rights. Several bodies in Wales that have not been devolved to the Assembly under the Government of Wales Act 1998 should come within the remit of the Children's Commissioner.

I sensed, from some remarks, that the Act was perceived as a constitution in defiance of which we could not legislate. It is not; it is an Act of Parliament that gives devolved powers in secondary legislation and administrative matters to the Assembly. This House is the one that legislates, and it is appropriate that it should do in the interests of joined-up government. Under the Bill, the Assembly has discretion, but in relation only to devolved bodies. The Minister suggested that the Secretary of State would be involved in the list of bodies that might come under the commissioner's remit if there were certain levels of joint funding. The amendments would tidy up that process, giving order-making powers to the Secretary of State, not simply as an individual but with the consent of the House. Therefore, there would be a democratic constraint on him.

From the Minister's comments and from the tone of the interventions, I suspect that we will not win the argument at this point. However, we may readdress the matter on Report or in another place. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset, Conservative)

I beg to move amendment No. 14, in page 3, line 10, leave out

`by members of the public'.

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Mr Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside, Labour)

With this it will be convenient to take the following amendments:

No. 15, in page 3, line 12, leave out

`, or of steps taken following,'.

No. 34, in clause 4, page 5, line 24, leave out

`, or of steps taken following'.

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Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset, Conservative)

There is a point of principle here that the Committee should discuss. Amendment No. 14 deals with clause 3(5), which is a catch-all subsection. It states:

`An order under subsection (2) must not add to Schedule 2A a person whose sole main activity is—

(a) the investigation of complaints by members of the public about the actions of any other person;'

That means that if someone else is already involved in the game, the Commissioner cannot have a role to play. I am not sure that we would intend that constraint to fall on the Commissioner. It is entirely appropriate that in certain areas of activity, when other bodies are investigating complaints, the Commissioner may like to say, ``But the manner in which you are investigating those complaints is against the best interests of the children involved,'' and may wish to comment on the complaints procedure.

Complaints by members of the public could cover a range of activities. The one that springs to mind is police activity. We have already said that we feel that the Commissioner should have a remit when children are in police custody, and when the police are investigating crimes that are alleged to have been committed by children. We do not suggest that the Commissioner should investigate those crimes, but that he should have a say in the way in which children are treated in police custody.

In order to achieve that, it is appropriate to delete the reference to

``the investigation of complaints by members of the public'',

as amendment No. 14 would. Investigation of complaints by members of the public covers principally complaints against the police, but it could cover complaints against local government involving the ombudsman, where children are either the subject of the complaint, the complainants or witnesses to an investigation. To put that constraint on the Children's Commissioner could rule out his becoming involved. The Committee should think seriously about that. I am not entirely happy that the phrasing of our amendment will achieve the desired objective—the subsection may need a fundamental rewrite to put the point across—the reason for tabling the amdts, however, is to open up the discussion.

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Mr Win Griffiths (Bridgend, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman mentioned complaints relating to the police and to local government. In the latter case, an independently established ombudsman investigates complaints by members of the public. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Children's Commissioner should be able to investigate the ombudsman in case the latter does not do his job properly? If he is saying that about an independently established body such as the local government ombudsman, why not raise the same question about the Children's Commissioner himself? Yet that is gainsaid by the amdts. I understand about the police complaints authority, but not about independently established ombudsmen such as the one for local government.

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Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset, Conservative)

If the local government ombudsman were looking at a specific complaint of maladministration in a local authority social services department in relation to children's services, it would not be desirable, in the interests of joined-up government, for the Children's Commissioner to be silent on the matter while the ombudsman carried out his investigation. I want to find an accommodation within the Bill whereby the Children's Commissioner would be considered by the ombudsman to be the more appropriate body to consider that kind of complaint, rather than the ombudsman himself.

The amendments are probing and are intended to tease out where the line lies in relation to complaints about children's services, children in care or children in custody, when another complaints procedure exists. To rule the Children's Commissioner out of court in relation to such an investigation of complaints by members of the public is not necessarily the appropriate way forward. I shall be interested to learn how the Minister regards the interplay between the Children's Commissioner and other bodies with a view to making sure that complaints involving children, children's services, children in care or children in custody are satisfactorily investigated.

