Tuesday, 11 July 2017

The Children’s Commissioner: The First Debate

The Children’s Commissioner: The First Debate

Senator Ian Gorst signed an order approving £1.5m in funding to appoint a new children's commissioner. It was a recommendation of the Independent Jersey Care Inquiry report. In recent days, the Senator has regained the moral high ground, and reminded us of how he can be a very good Chief Minister.

This is not a bolt from the blue. Senator Gorst has been a determined proponent of carrying out the Care Inquiry, and pushing to make sure it completed its task even when his fellow Ministers wanted to cut the purse strings and wind up the Inquiry at an early stage – notably before it tackled Operation Rectangle, and the actions of Andrew Lewis, Frank Walker and Philip Bailhache.

He was “excused attendance” when the matter first arose, between the whole of 4th June to17th June, so evidently not deliberately avoiding the proposition.

The debate on the proposition shows the Heath Minister trying to push the timescale into the long grass. I have seldom seen such a blatant Yes Minister response – “the time is not now”. She has since recently apologised for not doing more to support children and vulnerable young people in the island.

But I have yet to see an apology from former Chief Minister Terry Le Sueur, whose own contribution was totally dismissive, and on the morning of the publication of the Care Inquiry declared on BBC Radio Jersey that he still thought it would be a waste of time. He of course disgracefully decided to renege on his predecessor, Frank Walker, who had made a commitment for an inquiry once the police cases had been heard.

States Strategic Plan 2009–2014 (P.52/2009): seventh amendment Paragraph 2
(P.52/2009 Amd.(7)) and eighth amendment (P.52/2009 Amd.(8))

On Tuesday 9th June 2009, Deputy Paul le Claire introduced an amendment to the States strategic plan as follows:

“After the words attached as appendix 1 insert the words: “Except that in priority 9 on pages 22 to 23 in the section entitled ‘What we will do’, after the first bullet point insert the following new bulletin point: ‘Introduce a Children’s Commissioner for Jersey who will among other duties be funded and act independently to promote issues pertaining to child welfare in the local media and raise public awareness to reduce and address potential future harm to them’.

The Council of Ministers was opposed to the proposition.

Deputy Le Claire said:

“I believe we should have an independent commissioner. I believe there will be great value and there will be a great saving to the community in having a commissioner that acts as a sort of children’s ombudsman, a Children’s Commissioner. Now, it is a complex issue and I do not purport to be an expert or to understand it all, but I do get the drift of what the experts are saying. We need an independent commissioner, and I am wanting Members’ support in asking the Council of Ministers to set one up, and if we have a Child Protection Committee that is staffed and resourced by the States of Jersey, how difficult would it be to set that up under law as an independent commission? So, I make the propositions.

Deputy Judy Martin, Assistant Minister at Health and Social Services at the time said:

“We speak to the chair of the J.C.P.C. (Jersey Child Protection Committee), we speak to everyone else. We have our first independent inspection. If they then recommend a Children’s Commissioner for Jersey, I will be the first one to sign up to that”

A delaying tactic, following the lead of her Minister.

Senator Stuart Syvret said:

“There has to be a separation of powers; and having a Children’s Commissioner who would have that empowered oversight of the service, is exactly the kind of thing we want to do.”

“Again, this is one of those amendments which frankly is utterly mystifying why the Council of Ministers and other Members just will not accept it. As I said, we have a Data Protection Commissioner; is data protection more important that protecting the welfare, health and lives of vulnerable children? We must support the amendment.”

Connétable D.W. Mezbourian of St. Lawrence came strongly in favour.

“The Early Years’ Report which was looking at initially the nought to 5 year strategy for children in the Island was carried out by the Education and Home Affairs Scrutiny Panel, of which I was chairman, and we found that there was no such thing as an overall integrated strategy for children in the Island. “

“If I may be permitted to read from the report as others have done through this debate, we made mention of an independent commissioner for children, and we stated that the commissioner: “Would be concerned in particular with the views and interests of children relating to physical and mental health, protection from harm and neglect, education and training, contribution to society, and social and economic wellbeing. The commissioner would be expected to take reasonable steps to involve children in decision making, ensuring they are aware of his or her role. The commissioner would also be expected to consult children and organisations working with children, and would have particular regard to groups of children who do not have other means of making their views known.” I think that is very important, because the reason we decided to recommend that the Council of Ministers should evaluate the need to establish the position of an independent Children’s Commissioner in Jersey was because during the course of our review we became aware that the position of Children’s Commissioner is now being adopted by many local authorities in the U.K., and they are being appointed specifically as a voice for children, the voice of the child, which is in effect what Senator Syvret has just been referring to.”

Geoff Southern endorsed those comments, saying:

“The important thing there was when she said 2 things. One, she was strongly in support of a Children’s Commissioner and the principles that underlie a champion for people, and had come to that conclusion through a spell of study in Scrutiny and the production of a report; and I really would urge Members, each and every time we have a chair or a member of a panel comes having done the research and having done the groundwork, to add to the quality of any debate, to listen very carefully to those Members who do that because this is wellfounded evidential-based opinion.”

