Section 6 — Involving children and young people

Commissioner for Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill: Stage 3 – in the Scottish Parliament at 3:30 pm on 26 March 2003.

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Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

In line with Pauline McNeill's opening remarks, I congratulate the committee on its work. I also begin by apologising for introducing my amendment at stage 3. Saying that I was involved in the Water Environment and Water Services (Scotland) Bill and the Building (Scotland) Bill is not an excuse; it is simply my explanation for missing stage 2 committee meetings.

What lies behind amendment 1, which I may not press on hearing the convener's response, is the concern that I felt when I read section 6(2)(b). At the moment, the bill ensures that young people will have their views taken into consideration when the commissioner is deciding what work to undertake. I want to ensure that the voice of young people is a critical and continuing voice in the work of the commissioner. Young people should not be able to say only what they would like to see the commissioner doing; they should also be able to comment on the work that the commissioner is undertaking and to assess critically any work that has been undertaken in the past.

On the annual report being laid before the Parliament, I noticed that section 10(2)(d) states that the report will include

"the strategy for involving children and young people in the work of the Commissioner."

Will the convener of the committee assure me that we can ensure that the spirit of the bill relating to young people's continuing and critical voice in the work of the commissioner can be encompassed under that section, rather than under section 6(2)(b), which to me says that they will be able to comment only on forward planning rather than being able to assess critically work that has been undertaken?

I move amendment 1.

Photo of Karen Gillon Karen Gillon Labour

Section 6(1) places the commissioner under a general duty to encourage the involvement of children and young people in all his or her work. That is intended to ensure that the work is informed by the views of children and young people. The committee derived the approach from our view that the principles of consultation, participation and accessibility should underpin all the commissioner's work.

My understanding of amendment 1 is that it is meant to place a further duty on the commissioner to consult children and young people in the context of current work, and any reviews thereof, as well as on future work. I understand that it also intends to ensure consultation with children and young people on the commissioner's annual report.

I do not think that the amendment achieves what it intends. If a review of work involves looking back at work that has been completed—which is my understanding of a review—the amendment does not seem to cover on-going work. As for annual reports, I suggest that the amendment would have been clearer if it had been explicitly linked to section 10, which deals with annual reporting.

I will say emphatically for the Official Report that consultation as a duty will be a constant and crucial part of the commissioner's work. If the commissioner is not consulting and involving children and young people in their work, that will be a fundamental failure. However, it would be unrealistic to expect commissioners to be permanently engaged in consultation about all work that is being carried out, as they would then be able to do nothing else. The issue is about creating the right balance in how the commissioner carries out consultation and engages in inquiries and reports to the Parliament to enable us better to serve the children and young people whom we seek to serve.

In addition, the amendment's apparent aim—in particular, its use of the words "any reviews"—would result in a degree of confusion with section 6(4), which stipulates that the commissioner

"must prepare and keep under review a strategy for involving children and young people ... in accordance with this section."

Any such confusion would not be helpful.

Finally, ambiguity in the wording of the amendment might raise expectations that what is intended is a review of the kind of work that the commissioner is remitted to undertake—that is, a review of the commissioner's powers. The committee gave that matter careful consideration before we concluded that such a provision was not necessary. Instead, we envisage that once the office is established, the commissioner will wish to use his or her experiences to judge whether the powers that we have given are adequate. That could then be brought to the attention of the Parliament through the annual report.

I hope that the member will accept that children and young people are at the heart of the commissioner's work and that consulting and involving them is imperative to the post's success or failure. Given my explanation and assurances, I hope that she will withdraw amendment 1.

Photo of Fiona McLeod Fiona McLeod Scottish National Party

I am sorry that amendment 1 was perhaps not worded as carefully as it could have been. The amendment is a second draft and tries to ensure that the continuing voice of young people is heard. Given what the convener has said about that being the spirit of the bill—as I have always understood it to be—and her concern that amendment 1 would simply confuse matters, I seek leave to withdraw it.

Amendment 1, by agreement, withdrawn.