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Mr Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

The Minister needs to clarify this aspect of the Bill. I understand from what the hon. Member for North Dorset said that the amendment is probing, but it begs some questions. Subsection (5) states:

``An order under subsection (2) must not add to Schedule 2A a person whose sole or main activity is—

(a) the investigation of complaints by members of the public about the actions of any person''.

Under the amendment, the words

``by members of the public''

will be removed.

That would have many ramifications if, for example, a member of the public complained to the NSPCC about what was going on in a children's home, or if Children in Wales received a complaint. I would not want a member of the public not to have the right to make such representations, and have them examined, perhaps in relation to a complaint by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, which might then go to the Children's Commissioner.

Many of the amendments under consideration are of the same ilk and have the same function. Will the Minister tell the Committee how this part of the Bill should be interpreted? Amendment No. 34 would remove the words,

``, or of steps taken following''.

Presumably, the steps taken following an investigation have been thoroughly examined, and I would have thought that one of the commissioner's functions should be to look at the effect of those steps, which should improve the way in which children are treated in a certain place, or in general. A number of issues need to be spelled out, and I hope that they will be.

11:00 am
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Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff North, Labour)

The amendments are difficult to understand, but the hon. Member for North Dorset has said that they are not to be taken literally but are designed to explore the issues behind them. Those issues are important. They concern the relationship of the commissioner with other independent bodies that investigate complaints, and I shall be interested to hear what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say about that.

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

The provisions that the amendments would alter were inserted by the Government with a clear purpose, which I hope to be able to explain to the Committee. Essentially, it is to prevent the commissioner from reviewing the activities of other bodies set up to deal with complaints by members of the public or to monitor investigations by such bodies. My hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend brought much of his ministerial experience to bear in his intervention, which highlighted the Government's concerns. There is a similar provision in schedule 9 to the Government of Wales Act relating to the Welsh administration ombudsman. The key to the Government's position is the idea that there should not be confusion between the roles of broadly similar bodies.

The amendments have several different effects. Amendment No. 14 would restrict the order-making power further by preventing bodies from being subject to review by the commissioner if their principal activity were investigation of any complaint about the actions of anyone in particular. At present the restriction relates to bodies who investigate complaints by members of the public. The amendment appears to be intended to widen the restriction to encompass a body, if such a body existed, whose role was to investigate complaints other than those of the public. I hope that Opposition Members do not want to restrict the potential in the Bill to add bodies to the commissioner's jurisdiction where it is sensible to do so.

Amendments Nos. 15 and 34 would have the opposite effect. They would narrow the existing restrictions so as not to exclude bodies whose main activity might be to follow up an investigation. However, that activity is closely associated with the remaining words of the provision, which speaks of

``supervision or review of . . . an investigation''.

It would be more sensible to retain the provision as drafted.

I hear what hon. Members have said about the amendments. In essence, our aim is to ensure that there is not confusion between the roles of similar bodies. The Welsh local government ombudsman and the Children's Commissioner, have different roles in dealing with the public. It is important to have clarity about those roles and not to involve one body in examining the concerns of another body.

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Mr Win Griffiths (Bridgend, Labour)

In seeking my hon. Friend's advice and guidance, I am partly interpreting what I believe the Opposition are seeking to do, in one amendment at least. It would not be appropriate to specify the local government ombudsman in a schedule to this Bill, but if he were investigating a social services case involving child abuse, when the investigation was over and the recommendations made, would it be appropriate for the Children's Commissioner to say, ``Yes, I am pleased that this has been done. It was a good job on behalf of children.''? Or might he even say, ``Yes, this is really good—and it could be improved by local government doing this, that or the other,'' simply by way of informal advice?

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

That would depend on the context and the issues that arose, but I cannot see any difficulty. It is important to differentiate between the roles and responsibilities of the local government ombudsman and those of the Children's Commissioner, and the amendment could cause confusion in those roles, leading to difficulties in the interpretation of the Bill compared with that of other Acts of Parliament.

