rose to move, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Social Welfare and Other Fields) Order 2008.
The noble Lord said: This order, which relates to safeguarding and promoting the well-being of children and young people in Wales, will confer legislative competence on the National Assembly for Wales under Section 95 of the Government of Wales Act 2006. The Order in Council process created by the 2006 Act provides an enhanced mechanism to enable the Assembly to achieve its legislative priorities. The order is subject to affirmative resolution in both Houses and to the approval of the National Assembly. It was considered in the other place earlier today.
The powers being sought in the draft order will enable the Welsh Assembly Government to deliver on their aspirations for children and young people in Wales and to place greater emphasis on supporting those who are most vulnerable and disadvantaged. While the Welsh Assembly Government have had wide-ranging executive powers in respect of children and young people for many years, those powers have proved insufficient for them to achieve their aims. That is why they have sought legislative competence for the Assembly, so that primary legislation relating to Wales can be reformed.
The Welsh Assembly Government’s principal aim is to consolidate and reform the law in relation to the safeguarding and welfare of all children and young people in Wales; to strengthen preventative measures; and to tackle child poverty. For some time there has been a growing difference of approach between England and Wales in the policy, planning and delivery structures for children’s services. Wales, for example, does not have children’s trusts. Children’s services in Wales are based on agencies working in partnership, with the director of social services and chief education officer responsible for the welfare of vulnerable and disadvantaged children and their families.
The view of the Welsh Assembly Government is that the current restrictions in the law on child welfare limit them in developing policies to tackling Welsh solutions to child poverty and their agenda to strengthen support to vulnerable children and families. For this reason the draft order before you will insert a number of matters into Schedule 5 to the Government of Wales Act 2006, principally in the field of social welfare. These matters concern the provision of social care services, the making of arrangements and planning to help vulnerable children, children and young people more generally, and those who care for children. The matters also cover adoption, fostering and the Children’s Commissioner for Wales. The draft order also inserts matters into the education and training and sport and recreation fields, ensuring that any Assembly legislation relating to children and young people can also cover aspects important to their welfare, such as play facilities and pre-school activities for children.
Taken together, these matters will enable the Assembly to legislate to consolidate and reform the law relating to the safeguarding and welfare of all children and young people in Wales, consistent with the Welsh Assembly Government’s policy aims. On 15 July, the National Assembly considered and unanimously agreed the draft order before the Committee. Prior to that, the Constitution Committee of this House considered the proposed order and confirmed that it raised no issues of constitutional principle. It was also scrutinised by the Welsh Affairs Committee and a committee of the National Assembly for Wales. The Government are grateful to all those who worked so hard to examine the issues in the order prior to its presentation today.
The process of scrutiny was rigorous and provided members of the committees, along with interested parties and stakeholders, with an opportunity to comment on, question and propose amendments to the proposed order. This led to significant improvements being made. I am pleased to say the committees supported the proposed order in principle. All recommendations arising from their scrutiny have been considered very carefully, and the draft order before the Committee reflects the outcome of those considerations.
The Welsh Affairs Committee sought assurance that the order did not provide competence to allow the National Assembly for Wales to remove the defence of “reasonable chastisement” relating to the punishment of children. I recognise that that is a point of some controversy and debate in Wales, as it is in England. I make it absolutely clear that the draft order before us today does not provide scope to allow the Welsh Assembly Government to legislate to prohibit smacking. Following pre-legislative scrutiny, this order’s accompanying Explanatory Memorandum has been amended to make this point crystal clear.
The Welsh Affairs Committee also recommended the inclusion of the UK Border Agency and the Welsh fire and rescue services in the list of bodies upon whom the Assembly could place a duty of co-operation to safeguard and promote the well-being of children and young people. I can confirm that the fire and rescue services are included by virtue of matter 15.2. The draft partial immigration and citizenship Bill published in July, subject of course to widespread consultation, places this duty on the UK Border Agency as regards its activities across the UK. I am sure that the Committee would agree that it would be inappropriate and presumptive for this order to pre-empt that legislation by including the UKBA within the scope of the draft order, when a Bill is out for consultation, which both Houses will scrutinise with the greatest care in the usual manner in due course.