“The second thing she said, and it was the thing that sways my mind to definitely vote - which I was tempted to anyway - in favour of the commissioner, was a missing piece of evidence from the jigsaw, that lots of local authorities are investigating or are thinking of setting up Children’s Commissioners of their own in a local setting to promote the interests of children.. So, this overall general dismissal that comes from the Council of Ministers: “Ah, well, that is one commissioner for the whole of the U.K., absolutely irrelevant to Jersey”, is not true, is not the case, because smaller units are indeed, off their own bat, promoting and investigating this possibility so therefore exactly perhaps what we ought to be doing”

Montfort Tadier said:

“So I will not labour the point too much; I would simply say to Deputy Le Claire, let us not bring this back another day. I think it is quite clear that certainly in principle we are all behind the idea of making sure that our children from today and in the future are clearly well looked after. So let us just get this done. This is simply asking us to make a commitment which may not happen straight away to appoint an independent commissioner for Jersey and I think that it is something we should all subscribe to.”

But the Health Minister, The Deputy of Trinity, Anne Pryke said:

“While Deputy Le Claire has been very vocal in children’s issues recently, it is too early in looking at children’s issues to think of a commissioner and all that it entails. We need to take one step at a time, making sure that step is focused and right for all children involved, is properly funded and resourced and, more importantly, gives them the service that all children need and require at grassroots levels. Not to be distracted by setting up a high-level commissioner. If, in the future, a commissioner is thought appropriate, and that might be the case in years to come, then it needs to be properly looked at and its remits and its terms of reference worked out; perhaps a commissioner for the Channel Islands. But that is way ahead. We need not to take our eye off the ball and implement the Williamson Report as soon as possible. I urge Members to reject this proposition and allow us to get on the job which we want to do and make our service much more improved.”

Deputy J.M. Maçon of St. Saviour was very succinct:

“Everything I wanted to say has already been said.”

The Connétable of St. Mary, Juliet Gallichan said:

“What I do not want to see is new generations of children missing out on other opportunities because a commissioner or something like a commissioner had not been considered in time. Our report was lodged on ... this is a very long report, I might add, took us a long time to do, it was lodged on Tuesday, 20th April 2008. That is a whole other year’s worth of children going through without having anything. I just think, I normally agree very wholeheartedly with what the Deputy of Trinity and the Deputy of St. Lawrence have to say – they are very sound people I think - their judgment I greatly value. In this case I think they need look again. We do not want to wait longer.”

The Chief Minister Senator T.A. Le Sueur commented:

“We are talking here about someone dealing, in the context of an historic child abuse inquiry, in the context of the Williamson Report, about vulnerable children. In that context a Children’s Commissioner in this respect, when we already have a Child Protection Committee, I see as totally irrelevant and unnecessary and for that reason, I for one, will not be supporting this amendment”

The vote was against, but the Constables were divided. As is more often the case, it was the Senators who delivered a “block vote” against the proposition with the exception of Stuart Syvret. I have emboldened current States members.

POUR: 21
Senator S. Syvret
Connétable of St. Ouen, Ken Vibert
Connétable of St. Peter, John Refault
Connétable of St. Lawrence, Deidre Mezbourain
Connétable of St. Mary, Juliette Gallichan

Deputy R.C. Duhamel (S)
Deputy of St. Martin, Bob Hill
Deputy R.G. Le Hérissier (S)
Deputy G.P. Southern (H)
Deputy of Grouville, Carolyn Labey
Deputy J.A. Hilton (H)
Deputy P.V.F. Le Claire (H)
Deputy S.S.P.A. Power (B)
Deputy S. Pitman (H)
Deputy M. Tadier (B)
Deputy of St. Mary, Daniel Wimberley
Deputy T.M. Pitman (H)
Deputy T.A. Vallois (S)
Deputy M.R. Higgins (H)
Deputy D. De Sousa (H)
Deputy J.M. Maçon (S)

Senator T.A. Le Sueur
Senator P.F. Routier
Senator P.F.C. Ozouf
Senator T.J. Le Main
Senator S.C. Ferguson
Senator A.J.D. Maclean
Senator B.I. Le Marquand
Connétable of Trinity, John Gallichan
Connétable of Grouville, Dan Murphy
Connétable of St. Brelade, Mike Jackson
Connétable of St. Martin, Silva Yates
Connétable of St. John, ?
Connétable of St. Saviour, Peter Hanning
Deputy J.B. Fox (H)
Deputy J.A. Martin (H)
Deputy of St. Ouen, James Reed
Deputy of St. Peter, Colin Egré
Deputy of Trinity, Anne Pryke
Deputy of St. John, Phil RondelDeputy A.E. Jeune (B)
Deputy A.T. Dupré (C)
Deputy E.J. Noel (L)
Deputy A.K.F. Green (H)

Senator A. Breckon

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