Children’s Minister Sarah Teather has published draft clauses for forthcoming legislation to strengthen the role of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner.
The proposals were included in the Queen’s Speech in May.
A Children and Families Bill is expected to be introduced early in 2013.
It follows an independent review of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner role, which reported in December 2010.
The minister made the following Written Ministerial Statement to Parliament.
Following John Dunford’s independent review of the role of the Children’s Commissioner, I informed the House that the Government had accepted in principle all of his recommendations and said that we would consult on the legislative changes needed to implement them. Having taken account of the responses to the consultation, I am today laying draft legislation before the House for pre-legislative scrutiny. The government aim to make the UK the most child-friendly country in Europe. Children are generally more vulnerable than adults and do not have the same opportunities to make their views known or to raise concerns about the impact of new policies or legislation. It is therefore important that they have a strong advocate to represent their interests, particularly when they are in vulnerable situations.
John Dunford’s independent review concluded that there was a continuing need for a Children’s Commissioner, who could act as a champion for children and young people – ensuring that their voices were heard and that new policies and legislation were designed in a way that took account of their rights. However, he said that the current legislative framework had prevented the commissioner from fulfilling that role effectively, and that changes were needed to ensure that the commissioner would, in future, have greater impact on children and young people’s lives.
The draft legislation laid before the House today would create a new role for the Children’s Commissioner, focused on promoting and protecting the rights of children, in line with the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the government are a committed signatory. In order to carry out the role effectively, the Children’s Commissioner would have powers to:
- carry out investigations
- carry out assessments of the impact of new policies and legislation on children’s rights
- undertake research
- monitor the effectiveness of complaints and advocacy services for children and young people
- access places where children are cared for or accommodated away from home, so that their concerns can be heard
- request the information needed to carry out full and robust investigations
- require those to whom recommendations are made to set out how they intend to respond
The draft legislation would make the Children’s Commissioner more independent from government and more directly accountable to parliament, in particular through an annual report to parliament that will allow for more effective scrutiny of the impact that the Children’s Commissioner’s activities have had on the promotion and protection of children’s rights. The draft legislation also includes measures designed to make the commissioner’s business planning processes more transparent, by making it a requirement for the commissioner to consult on his or her future priorities and to appoint an advisory board.
In line with John Dunford’s recommendations, the draft legislation would also result in the functions of the children’s rights director in Ofsted being incorporated within the remit of the children’s commissioner, but with safeguards to ensure that the current levels of support provided to this vulnerable group of children were not diluted.
Under the draft legislation, the children’s commissioner for England would retain responsibility for non-devolved matters, but would be able to delegate his or her powers of investigation to the children’s commissioners in the devolved administrations. The Children’s Commissioner for England would also be required to consult the Children’s Commissioners in the devolved administrations before conducting an investigation on a non-devolved matter within their jurisdictions or across the UK.