The Welsh Affairs Committee recommended making it clear that the draft order did nothing to weaken the Children’s Commissioner’s powers in relation to whistleblowing. The Welsh Assembly Government fully agree that whistleblowing is an essential safeguard, but they wish to ensure that the Assembly can legislate on all aspects of the commissioner’s role and are concerned that making specific reference to whistleblowing could restrict its ability to do so.
The draft order will enable the development in Wales of distinct legislation on child welfare, an area which has been devolved for many years. It will enable the Welsh Assembly Government to improve the lives of and outcomes for some of Wales’s most vulnerable children and families. It will enable the National Assembly to pass Assembly measures to ensure the welfare of all children and young people in Wales, to tackle poverty and social exclusion, to better define public bodies’ role in contributing to ending child poverty and to rationalise and consolidate the statute book on vulnerable children. This is sensible and worthwhile legislation and I commend the order to the Committee. I beg to move.
Moved, That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the National Assembly for Wales (Legislative Competence) (Social Welfare and Other Fields) Order 2008. 28th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, for his clear explanation. I seem fairly regularly to be sitting opposite him; first it was on sport, then on gold, and now, of all things, on Wales, and children in particular, which is one of the most important issues in the order.
In principle, my party and I support the order, so we are not at loggerheads or fighting about it in any one way. The Explanatory Memorandum comprehensively sets out the policy background to the proposed order and includes the worrying statistic that some 28 per cent of children in Wales live in poverty, in households with incomes below the 60 per cent median. I say to the Bill team that I found the notes for the order comprehensive. They put me into the picture pretty quickly, which is a significant advance on notes to previous legislation associated with Wales. As I think everybody knows, there are 13 different ways of legislating for Wales. It has been complicated, but if the notes are an example of the way we are to go, it is clear that it is getting simpler.
I draw the Government’s attention to the report of the Welsh Select Committee—HC 576, published on 26 June 2008—and its conclusions and recommendations. I shall not read them all out, but paragraph 1 states:
“We do not believe that the process for the scrutiny of this proposed Order has been satisfactory”.
I know that my noble friend Lord Roberts will expand on that. Paragraph 8 states:
“We note with concern the Deputy Children’s Commissioner’s evidence that the split in responsibilities between England and Wales for safeguarding and promoting the well-being of children and young people has resulted in vulnerable children not receiving the services they need”.
The report makes quite clear what she found and quotes what she said. I would like an undertaking from the Minister that the Government have taken it on board and are moving to remove the gap into which those poor young people are liable to fall.
A number of other matters arise from the report on which I would appreciate the Minister’s observations. First, although the evidence of the deputy commissioner to the Select Committee contended that there were legislative constraints on the Welsh Assembly Government’s ability to legislate in the proposed area, as a consequence of which enhanced legislation and competence were sought, those constraints were not made overwhelmingly clear. We still wonder what they actually are. A reference was made by the witnesses to the need for a Wales approach, but that in itself did not take things much further. What I am saying now is similar to what would have been heard by those listening in the House of Commons, because my honourable friend David Jones was there. He was ill this morning, so I have not had time to put my head together with his, but I have some of his script so that we are on the same line.
The Select Committee recommended that in future it would be helpful if, when existing legislative constraint is cited as a reason for applying for an order, a comprehensive explanation of that constraint were included in the Explanatory Memorandum. Can the Minister confirm that the Wales Office accepts the recommendation of the Select Committee and that, in future, explanation of legislative constraints will be given in Explanatory Memoranda? Furthermore can he confirm that, in future, orders addressing a specific subject will be narrowly focused and his department will resist the temptation to widen the brief and go off into the countryside?
