New Clause 5 - Consultation by the National Assembly for Wales

Part of Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 5:30 pm on 30th January 2001.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of David Hanson David Hanson The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales 5:30 pm, 30th January 2001

I am grateful for the comments from the hon. Member for Dorset, North. For the record and for the sake of clarity, I should declare again two interests that are connected with matters that he has raised: first, Mr. and Mrs. Kilshaw are my constituents; secondly, my wife, Councillor Margaret Hanson, is chair of Flintshire county council social services committee and is dealing with that case.

The hon. Gentleman is quite right to say that one of the Assembly's key functions will be to act as a central authority for the purposes of the 1993 Hague convention on the protection of children and co-operation in respect of inter-country adoption. New clause 5 would impose upon the Assembly an obligation to consult the commissioner in respect of the discharge of its responsibilities as the central authority in Wales for the purposes of that convention.

Continuing the sympathetic approach that I have tried to take in Committee, let me say that I have no problem with the commissioner having a view on how the assembly exercises that function. Under clause 3, he already has the power to review the exercise of all of the assembly's functions: he will be able to report on the outcome of the reviews and will be able to take a primary role in influencing and informing the way in which the Assembly exercises its functions in respect of adoption and the convention.

Where the hon. Gentleman and I differ, if we differ at all, is that I do not believe that it is sensible to confuse the commissioner's roles by making him a formal consultee on the discharge of functions that he could subsequently review. Clause 3 gives the commissioner the power to examine all those issues accordingly. The new clause would highlight the commissioner's adoption role, over and above many other roles that he will have, and I ask the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that. That is not to deny the necessity for the commissioner to take a strong interest in adoption issues; it is simply that the commissioner will and should have a range of roles. His involvement in adoption issues will simply be one of many areas on which he can comment.

In order, I hope, to help the hon. Member for North Dorset, I shall give the Government's view on the important issue that he raised of the Hague convention and its implementation. He will agree that that is a complex area of legislation and that it is vital to ensure that the provisions properly protect the interests of children in the United Kingdom. Section 14 of the 1999 Act, which inserts a new provision in the Adoption Act 1976, makes it an offence to bring a child into England and Wales for the purposes of adoption unless requirements prescribed in regulations have been complied with. The Government intend to enact the provision in advance of the main body of the 1999 Act to tighten controls over the assessment procedure. I am sure that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), will consult on the draft regulations shortly. I understand that the Assembly will also be involved in that consultation. I hope that that covers new clause 5, but I would welcome the hon. Gentleman's comments in due course. I emphasise that the new clause would elevate the adoption issue above many of the other issues with which the Children's Commissioner will have to deal.

New clause 6 would remove the National Assembly's statutory right to be formally consulted on the implementation of the 1999 Act. I understand why the hon. Gentleman tabled the new clause; obviously he wants to beef up, in his words, the commissioner's role on those issues. However, new clause 6 would remove the right of formal consultation from the Assembly and vest it in the commissioner, and that would be inappropriate, for several reasons. As I have tried to explain during the course of the Bill, the commissioner should be independent of the Assembly—he is a creature of the Assembly, funded by the Assembly, but is independent of the Assembly. The Assembly and the commissioner may take different views on a particular issue, which is right and proper. It is certainly right for the Assembly to hold strong views on such issues, but if we accepted new clause 6, the independent Children's Commissioner could have a view on an issue while the elected National Assembly did not. That is an important point.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—