Speech to the National Assembly for Wales
"The Welsh Conservative Party starts from a rather odd perspective on this debate, as we were once sceptical about the Labour Government's intentions with regard to this proposal.
Many of us felt initially that it was an election gimmick that would not amount to much.
I am pleased, however, given what the Deputy Minister has said, the commitment that he gave, and the consultation that has been launched, that we might see a commissioner with status, who will add real value, as the Children's Commissioner for Wales has done. That post has developed since the commissioner's appointment.
This proposal presents opportunities for older people in Wales to ensure that their rights, their access to public services and their interests are upheld, not just in all that we do in terms of public policy, but also by other agencies and organisations responsible for providing services to older people.
This proposal provides the sort of opportunities that we have discussed in committee. I am pleased that the consultation will be far-reaching; I think that we will have a huge response.
There are, however, matters that we must consider as a public body, one of which relates to amendment 1.
That amendment refers to the concern that many of us have about potential duplication between the proposed equality body at Westminster and the older persons' commissioner in Wales.
I am sure that, in terms of the development of the two strategies, it is merely a coincidence that London had an idea at that same time that we did.
However, we must ensure that whatever work is undertaken by the older persons' commissioner is not easily repeated or taken up by a new commission body in London.
I congratulate the Joint Committee on Human Rights on its work at Westminster.
The eleventh report, which considers the need for a commission for equality and human rights, outlining a structure, functions and powers, is a first-class contribution to the debate on promoting equality, enshrining this in a single equality body.
My concern is that the older persons' commissioner in Wales will substantially duplicate the work undertaken by a single equality commissioner, who will be established, presumably, through statute in Parliament.
On page 14 of the eleventh report, published some months ago by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, there is a list of duties and functions.
These include conducting and commissioning research, undertaking and supporting educational activities, promoting human rights, giving guidance and advice to public authorities, giving advice to Ministers and Parliament—presumably, the Assembly would be in there somewhere as well—and providing assistance and support to others that advances its general duty.
Much of that, in one shape or form, has been lifted into the consultation document and the documents that we have seen with regard to the older persons' commissioner in Wales.
There is, therefore, huge potential for the two bodies to overlap.
Looking further into this report you will see reference to conducting public inquiries.
Much of that work in Wales will, presumably, will be undertaken by the older persons' commissioner.
However, it is not clear in the documentation, from the Assembly Government or from London, which commissioner would be responsible for what. That needs clarification.
I would be grateful if the Government would address two particular issues.
First, if the equality body and the older person's commissioner are established along similar lines, with similar functions, responsibilities and duties, which commissioner will take precedence in Wales?
Do you anticipate that the older person's commissioner in Wales would have responsibility for devolved matters and therefore be accountable to us, with the UK commissioner being responsible for non-devolved matters and therefore directly accountable to the relevant UK Secretary of State?
That would create a conflict similar to that which we have seen with regard to the Children's Commissioner for Wales and the proposed children's commissioner for the UK.
Secondly, will the UK commissioner be able to examine issues relating to devolved matters?
That is not clear in the documentation from London, though it implies that the single UK equality body will have responsibility for matters in Wales. That must be clarified.
We are happy to support the consultation, and we welcome it. We hope that this proposal will prove to be meaningful, that it will deliver real change for older people and that it will not just be seen as a gimmick.
We look forward to giving the proposal fuller support and consideration once we have received those assurances."