Perhaps most importantly, the Select Committee noted with concern the evidence received from the Deputy Children’s Commissioner for Wales, which I have already mentioned, and the split in responsibilities between England and Wales for safeguarding and promoting the well-being of children and young people. Interestingly, the evidence from the deputy commissioner was extremely disturbing; she noted the gap that I have already mentioned and went on to say:
“To sit here and say it objectively is one thing, but when you are meeting these children and seeing the impact on them, you would not believe that these things are happening in the UK and there is not an organisation there which is able or empowered to properly champion their rights”.
I hope the Minister and the rest of the Government will quickly find a way in which to put that right.
Most worryingly, perhaps, is that the deputy commissioner believes that in the aftermath of the LCO, after this order is passed, the cross-border problems could actually increase. Can the Minister assure me that that will not happen—and I do not mean may not happen, but will not happen—because of government action? Will he indicate whether the Government are already taking steps to put in place an overarching framework that will cover those things mentioned by the deputy commissioner in her evidence?
Finally, there was a recommendation from the Select Committee that the proposed order be amended to make it clear that nothing in it would weaken the Children’s Commissioner’s existing powers in relation to whistleblowing, which the commissioner described as one of his essential safeguards. The Minister gave that undertaking in his opening remarks, but it would be nice to hear it substantiated. Notwithstanding that recommendation, no provision appears to have been inserted into the draft order before us, so I welcome the Minister’s explanation for why nothing in the order substantiates the powers of the Children’s Commissioner.
I have pointed out some of those very important areas that still need work done by the Government. I hope that noble Lords and the Government will agree with most of what I have said, because I do not believe it to be contentious. I believe it to be caring and of interest to the families of children and others in Wales.
I support most of this order, but it makes clear the shortcomings of the Government of Wales Act. We could have done so much more in the Act than we did. We urged the Government that the Welsh Assembly should be given more powers, which would have met these concerns. But we will have to await further debate and a possible referendum before the Welsh Assembly is given those powers.
Certain things were not tackled properly and there are grey areas—for instance, the relationship of the health service in Wales with health facilities on the other side of the border. I know how much we in north Wales have used and have been able to praise 100 per cent the Alder Hey children’s hospital on the other side of the border, where our children receive some incredible treatment. Yet, these are grey areas that have yet to be resolved.
An order in council shows that our children’s issues are paramount in the thinking of the people of Wales. They are always of real concern. We might not have children’s trusts, but we were the first to have a Children’s Commissioner. That became the model for the rest of the United Kingdom. We would like to be seen as ahead in proposing initiatives with which the other countries of the UK follow suit.
We welcome any new powers that come from an order in council, but as the new powers are devolved, there is need for further scrutiny. I wonder whether a 60-Member Assembly is sufficient to scrutinise effectively the additional powers devolved to it. Many county councils in Wales have more than 60 members. If only we had been listened to when we debated the Government of Wales Bill, we would have an 80-Member Assembly, as the Richard commission recommended. That is important.
We welcome this order and the opportunity for co-ordination. We see in the order a recommendation allowing a better understanding between the various areas of concern regarding children in Wales. There will be co-ordinated efforts to eradicate poverty. When one considers that so many children in Wales, some 28 per cent, are brought up in relative poverty and that places such as Merthyr Tydfil have the worst record in the United Kingdom, a great deal needs to be done to ensure that poverty belongs to the past and that the well-being of every child in Wales is safeguarded.
We look forward to further discussion and, who knows, there may one day be a senate or a parliament in Wales with the same powers as those enjoyed by the people of Scotland.
I, too, warmly welcome the draft order and the spirit in which it has been generally received by the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrat party. The measure is very much in the mainstream of powers that were transferred in an administrative capacity to the Welsh Assembly and which were previously enjoyed by the Welsh Office before the creation of the Assembly. Therefore, the powers are very much near the heart, core and kernel of functions which have for some time been administered at an executive level in Wales.