I recognise that many questions that hon. Members have raised may not have been adequately answered in detail, but the Government want to emphasise that the amendments might lead to confusion—and that confusion is exactly what the clarity of Bill is designed to avoid. I therefore ask the hon. Member for North Dorset to withdraw the amendment.

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Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset, Conservative)

I am a little worried that our concern seems to be about administrative convenience and neatness rather than the investigation of complaints about children's services. It is central to the Bill that children are the people about whom we are concerned. We are not necessarily concerned about the niceties of whether the local government ombudsman has his empire imposed upon by the Children's Commissioner. That is something that we as politicians must sort out in drafting legislation, and ensure that it has the best possible effect on the children we seek to protect.

As I have said, the amendments seek to tease out from the Minister his response to our concern that in order to preserve the remit of, for example, the local government ombudsman or any other ombudsman or investigatory body, we are limiting the powers of the Children's Commissioner. I am not sure that that is in the best interests of children. I am not sure that our probing amendments would be sufficient to achieve that end, but we were seeking the Minister's response. We may need to revisit the subject as we proceed, and their Lordships may want to look at it in the other place.

In that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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Mr Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside, Labour)

With this we will take the following amendments: No, 36, in schedule, page 8, line 3, at end insert—

`( ) Any police authority in Wales'.

No. 37, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Prison Service'.

No. 38, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Inland Revenue'.

No. 39, in line 3, at end insert—

`( ) the Air Training Corps in Wales'.

No. 40, in line 3, at end insert—

`( ) the Army Cadet Corps in Wales'.

No. 41, in line 3, at end insert—

`( ) the Combined Cadet Corps in Wales'.

No. 50, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Benefits Agency'.

No. 51, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Charity Commission'.

No. 52, in line 3, at end insert—

`( ) the Commission for Racial Equality'.

No. 53, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Crown Prosecution Service'.

No. 54, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Employment Service'.

No. 55, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Food Standards Agency'.

No. 56, in line 3, at end insert—

`( ) the Health and Safety Executive'.

No. 57, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) HM Customs and Excise'.

No. 58, in line 3, at end insert—

`( ) the Maritime and Coastguard Agency'.

No. 59, in line 3, at end insert—

`( ) the National Criminal Intelligence Service'.

No. 60, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) National Savings'.

No. 61, in line 3, at end insert—

`( ) Office of the National Lottery'.

No. 62, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Youth Justice Board'.

No. 63, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Radio Authority'.

No. 64, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the British Broadcasting Corporation'.

No. 65, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) Sianel Pedwar Cymru'.

No. 66, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Independent Television Commission'.

No. 67, in line 3, at end insert—`( ) the Child Support Agency'.

Hon. Members will have noted that part I of the schedule—the proposed schedule 2A to the Care Standards Act 2000—is closely tied to clause 3. I have therefore selected the proposed amendments to part I of the schedule for discussion during this clause stand part debate. I shall be content for hon. Members to discuss part I of the schedule more widely if it will make for a more effective debate. If hon. Members wish to put any of the amendments to the schedule to the vote, they should make that known to me or to my fellow Chairman. We shall call the amendments formally when we reach that part of the Bill.

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Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, Conservative)

I am grateful, Mr. Jones, for your guidance, as I am sure is the Committee. The Bill is a relatively short, and when I first looked at schedule 2A and went through the bodies mentioned in it, I wondered what connection some of them had with the Children's Commissioner for Wales. I scratched my head when I saw in the list a national park authority for a national park in Wales and the Arts Council of Wales, and wondered how the powers of the commissioner might impinge upon those various bodies, what recommendations he might make, what research or inquiries—

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Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, Conservative)

It is wonderful to see the hon. Gentleman. I am delighted to give way to him.

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Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Plaid Cymru)

Once again, he has not thought the matter through. For example, the Arts Council of Wales has a children's theatre.

