HL Deb 10 November 2004 vol 666 cc963-5 13 Clause 3, page 3, line 1, leave out Clause 3
Lord Filkin

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No 13. The amendment deletes the existing Clause 3. It should be seen in the context of Amendment No. 25, which creates a new clause on annual reports. I will also speak to Amendment No. 15, moved and passed in Committee in another place, which grants the commissioner powers to obtain responses to the recommendations in his reports produced under Clause 4. That is the same as government Amendment No. 9, to which I have already spoken and which gave the commissioner powers to follow up recommendations. The reasoning behind the amendment is the same.

The Government believe that the commissioner's reports should, where necessary, lead to action and positive change. We do not want to see his reports disappear without trace. There may be some unpopular recommendations, but that is part of the commissioner's function. The amendment was phrased as simply as possible to allow flexibility in how the commissioner may wish to exercise his power. We have not laid down a response time; we will leave that to the discretion of the commissioner. I hope that the House feels able to accept those changes tabled and passed in another place.

Amendments Nos. 13 and 25 were passed in another place, inserting a new clause on annual reports and removing the previous Clause 3 seen and debated by this House. The new clause is similar to Clause 3 in that it requires the commissioner to prepare an annual report and outlines the type of information to be contained in the report and the processes involved in laying it before Parliament. The clause differs from the previous one in that it requires that the commissioner report on the way in which he has discharged his function under the whole part, not only under Clause 2. That is why it was moved from its original position in the Bill. That is a necessary alteration because of the additional functions that the commissioner holds on non-devolved or reserved matters in other UK nations, set out in other clauses.

On annual reports and reflecting on the involvement of children, subsection (2) requires the commissioner to report on the steps that he has taken to involve children in the discharge of his functions. On the publication of reports, subsection (3) requires the commissioner to send a copy of his annual report to the Secretary of State and that the Secretary of State lay a copy before each House. The Secretary of State must do that "as soon as possible", to allay concerns voiced in this House on the issue. We do not believe that presenting the report to Parliament via the Secretary of State will in any way compromise independence; it is the normal way in which such reports are brought into Parliament. The Secretary of State has no power to change or alter the annual report in any way.

Subsection (5) requires reports to be published in a version suitable for children if the commissioner thinks it appropriate. I hope that the House agrees that the clause substantially enhances the previous Clause 3 and will feel able to accept that change. To allay any concerns, the Government tabled Amendment No. 19 in another place to make it explicit that the Secretary of State cannot delay publication of Clause 5 reports, by inserting the words "as soon as possible".

On the important issue of the involvement of children in choosing the commissioner, let me speak to Amendment No. 32. It has always been the Government's intention to involve children and young people in the appointment of the commissioner. That was one of the points raised when we consulted on Every Child Matters. The process that we envisage will be in keeping with the code of practice of the office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, and we will draw on the experience of colleagues elsewhere in the United Kingdom. The appointment of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Nigel Williams, was an example of extremely good practice in that respect.

In July we established a children and youth board made up of 25 children and young people from across the country, selected from a wide range of organisations, both local and national, including the UK Youth Parliament. The board has an important role in the recruitment and selection of the commissioner by contributing to the person specification, producing the design material and taking part in the interview process. We introduced the amendment in another place. It ensures involvement in all future commissioner appointments.

I hope that all the amendments will be accepted by the House. Where we have been able to, we have gone with the views of the House; where we have not, I hope that I have explained satisfactorily why we think the stance right as it comes from another place.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 13.—(Lord Filkin.)

7.15 p.m.

Earl Howe

My Lords, I want to register my thanks to the Government for Amendments Nos. 15 and 19. The first responds to a concern raised in this House in Committee, and it is a great pleasure to see the provision in proposed new subsection (6A) requiring a response from those mentioned in the report from the commissioner, when recommendations are contained. I also very much welcome the four words, "as soon as possible", inserted into Clause 5. Again, that gives reassurance that the process involved in the publication of the report will be a speedy one.

Baroness Walmsley

My Lords, I echo the noble Earl in welcoming the group of amendments, many of which reflect that the Government have listened to concerns expressed and responded very appropriately.

On Question, Motion agreed to.