More importantly, as noble Lords have suggested, the powers represent a specific Welsh approach to these matters. Such matters are, of course, common to every part of Britain, but there are many Welsh aspects that are dealt with in a particularly Welsh way. Members of the Committee have pointed out that there are no specific directors of children’s affairs in Wales. Indeed, the work is done through the agency of the children and young people’s partnerships. Those are controlled by the 22 local authorities, which are coterminous with the 22 local health authorities in Wales. The system seems to be working well. The draft order therefore builds on what has already been shown to be a progressive, adventurous and fresh development for Wales.
I should like to make two brief points. First, the order does not, of itself, create any legislative authority for Wales. It creates a potential, nothing else. Very often I am asked by people in Wales how Part 3 of the 2006 Act operates. I try to explain it in this way: the general field—think of it in physical terms—has already been designated under the term “field” in Schedule 5 to the Act. The signs are up there, designating it as a field where generally the Welsh Assembly can operate. An Order in Council, such as we are dealing with here in draft, designates, as it were, a building plot within that field. It does not create anything, but designates an area within whose boundaries something can be built. What can be built, of course, is an Assembly measure which essentially is exactly the same as an Act of Parliament as far as Wales is concerned. So we have the field, the plot, and, ultimately, one hopes, the structure that is specifically built upon it.
My second point is also very obvious. The Government of Wales Act 1998 was not meant to be a static picture. It created a dynamic system, a system of devolution. Indeed, one could say that it had been commenced with the creation of the office of Secretary of State for Wales in 1964. It speeded and made more efficient and transparent a development which had long been in train. The 2006 Act accelerated that process.
I take the point as far as Part 3 is concerned. This has been in operation for some two and a half years. We have seen a trickle of such instruments as we are dealing with this afternoon. I make no criticism of the speed with which these have been coming through because it is obvious that it needs a very long time to build up a core—indeed, a whole body of expertise—in relation to this. It cannot be done overnight. I appreciate that it will probably be a long time before the Welsh Assembly Government have all the resources that they need to be able to do this. But I would like to see the process speeded up somewhat.
Part 3 is essential as part of that dynamic process of devolution. It is also essential as a bridge to Part 4, as touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno. Part 4 gives the Welsh people the opportunity of deciding in a referendum, once that referendum is supported by two-thirds of the members of the Welsh Assembly, whether Part 4 shall be incorporated into law and become essentially a domestic Parliament, on lines not dissimilar to Northern Ireland or Scotland.
There are to my mind immense benefits arising from such a development, although not everybody here would agree with that. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, made the point, touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, that there are restrictions—some well known, some partly hidden—in all manner of statutes and statutory instruments. It is, indeed, a terrifying task for a Welsh lawyer to have to go through this legislative maze to discover whether there is a specific description. Devolution in Northern Ireland and Scotland has been entirely different. The legislation has been introduced en bloc over a whole area of jurisdiction, save such exceptions as have been specifically spelt out. In Wales, the situation is totally different, as it comes from hundreds of different sources which have emanated over the years through devolution.
I very much hope that there will be more and more of these orders. They will give the Welsh people confidence in their ability to deal with specific problems in a specific Welsh way, and indeed I also hope that they will lead ultimately, and before very long, to the creation of a Welsh parliament. For those reasons, I greatly welcome the order.
I think that at this time we are all particularly conscious of the special care needed for vulnerable children, to whom the order applies, because of the dreadful fate and very tragic end of the 17 month-old baby boy at Haringey. That is still very much in the news and on our minds.