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Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, Conservative)

I fully accept that when one thinks more deeply about the list it starts to make more sense. For example, why include the Royal Commission on Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales? I am not saying that children would not have an interest in those areas, but that does not readily spring to mind when we read the list of the various bodies in proposed new schedule 2A. Similarly, the Welsh Development Agency, the Welsh Language Board and the Welsh National Board for Nursing, Midwifery and Health Visiting are listed. Some suggest themselves more readily than others. What ties those bodies together is that the National Assembly for Wales has authority over them.

I do not wish to dwell on the issue because, as hon. Members will see, our amendments Nos. 36 to 41 and 50 to 67 list many other bodies, and I could quite easily stand here until 7 o'clock this evening saying something about each of them—[Interruption.] Excitement has built up in the Committee at that prospect.

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Mr Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside, Labour)

Order. The hon. Gentleman might be willing to stay here until 7 o'clock, but I am not.

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Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, Conservative)

I am sure that when you have read the reports of previous Committees that have dealt with various different bodies, Mr. Jones, you will have seen that detail was included about some of them. I do not intend to repeat any previous contributions that I might have made.

There seems to be general agreement that we want to ensure that the Children's Commissioner for Wales will not be straitjacketed in any way. The Minister has told us that the commissioner's budget is limited to approximately £800,000. We are told that he should concentrate on the core issues, and should not become involved in highly charged party political issues. At the same time, he will able to comment on issues outside the core areas, but in an informal way. I hope that that summation of the Children's Commissioner's role is accurate.

Our amendments would ensure that the Children's Commissioner in no way felt inhibited. We have listed a number of different bodies that suggest themselves as much as the bodies contained in proposed new schedule 2A. They do not fall within the direct powers of the National Assembly, so they are regarded as being outside the core areas. The bodies mentioned in our amendments, such as the Army Cadet Corps, the Combined Cadet Corps and so forth, are directly involved in services to children.

As for others, such as the Benefits Agency, we would not expect the Children's Commissioner to comment directly on the amount of money being given in benefits for children, but if there were any problems with the payment of benefits already announced by Government, or with the guidance to parents as to the benefits available, I would expect the commissioner to comment. He may not feel able to do that under the Bill as drafted, because the function is not a core function.

When the Government make announcements on social security matters, they can be complicated, especially if means-testing is involved, and claimants are required to fill out several pages of forms to claim the benefits. We all know that under successive Governments, some benefits have been underclaimed. Without going into the issue of fraud and overclaiming, we can agree that it would help people if forms were simplified, or if more information were made available to claimants. If the Benefits Agency were identified in the Bill, the Children's Commissioner would be able to examine the system of benefits involving children, and if he felt that the benefits could be better explained, he could get involved.

The Employment Service suggests itself readily, because children will be employed. I declare an interest in that I believe that we have paper boys and girls in our shop in Swansea—we certainly did when I was a youngster. They would not fall directly within the purview of the Employment Service, but, in the light of various experiences, the commissioner may want to make recommendations. The Food Standards Agency clearly suggests itself.

The amendments also refer to the British Broadcasting Corporation, the Independent Television Commission and Sianel Pedwar Cymru, which is safe in our hands. Children watch television, obviously, so the content of programmes is important. Everyone considers himself an expert and comments on that subject. It will not be a core area for the commissioner, but he may want to comment on aspects of programming or the amount of time spent by children in front of the television.

The commissioner may also want to issue guidance and make recommendations about new technology, and the content and availability of the internet in particular. We must make the Bill relevant to the 21st century. There is a digital divide, in that some people have constant access to the internet, while others have none. Children who cannot enjoy the benefits of the internet will be disadvantaged.

In addition to those bodies, we should not forget the Radio Authority—radio is vital. I will not add anything to what I said about the Child Support Agency, as I have already given a lengthy disposition on the subject.

The Government should state why they feel that the Children's Commissioner's power would be sufficient without amending the Bill. I do not claim that our amendments are fully comprehensive, as other bodies might be added. The National Assembly for Wales would not be able to add bodies beyond the area for which it has responsibility without the permission of the Secretary of State for Wales. That is why we devised a list of bodies on which children's issues might impinge. We hope that the commissioner will not be constrained in that respect.

