Section 4 — Promoting and safeguarding rights

Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:28 pm on 26 March 2003.

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Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

I congratulate the Education, Culture and Sport Committee on what is a good piece of work. Initially, I had a bit of difficulty with the setting up of yet another commissioner's post by the Parliament, but after reading the bill, I believe genuinely that a good job has been done.

My amendment 2 seeks assurances from the committee about the context in which the commissioner would review law and practice. I am less concerned about practices in relation to children and more concerned about reviewing the law.

Whenever we set up a commission, which is an unelected body, the Parliament should consider carefully the commission's role and how it relates to the role of elected people. I want to ensure that the review of the law provided for in the bill happens in some kind of context.

I appreciate that it is clear in section 10 that there should be an annual report to Parliament. I see the connection between sections 4 and 10, but I would like the committee to reassure me that those two sections should be read in tandem and that any responsibility that the children's commissioner has for reviewing the law recognises the role of Parliament and elected members ultimately to decide what is best for the law relating to children, despite the fact that the commissioner has a role in that, too.

If I get the reassurances I seek, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.

I move amendment 2.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour 3:30, 26 March 2003

I understand the concerns that the member has, particularly in relation to the commissioner having the potential to usurp the supremacy of the Parliament.

I reassure the member that we have put several checks and balances in place to prevent that from happening. In particular, under section 4(2)(b), the commissioner will consider legislation, policy and practice relating to the rights of children and young people, a review of which could result, for example, in a recommendation and report to the Parliament under section 12, so it is already the case that any review of law, policy and practice could result in a report to Parliament.

Section 10 deals with the annual report, which must include the steps taken during the year to fulfil each of the commissioner's functions. Given that the duty to review in section 4(2)(b) is one of those functions, any review would be included in the annual report, which will include any recommendations that the commissioner wishes to make. In addition, the commissioner may at any time lay a specific report dealing with the review under the power at section 12.

Therefore, there are already sufficient checks in the bill to require the commissioner to report to the Parliament on such matters. One of the underlying principles of the bill is that the commissioner will work through recommendation and persuasion; the bill contains no powers that allow the commissioner to enforce any recommendations that he or she may have, nor to require implementation of any findings from the annual or other reports.

In other words, the only way in which to create real change is through the reporting mechanisms to the Parliament. It will be for the Parliament to take action on those issues if it so chooses, and we fully expect any successor committee to give careful consideration to any recommendations that the commissioner may outline in his or her report.

We have also been careful to avoid going too far, and placing the commissioner under the control of the Parliament. A large degree of independence from both the Parliament and the Executive is imperative to the success of the post. Rather, the bill sets out an appropriate system of checks and balances through the reporting mechanism. That will ensure that the commissioner promotes and safeguards the rights of children and young people, but does not cut across the proper function and rights of other bodies. That reflects one of the committee's key principles in developing the legislation.

I hope that I have provided the member with the necessary reassurances. The requirements for annual reporting, the power to bring other reports to the Parliament, and the lack of any other enforcement mechanism will ensure that the commissioner has no alternative but to bring his or her recommendations directly to the Parliament. The bill in no way impacts on the Parliament's supremacy. Given those assurances and the explanation, perhaps the member will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Pauline McNeill Pauline McNeill Labour

In view of the assurances that the convener of the committee has given, I am happy to withdraw amendment 2.

Amendment 2, by agreement, withdrawn.