The order, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said, enables the Assembly Government in Wales to pass Assembly measures, has been very closely examined by the Welsh Affairs Committee. I want to refer to only one major procedural point where I find myself in very strong agreement with the committee. Its first conclusion on page 27 of its fifth report states:
“We do not believe that the process for the scrutiny of this proposed Order has been satisfactory, or that it has worked as intended. We would again urge the Welsh Assembly Government to synchronise the publication and referral of a proposed Oder to an Assembly Committee with its referral to Parliament by the Secretary of State. Failure to do so represents the single biggest obstacle to the effective scrutiny of proposed Orders and, coming as it does at the very beginning of the process, it adversely affects all subsequent arrangements”.
That is a very important paragraph. What appears to have happened is that the first draft of the order was reported on by the Assembly committee before it had been cleared with other relevant Whitehall departments. The rest of the story is recounted in paragraph 6 and the following paragraphs on page 8 of the report. Paragraph 6 states:
“The process of Whitehall clearance had led to some substantial revision of the proposed Order as first published and laid before the Assembly ... Effectively, this meant that the Assembly Committee had undertaken considerable work in scrutinising and reporting on a very different proposed Order to that which was referred to the Welsh Affairs Committee. It also substantially reduced opportunities for formal joint working between the two committees, something which each committee decides on a case-by-case basis. On this occasion we decided not to conduct formal joint working, as the Assembly Committee had completed its investigations and published its Report—almost two months before the revised proposed Order was referred to us”.
This was a very serious situation. The proposed order in its revised form has therefore not been scrutinised by the Assembly committee, as that committee acknowledged in its second report. I am abbreviating this account, but it makes certain key points. This unsatisfactory situation could have been avoided had the proposed order first been cleared with Whitehall departments before being published and been laid simultaneously before the Assembly and before Parliament. That would have helped to facilitate complementary working by the two committees.
I appreciate that the noble Lord is making a fundamentally important point. It is important that there should have been scrutiny and an agreement by the relevant body of the Welsh Assembly before the matter came here. I ask him, however, to accept that the situation is to some extent ameliorated in this way. Over the past six years, four comprehensive statements of policy, very helpfully set out in the Explanatory Memorandum, have been published in relation to children and young persons generally and to vulnerable children and children in poverty. I believe I am right in saying that there is no proposal in any part of this draft order which is not specifically a proposal contained in one or more of those papers. Although it can fairly be said, and has very properly been said by the noble Lord, that there has not been scrutiny by the Welsh Assembly, this paper nevertheless contains nothing other than what the Welsh Assembly has set out, from time to time, in relation to these matters.
I accept a great deal of what the noble Lord says about policy papers produced by the Assembly over the years. Of course, to a certain degree, this is the outcome of those papers. Nevertheless, here we are dealing with some very specific detail. I think he would agree that it would have been better had there been scrutiny of this order by the committee. I agree wholeheartedly with the Welsh Affairs Committee’s conclusion and hope that the Government will somehow ensure that this sort of wasteful muddle does not occur again. By now there should be an established procedure, both in the National Assembly and here at Westminster, so that time and effort are not wasted, as on this occasion, and that proper scrutiny is carried out. Personally, I would like to see as much joint scrutiny as possible, with the relevant Assembly committee and the Welsh Affairs Committee collaborating closely. I still believe that we have a lot to learn from each other. Surely that is the way to a harmonious relationship between the National Assembly and Westminster.
I thank my noble friend Lord Davies for his comprehensive description of the order and for explaining the mechanism which has led to the order. I want to concentrate on one paragraph in the Fifth Report of Session 2007-08 of the Welsh Affairs Select Committee. I concentrate on that paragraph because this order will set precedents and hurdles for the future. My concern is that paragraph 10 of that report sets out the principles which guide the committee in its examination of the order. The first question is whether the order is within the spirit and scope of the devolution settlement; secondly, whether there is a demand for the legislation that will follow the order; and, thirdly, whether the LCO is more appropriate than the use of framework powers in a Westminster Bill.