11:15 am
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Mr Win Griffiths (Bridgend, Labour)

I hope that I do not cause any consternation to my hon. Friend the Minister in saying that I sympathise with the thrust of the amendments. I am pleased that the Opposition's concerns about the fate of children have led them to make a total reverse, or U-turn, in their attitude towards devolution. If the amendments were accepted, the role of the Assembly would be hugely expanded through the Children's Commissioner. They would also drive a cart and horses through the Government of Wales Act—although, during the passage of that Act, the Opposition spent all their time trying to minimise the role of the Assembly.

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Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, Conservative)

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's comments are causing consternation on the Government Benches, but they certainly are on the Opposition Benches. I have no intention of doing what he suggests. Children come first in our minds as we debate the Bill, so we want to give the commissioner power to overlook those areas that involve children. The Assembly can make whatever statements it likes on subjects that impinge on it. I hope that the annual report, which, it is recommended, should be laid before the Assembly, is laid also before the House, as I am sure that hon. Members will want to comment on services provided for children in Wales.

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Mr Win Griffiths (Bridgend, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman almost took up the point that I wanted to make. Given what has been said in Committee and on Second Reading, and in the light of the Government of Wales Act and the power of other Departments, it would not be appropriate to accept the amendments. Nevertheless, my hon. Friend the Minister has made it clear that the commissioner should not be constrained in commenting on anything that affects children in Wales. In an earlier debate, we also made it clear that the appropriate way to give added strength to what the commissioner says would be to channel his remarks and observations through the National Assembly. The Government of Wales Act could deal with that at an official level, through the Secretary of State for Wales into the Cabinet. If changes in primary legislation were needed, that would be the appropriate way to make them. The mechanisms are in place without having to include all those bodies in the Bill.

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Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Plaid Cymru)

The debate mirrors earlier debates in Committee. Although it is important, I suspect that the amendment was tabled to initiate further debate on the subject of an exhaustive list. The Minister rejected wording, similar to that of section 33 of the Government of Wales Act, which would have been appropriate and would have included in the Bill an overarching power for the Commissioner to investigate all matters affecting children in Wales. The wording in that Act is:

`may consider, and make appropriate representations about, any matter affecting Wales'.

All we need are the words ``any matter affecting children in Wales''. The Government have rejected that and I suspect that, argue as we will, there will be no change in the Bill. That is unfortunate. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Bridgend says, ``Do not be so pessimistic''. He may know more than I do, and I hope that he is right.

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Mr Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside, Labour)

Order. The hon. Gentleman should address the Chair. Sedentary remarks are not recorded.

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Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Plaid Cymru)

I wonder whether the hon. Member for Bridgend knows more than I do. I hope—no doubt as you do, Mr. Jones—that the hon. Gentleman's qualified optimism will be rewarded later in Committee. I hope that I am in order in making those remarks.

This is the crux of the matter. All hon. Members want the commissioner to be able to deliver the necessary services on behalf of the children of Wales. The wording of section 33 would cover the issue perfectly. Plainly, there will be no movement on the amendment, because of what was said in earlier debates, but will the Minister think again about an extension in the Bill? In our debates on Tuesday last week, Labour Members—especially the hon. Member for Cardiff, North—said that, because of his status, the commissioner would be able to ask for information from various Departments. I come again to my honest belief that, unless it is written into the Bill, Departments will not feel under any pressure to send anything to the commissioner, least of all anything of moment or of relevance to the matter in hand.

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Ms Julie Morgan (Cardiff North, Labour)

My recollection of what I said in those debates is that any comment of the commissioner would be of sufficient status for it to be noticed. My reference was generally to comments.

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Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Plaid Cymru)

I am grateful to the hon. Lady, but what comment will the commissioner be able to make without knowing what he is commenting on? The commissioner will be viewed as an animal of the National Assembly, so it is only devolved matters that he will be entitled to consider in any depth. The commissioner may comment on various non-devolved matters until the cows come home, but without some reference to the extension of his remit, the Bill will be just words, and nothing else.

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Mr Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

I shall reinforce the argument of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who made some pertinent points. We are discussing clause stand part as well as the amendments, which would bring almost exclusively non-devolved organisations into the remit of the Bill. They remind me of an ancient west country rhyme; they should be called the ``Old Uncle Tom Cobbleigh and all'' amendments. The only things missing are references to Bill Brewer, Jan Stewer and so on.

