Clause 4 - Inquiries initiated by the Commissioner

Part of Children Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 14th October 2004.

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Photo of Don Touhig Don Touhig Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Wales), Department for Constitutional Affairs, The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Constitutional Affairs) (also in Wales Office) 2:30 pm, 14th October 2004

I welcome you, Dame Marion, to the Chair, and look forward to your guidance and direction throughout this sitting.

In response to the point made by my hon. Friend, I simply say that I hope that they would not be so childish. The Bill is intended to promote the interests of children. People may not like aspects of the Bill, but I hope that the fact that it gives power to the Minister to give directions to the commissioner for England will not mean that colleagues in other parts of the UK will feel unable to co-operate or work with that commissioner. Parliament, not the commissioner, will decide what powers the commissioner will have. He or she will in no way be able to influence that, and I hope that that will not happen.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North opened her remarks by saying that this is a good Bill. I understand her concerns about the powers of the commissioner in Wales, and the overlap of the powers of the English commissioner to investigate matters in Wales in reserved matters, but I am sure she would

agree that the narrow point on powers, which perhaps divides us, should not take away from the fact that the Bill will benefit children. She made the point that members of the Welsh Affairs Committee and others feel that the Children's Commissioner for Wales should have powers to look into matters currently reserved to the Government here in Westminster.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) asked where the buck stops. The buck stops here in Parliament, with us. That is the devolution settlement under which we are working; it was proposed by this Government, it was approved by Parliament and it received the consent of the Welsh people in a referendum. We are not, in this Bill, rewriting the devolution settlement. I must make it clear that the Government line has been, and remains, that the Children's Commissioner, appointed by the Government in Westminster, must have responsibility for matters within the remit of this Parliament. To do otherwise would, as I have said, be contrary to the devolution settlement, and outside the scope of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North went on to ask if the Government had done any detailed work on the possibility of a memorandum of understanding, which would allow the commissioners throughout the UK to work collaboratively. The short answer is no. We think that it would be wrong to do so, because it would pre-empt the commissioners and impinge on their independence. We consider that independence important, and we would expect the commissioners themselves to agree the protocols and the details of how they would work together.