I speak with great respect for the work of the Welsh Affairs Committee and its members, but I am troubled by the criteria in paragraph 10. On the first criteria, on the spirit and the scope of the devolution settlement, I have been rereading the Second Reading debate on the Government of Wales Bill in 2006. Unless I have missed the point, and without having officials to correct me on this, that phrase is nowhere defined. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, may recall, because he took part in the debates in this House, that when the noble Lord, Lord Evans of Temple Guiting, introduced the Bill, he spoke of this procedure as being the development of the devolution settlement. That remark can be found in vol. 680 of the Official Report, in col. 265. In the Commons, in vol. 441 of the Official Report, the Secretary of State said that,
“the provisions represent a development of the current settlement”.—[Official Report, Commons, 9/1/06; col. 32.]
In the past 15 years, Welsh devolution has been seen as a process. My noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan felt that it was a dynamic process, but it is a process or development. The report asks whether the provisions were within the process, as if it were a separate matter. I hope that we are not abandoning the vision of a process or development. I do not know whether the Minister can tell us whether he can place in the Library a note explaining the meaning of the phrase “within the scope of the Act”.
As for the second and third criteria, on whether there is a demand for the legislation and whether the LCO is the most appropriate procedure, I see no reference whatever to those criteria in the debates on this Bill in 2006. They appear to be novel and brand new. Surely those two matters are for the judgment and initiative of the Assembly; surely we can trust it.
I come to the second point that concerns me. I may not be expressing a general view, but it concerns me. The Explanatory Memorandum which went to the Welsh Affairs Committee seems to be acquiring a huge importance—far more than some of us envisaged when the debate on the Bill took place in 2006. I am sure that the Welsh Assembly Ministers and civil servants will take note of that. My fear is that unless we are careful we may be coming to a stage where Parliament will require the Explanatory Memorandum to set out full and detailed particulars of the substance of the order which is to follow the Bill. In my view, that would not be a helpful development.
Apart from those few words of caution, I strongly support the order. I am sure that it will give the Assembly a means of providing better facilities for the children and young people of Wales. But, picking up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, I am beginning to think that there may be too few Members to undertake effective scrutiny of the Assembly measures which will follow this and other orders.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I hope that I have identified the key issues and that I will be able to respond to them. I had anticipated there would be some considerable debate about the policy areas of the proposal but we have been concerned rather more with process and how the devolution settlement is working. The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, combined two concepts, which then became the subject of fairly intensive debate by the Committee. He said, first, that the order might have been handled differently and better; and, secondly, he raised issues, which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Conwy, also developed, about what the order meant in relationship to powers. That brought forth from my noble friends two definitions: first, their concept of devolution and how it should evolve; and, secondly, whether the order fitted within that framework.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, was supported by his noble friend, as I would expect, but they are both pushing at an open door when they say that it would have been better if this order had been considered at the same time by the relevant committee. That is what we intend to do in future. It is unfortunate when decisions appear to have a pre-emptive quality imposed on them by whoever is first into the field. I emphasise that I agree with the representations of noble Lords that that would have been a better way of doing this. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said that the process might benefit from joint consultation and he went on to develop the point. But the Welsh Affairs Committee makes its own rules; the Government do not dictate to the committee its rules or procedures. We have learnt from this exercise that we would do better in the future to make sure that the process is carried on, if not through joint consultation, then at exactly the same time, and that there is no pre-emptive quality to it.
On the more general issue, I agree with my noble friends that the whole concept of the Government of Wales Act was to introduce a dynamic and a process of devolution. The Government of Wales Act set up a broad framework within which the National Assembly may seek to put forward orders extending its powers and seek the agreement of this Parliament to that position. That is exactly what this order does.