None the less, I have some sympathy with the amendments. The organisations to which they refer are missing from the Bill. The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy referred to amendment No. 42, which is not now before us. It was a catch-all amendment and stated:

``The Commissioner may make appropriate representations . . . about any matter affecting the rights or welfare of children ordinarily resident in Wales.''.

The amendments make up a shopping list of various non-devolved organisations. I draw the Committee's attention to the position of the Army, junior leaders and regiments. Matters relating to them were dealt with in Wales. Indeed, matters of discipline and other unfortunate incidents were dealt with in my constituency. The Ministry of Defence has now referred such matters to Lichfield in Staffordshire, where all young soldiers, whether from Wales or elsewhere, are trained.

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Mr Win Griffiths (Bridgend, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman may or may not know that the South Wales Borderers were first established by a corps of troops from Lichfield.

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Mr Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

I shall not go too far down the road to Lichfield. The 24th Regiment was originally founded further east, but settled in Brecon, in my constituency, which is where the hon. Gentleman comes from.

What might happen to young Welsh people could happen outside Wales. Four or five years ago, there was a scandal concerning the treatment of young Welsh soldiers in Lichfield. Surely such matters would be of interest to a Children's Commissioner for Wales. If I had pushed amendment No. 42 a little further, it would have taken care of the amendments under discussion. I hope to return to the matter later in our proceedings. The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans) are honourable, but they make up a shopping list of organisations. Given what the hon. Member for Bridgend said from a sedentary position, perhaps the Government may come up with an appropriate amendment, and a solution can be found to the problem.

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

We must recognise the powers that clause 3 gives the Children's Commissioner. That is the key extension of the commissioner's role. It takes the commissioner's functions way beyond those envisaged by the Care Standards Act 2000, which concerned complaints, advocacy and whistleblowing procedures—important though those activities are. The clause gives scope for the commissioner, in the words of the National Assembly's report, to

``raise the profile of children's issues and take an overview of the impact of policies and procedures''.

We must recognise, before we discuss the amendments tabled, that the clause is extremely important in giving extra powers to the commissioner. It introduces a new power for the commissioner to review the exercise or proposed exercise of functions by the National Assembly and other bodies in Wales. The bodies listed in the schedules extend beyond those that provide direct services to children, several of which have been mentioned by Opposition Members. The clause will enable the commissioner to review the impact on children and young people of a wide range of public bodies operating in areas such as economic development, town and country planning, transport, sport and recreation, as well as more obvious areas such as education, training and health care.

The bodies listed are those with significant executive functions in Wales, within the Assembly's areas of responsibility. Before I address the amendments, I want the Committee to recognise that clause 3 and the schedule will give the new Children's Commissioner a wide, roving brief to raise the profile of children's issues across a vast sweep of the public sector in Wales. We must not forget the impact of the clause and the extra powers that it will give to the Children's Commissioner.

I have said previously, and I hope that I have made my views clear to the Committee, that the Government are sympathetic to the need to give the commissioner a wide role. The degree to which we are prepared to do that is reflected in the long list of bodies in schedules 2A and 2B. However, for the sake of clarity, I shall say again that one fundamental principle underlies the selection of those bodies, the presumption of clause 3 and our approach to the roles and responsibilities of the Children's Commissioner for Wales. That underlying principle is that the commissioner is the creation of the National Assembly, with Government support, and of the legislation that we have enabled the Assembly to enact. It is therefore right and proper that the commissioner's functions should coincide with the Assembly's areas of responsibility. I recognise what the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy said in that regard, but that is the point that we have reached. As my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend pointed out, I have said that there are areas in which the commissioner can examine issues, as they arise, beyond that statutory role. However, it is right and proper that the commissioner's core functions should be specified in the Bill.

