HC Deb 02 March 1998 vol 307 cc800-1

'In Schedule 2 to the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 at the appropriate place insert:— The National Assembly for Wales".'.—[Mr. Jenkin.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

9.30 pm
Mr. Jenkin

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Second Deputy Chairman

With this, it will be convenient to discuss the following: New clause 33—Assembly to be subject to investigation by Commission for Local Administration'In section 25(1) of the Local Government Act 1974 at the end insert: (e) the National Assembly for Wales".'.

New clause 41—Ombudsman for Wales—

'.—(1)The Assembly shall make provision for the investigation of relevant complaints made to its members in respect of any action taken by or on behalf of a member of the executive committee in the exercise of functions conferred on the members of the executive committee.

(2) For the purposes of subsection (I), a complaint is a relevant complaint if it is a complaint of a kind which could be investigated under the Parliamentary Commissioner Act 1967 if it were made to a member of the House of Commons in respect of a Government department or other authority to which that Act applies.

(3) In making provision of the kind required by subsection (1), the Assembly shall have regard to (among other things) the Act of 1967.

(4) The provision required by subsection (1) shall include the appointment by the Assembly of a National Assembly for Wales Commissioner for Administration.

(5) In this section, "action" includes failure to act (and related expressions shall be read accordingly); and the references to the Act of 1967 are to that Act as it has effect on the commencement of this section.'.

Mr. Jenkin

I shall be very brief because I should be grateful to the Minister for an answer.

There is no provision in the Bill for an ombudsman to investigate complaints of maladministration by the assembly or those bodies for which it has responsibility. We could give many examples of where an ombudsman would be an appropriate port of last call for members of the public with grievances. The House has an ombudsman; local government has an ombudsman. Is there an ombudsman to whom people could apply in this case?

Mr. Wigley

I wish to speak to new clause 41, which proposes an ombudsman for Wales, making slightly different provision from that suggested by the Conservative new clauses 32 and 33, which give that responsibility either to the parliamentary ombudsman or to the local government ombudsman. Our new clause provides the facility for a specific ombudsman for the National Assembly for Wales. Whichever course is chosen, it is essential that there is recourse to an ombudsman.

Mr. Livsey

Liberal Democrat Members agree with what the right hon. Member for Caernarfon (Mr. Wigley) has just said, but if what he proposes is not possible, we propose that the assembly be subject to investigation by the parliamentary commissioner. We do not believe that investigation by the commissioner for local administration in Wales, as is suggested in new clause 33, is appropriate.

Mr. Win Griffiths

I was fully prepared to take short speeches from all the Opposition parties because we believe—as we have shown in our actions—that an important part of the process of passing the Bill is to listen to what people have to say.

The House may recall that, in the White Paper, we said that we would wish to extend the jurisdiction of the parliamentary commissioner to cover the work of the assembly. However, after considering the matter, and at the suggestion of the parliamentary commissioner, Michael Buckley, we felt that it would be better to create a separate office of the assembly ombudsman. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State informed the House of that on Second Reading.

It is our intention to create a new office of the assembly ombudsman. We would expect constituents to bring their appeals to the ombudsman through their Member of the Assembly, as constituents bring appeals to the parliamentary commissioner through their Member of Parliament. It would be up to the assembly to decide whether it wanted its own free-standing ombudsman or whether it would place itself at the disposal of the parliamentary ombudsman. However, we shall table an amendment, and when we do so there will be an opportunity to discuss the detail. Therefore, I hope that the motion will be withdrawn.

Mr. Jenkin

It has been drawn to my attention that, in view of our previous debates, it might be more appropriate to call the person an ombudsperson rather than an ombudsman, because I believe that we want gender-neutral language in the Welsh assembly. That rather underlines the pointlessness of the exercise. I am grateful to the Minister for his comments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Forward to