The noble Lord, Lord Prys-Davies, refining the position of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, indicated that there may be constructive ways in which the process could be developed further. The whole point of an order is to explain its scope and content; it does not set out to explain where it fits in with the constitution of the Government of Wales Act and the process of devolutionary development. If it did, every order that came before us would be—to put it mildly—extensive and we would have debates that went beyond the order’s framework and covered the whole process of devolution. I hope that the noble Lord will accept that the order has been carefully devised and is confined to the powers being sought, which is its proper role.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, indicated that he wanted reassurance on certain aspects of the order. I reassure him fully that we intend to protect the position on whistleblowing. He asked whether future orders could be narrowly focused. That depends on what one means by “narrow”.
A Division has been called in the House, so we will resume the Sitting at 5.26 pm.
[The Sitting was suspended for a Division in the House from 5.16 to 5.26 pm.]
Prior to the Division I was giving reassurances which I thought I ought to give to the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, on points that he raised and which were reinforced by his noble friend Lord Roberts of Conwy. I emphasise again that we intend to lay the proposed orders before Parliament at the same time so that both bodies can see the orders at the same time, as is advisable. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, emphasised the possibility of joint working. It did not happen on this occasion, leading to the disadvantages that the noble Lords identified.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, also emphasised that orders should be narrowly focused. The orders have to be within the framework of the Government of Wales Act, as pieces of the devolution settlement; and the orders must have a clearly defined role, as the Act lays down. The Welsh Assembly is under a duty to ensure that the process is accurate. There may be wider issues which the Assembly thinks need to be addressed in policy, but it is for the Assembly to propose. If it agrees, it is then for this Parliament to make the decision whether, within the framework of the Government of Wales Act, the proposal before Parliament is acceptable. That is how we tackle such matters. I do not think that this proposal is unnecessarily wide. After all, the policy which it covers is quite discrete in terms of the care of children and young people.
The noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, said that there were difficulties with the commissions and their operation between England and Wales. There are some difficulties, but however well legislation is framed, it still depends on how effectively people work within it. There will occasionally be possible difficulties but that is common to all legislation; in no way, shape or form is it a reflection of any failure of function in the orders put forward or in the powers of the Assembly in relation to the United Kingdom Parliament—it is more what happens on the ground.
I am not terribly happy with the response on the obvious gap between the English and Welsh commissioners for children. I would like stronger reassurance that the Government will focus and take some action, whatever it may be and regardless of whether it is at administrative level and, therefore, below legislative level. If the Government and the department focus on that with both commissioners and their officials, I feel that the gap could be addressed.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, referred to the question of the commissioner. There is a genuine difficulty here, because under devolved legislation, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales can deal with individual cases, but he cannot deal with the more general policy issues, because that relates to the criminal justice system, which is not devolved. So there will always be some differences and difficulties in respect of the powers and the relationship between the two commissioners. That has come up in our previous debates on these matters. It is a classic case of where the limits of devolved legislation produce different powers in relationship to the work of a devolved officer. I take on board that the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, is dissatisfied by my response and I shall, therefore, try to define and embellish it by writing to him and copying it to other Members of the Committee. However, I am not sure that I can advance the argument much further.
I do not wish to bang on any longer but I would like the noble Lord to take on board what the Deputy Children’s Commissioner said. She said:
“you would not believe that these things are happening in the UK and there is not an organisation there which is able or empowered to properly champion their rights”.
That is a big statement from someone in her position.
It is a big statement, but, by the nature of the devolution settlement, officers in certain positions can find it inordinately frustrating that their responsibilities may be cabined, confined and limited in ways that they would not prefer. However, the devolution settlement, and the question of the powers retained for this Parliament, can throw up such frustrations for officers. I heard what the noble Lord said and I will respond to him. I am sorry that he does not accept my argument but I am not too sure that I will be able to advance the case a great deal more than I have already.
I wanted to end on a rather happier note at this belated hour. The noble Lord rightly said that on previous occasions we have debated sport, the gold reserves and now Wales. What a happy note it is to put Wales, gold and sport together. Think of the contribution that we made in the Olympic Games.
On Question, Motion agreed to.