11:30 am
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Mr Robert Walter (North Dorset, Conservative)

I listened carefully to what the Minister said about the bodies listed in the schedule being those operating in areas in which the Assembly has responsibility. One of the amendments would add the Food Standards Agency to that list. I understand that, under the Food Standards Act 1999, the agency is responsible to the National Assembly, as it is to this House and the Scottish Parliament. Would not the food that our children eat and their dietary requirements be an appropriate matter for the commissioner? Should not the Food Standards Agency therefore be added to the list?

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be aware that there is a Food Standards Agency in England, and the chairman of the agency, Sir John Krebs, also has a UK responsibility. It is a joint England and Wales body, and the Assembly may, if it so wishes, add it to the list, by order, in due course. No great problems therefore exist in relation to that issue, as it falls within an area in which the Assembly has responsibility.

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Mr Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, Plaid Cymru)

I want to take the Minister back to what he said, before the intervention by the hon. Member for North Dorset, about the commissioner commenting more widely on matters affecting children in Wales. Does he not agree that the last thing a commissioner will do is to stray from the strict statutory definition of his office, at least in the first few years, as he would be finding his way with the 24 bodies concerned, and the other bodies listed in schedule 2B? The commissioner will therefore be hampered in the performance of his duties in the initial few months. The Minister said more than once that he would be able to comment on things outside the strict definition of devolved matters. However, I have heard no example being given.

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

I refer the hon. Gentleman to column 72 of the Official Report of Thursday's sitting, when I responded to the points that he made on Tuesday about the substantive difference between what is in the Bill and some of the core issues.

The substantive difference is that the commissioner should comment on core activities—those that are the responsibility of the National Assembly. I must have answered the hon. Gentleman's point to the satisfaction of the Committee, because the amendment was withdrawn. The commissioner can comment on issues more broadly, but there are core functions in relation to which the commissioner must have a role and responsibility. Those functions fall within the responsibilities of the National Assembly as determined by the schedule and reinforced by clause 3, which gives additional powers to the Commissioner.

It is important to keep clear in our minds the distinction between the role of the commissioner and the role of routine child protection arrangements. I have tried to explain to the Committee that the commissioner has a role in ensuring that provisions for protecting children from abuse operate effectively. However, the office is not intended in any way to be a routine part of the regulatory regime. I emphasise that the commissioner cannot replace statutory agencies. He has a wider role in the promotion of children's interests, but is not intended to replace or duplicate those statutory agencies.

In relation to bodies listed in the amendments that have direct contact with children, such as the Prison Service and the Combined Cadet Force, controls exist that are designed to prevent abuse and harm to children within their care or responsibility, and those include the vetting of individuals. I shall take the example given by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire of the army corps based in his constituency. Having consulted the Ministry of Defence, I assure him that systems are in place to protect children and young people in the Army cadet force, the Air Training Corps and the Combined Cadet Force from abuse. For example, in the Combined Cadet Force, the head of service is responsible and ultimately accountable to the Ministry of Defence to ensure that all adult volunteers are vetted as suitable for working with children. Mechanisms are in place to examine the child protection needs within that type of service.

Similar provisions apply to many of the other bodies listed in the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley. Two of the bodies listed—the Charity Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality—are independent watchdogs in their own right. As was said in the previous debate, it would therefore not be appropriate for the Children's Commissioner's jurisdiction to extend to other commissioner-type bodies, even if they fell within devolved areas of responsibility.

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Mr Richard Livsey (Brecon and Radnorshire, Liberal Democrat)

The Minister mentioned bodies operating in Wales. As we all know, people involved in such activities must be vetted. Currently, quite a large charge must be paid for that service by bodies such as the scouts. I understand that the problem has been overcome in Scotland, and that people do not have to pay for the vetting service. Has he any news on the subject in relation to Wales?

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

I shall examine the matter. . The Government are deeply committed to the voluntary sector, and we recognise the important work that is done. We fully understand the anxieties that have been expressed about the difficult issue of charging a fee. The bureau is working closely with users, and we are examining the issues being raised.

The hon. Gentleman will agree that despite the anxieties that have been expressed, the paramount issue is that we need to provide effective and efficient safeguard systems for the welfare of children. I hope that fees will be kept to the minimum necessary to recoup costs, and that they will be reviewed in the light of the bureau's operations in due course—but we are slightly straying off the point, because such matters are currently being examined. I should like to return to the main part of the debate.

