HC Deb 05 May 2004 vol 420 cc1321-2
1. Mr. Martin Caton (Gower) (Lab)

What representations he has received from the Children's Commissioner for Wales on the Children Bill. [169181]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Wales (Mr. Don Touhig)

I recently met the Children's Commissioner for Wales to discuss his work and the impact on that work of the Children Bill. I have also met the all-party group on children in Wales. The Bill will provide the basis for further strengthening of local services for children and young people in Wales, giving them the start in life they so richly deserve.

Mr. Caton

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply, but is it not the case that the Welsh commissioner, his opposite numbers in Scotland and Northern Ireland and voluntary organisations working with children in Wales all say that the proposal in the Bill to create an English commissioner with responsibility for non-devolved matters over other parts of the UK is mistaken? Surely, the best way forward for all children in the UK is certainly to have an English commissioner, with responsibility for all children and all policy aspects in England, but to extend the remit of the other commissioners in the UK to cover non-devolved matters.

Mr. Touhig

The post of Welsh commissioner was set up by the National Assembly in response to the Waterhouse report and to support the Assembly's rights-based strategy for children. The Government's new agenda for children is focused on our key outcome—improving children's lives. The role of the children's commissioner in England was designed with a different agenda in mind, and a key role for the commissioner will be to monitor progress on our priority outcomes for children. As responsibility for non-devolved matters lies at Westminster, it is appropriate that they come under the responsibility of a commissioner who reports to Ministers who answer to this House, so I do not agree with the last part of his question.

Hywel Williams (Caernarfon) (PC)

Following the extraordinary performance by the Minister for Children yesterday, the question for the hon. Gentleman and for the Secretary of State is clear: do they stand with the Children's Commissioner for Wales, with MPs and AMs from all parties, with non-governmental organisations in Wales and, most important, with children in Wales, or do they back the Minister for Children in her extraordinary attack on the Welsh children's commissioner? The commissioner or the Minister, which is it to be?

Mr. Touhig

I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend the Minister was trying to emphasise the difference in approach to the work of the Children's Commissioner for Wales and the work proposed for the children's commissioner for England. As I said in my previous answer, the commissioner in Wales deals with individual cases on a day-to-day basis. I have met him and I know the value of the work that he is doing. In England, the role of the commissioner was designed with a different agenda in mind: to focus on the Government's strategic aims and to monitor progress. We should understand that important difference before we get any deeper into the argument.

Alan Howarth (Newport, East)(Lab)

Has the Children's Commissioner for Wales, following his important previous report, offered my hon. Friend any further advice, in the context of the Children Bill, on the practicalities of achieving improved multi-agency co-ordination of early and expert care for young people with emotional and behavioural difficulties, to ensure that mental health problems in childhood and adolescence are not carried forward into adult life?

Mr. Touhig

The Bill will enable my colleagues in the Assembly to put the children and young people framework partnership in Wales on a statutory footing with all 22 local authority areas. I know that the matter to which my right hon. Friend refers exercised the Children's Commissioner for Wales a little while ago. I have very useful discussions with the commissioner and have no doubt that as the Bill progresses there will be discussions about a memorandum of understanding between the commissioner in England, the commissioner in Wales and the other devolved Administrations. I hope and expect that the points raised by my right hon. Friend will come out in those discussions.

The Secretary of State and I have made it clear to the Children's Commissioner for Wales that our door is always open if he wishes to raise matters with us. We think that the Bill offers a good deal for Wales, because a third of it is Wales-only; it takes forward the devolution agenda sensibly and progressively and we want to ensure that it works well for Wales. We shall work closely with the Children's Commissioner for Wales to deliver the best for the children of Wales.

Back to