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Mr Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid Kent, Conservative)

Not only is vetting an expensive exercise for voluntary organisations, among others, but it is absolutely indispensable that the information available be of the highest possible quality. If volunteers are going to have their reputations destroyed because the records are hopeless, it will do huge and lasting damage. I understand that at the moment such records are shaky.

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

We would all agree that accurate records should be available, which reflect the quality of those who work with young people. I am sure that my colleagues in the Home Office will be working towards that end.

My key point, which relates to the issues raised by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, is that mechanisms are in place, and the bureau will help those mechanisms to ensure that people who work with children and young people in the bodies listed in the amendments have the security to ensure that abuse is prevented as far as possible.

To return to the key issue, the—

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

Both the clause and the amendments that were tabled to it are about trying to define the role of the Children's Commissioner. I believe that the clause acts strongly to define and strengthen that role, and I have explained the differences between the amendments and the clause.

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Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, Conservative)

I can understand why the Minister wants to move off the point about fees, but we shall drag him back to it, because it is important, especially in cross-border areas. He said that he and his colleagues were examining the issue, but it is a cross-border issue, and it must be examined in Scotland, Wales and England—and in Northern Ireland, too, if it applies there. I am sure that we would all like there to be no fee. Everyone agrees that the requirement for such searches is intended to protect youngsters, but in all voluntary bodies involved with youngsters, enormous pressure is placed on youngsters and parents to pay fees weekly or monthly. The charges may eat into those subscriptions, which is wrong.

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Mr David Hanson (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Welsh Office; Delyn, Labour)

Because of the focus of our debate, I shall not discuss the criminal records bureau. I worked in the voluntary sector for many years before entering the House, and the Government fully understand the anxieties that have been expressed in the voluntary sector about the difficult issue of charging a fee. Fees will be kept to the minimum necessary to recoup costs, and in due course the Government will review fees in the light of the bureau's operation.

To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire, mechanisms are already in place to examine the bodies listed in the amendments tabled by the hon. Member for Ribble Valley, so I ask him not to press those amendments.

Clause 3 is important. It adds powers, gives strength and develops the role of the Children's Commissioner, but it does so in the context of the National Assembly's roles and responsibilities. The amendments would extend the devolution process. On reflection, the hon. Member for Ribble Valley will probably recognise that we should supply the commissioner with core functions and allow him to comment on matters outside those functions. I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press his amendment to a Division; if he did so, we would have to oppose it.

11:45 am
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Mr Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley, Conservative)

The list of bodies has been referred to as a shopping list—and that is what it is. It is not the most convenient or tidiest way of introducing a wider remit into the Bill, as the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy said. I agree with him, too, that in the first few years, the commissioner will have to concentrate on the core issues, because he will be feeling his way. It will take him a long time to bed in, so I am delighted that the post is up and running, and that he is working to make his role known to the various bodies throughout Wales.

It was never the intention of our amendments that the commissioner should replace or duplicate the powers of statutory bodies, but that he should monitor, investigate and comment upon them. We intended the commissioner to make recommendations, and the National Assembly for Wales to consider and debate his comments. If any changes were needed in primary legislation, they would go through the post-devolution procedure. Those routes are complicated and not everyone fully understands them, but I hope that comments made during the procedure would be fully heard here at Westminster. The Secretary of State for Wales should consider the commissioner's recommendations carefully, and speak at the Cabinet table. It should be part of the Secretary of State's role to listen to the Assembly and the commissioner, and if he believes that legislative time is necessary in which to protect our youngsters further, to say so.

I am sure that we will revisit those matters, because there is a consensus in the Committee that the commissioner should not be hamstrung. Each of our attempts to put something into the Bill that would give the commissioner confidence in dealing with areas outside the devolved matters has been hit back by the Minister. However, there may be other opportunities. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendments.

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Mr Barry Jones (Alyn and Deeside, Labour)

The hon. Gentleman did not formally move any of the amendments, so he does not require permission to withdraw them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.