5 February 2002


Q6 Alison Halford:

What discussions has the First Minister had with the Secretary of State for Wales over their joint review into ombudsman services in Wales, announced last March? (OAQ15448)

 

The First Minister:

Since that review was announced, officials have worked on producing a comprehensive consultation paper on the future of ombudsman services in Wales. We have considered in detail the scope, content and outcome of the reviews in England and Scotland, as we said we would. We are comparing their outcomes and identifying common themes. We have considered issues raised by Assembly Members, particularly those of advocacy, statutory powers to enforce recommendations and the extent of jurisdiction, which were the matters that you raised, Alison.

Alison Halford:

 In the light of progress made in England and Scotland, will you explain the situation, in terms of your review, when primary legislation is needed? Will Wales have to wait for a time slot, or will our requirements be fast-tracked? When do you think Members will be consulted on this important review?

The First Minister:

 We hope to publish the consultation paper jointly with the Secretary of State, and therefore I cannot give a cast-iron promise. However, we think that it will be in two or three months’ time. As regards time slots for legislation, it is fortunate that legislation for England will be required. We would hope, therefore, that it would not be too difficult to convert that, if we want, into legislation for England and Wales. The provision for Wales may well be different to that for England but it would probably be contained in one England-and-Wales Bill. It should not, therefore, require additional parliamentary time, but simply additional clauses.William Graham: You will know that Sir Michael Buckley, the Welsh administration ombudsman and health services ombudsman for Wales, has indicated that he wishes to retire in the summer. Is that an opportunity to separate those positions and highlight the need for the ombudsman service to be able to enforce its recommendations and to levy higher financial penalties?

The First Minister:

Those are among the issues that were put to the review team and the officials. You raised that issue, Alison raised the issue of jurisdiction, and Janet Davies raised a further point. Those points will be put into the hopper and will be part of the review. We will then consult on that review. Recommendations made by Sir Michael Buckley as he retires will also be included in the review, because the people with the greatest experience of any inadequacies in the system are the present ombudsmen—who both happen to be Sir Michael Buckley. His experience will be invaluable to a successful review for an improved service in the future.

 

Pauline Jarman:

 I declare an interest as the leader of Rhondda Cynon Taff County Borough Council—the one that Rhodri Morgan does not criticise. What additional resources are being provided to the ombudsman service in Wales, given that it will now be heavily involved in adjudicating on referrals to it of alleged breaches of the local government code of conduct?

 

The First Minister:

We are always available to listen to pleas from the local government ombudsman—in this case, I suppose—if he has an unusually heavy burden of work because of a particular problem. He would normally be able to take on additional staff on contract for short periods to deal with a hump in the work that he anticipates might continue for two or three years or whatever. I do not know the details of how much additional work will be involved in the cases to which you refer. I am not aware—Edwina Hart may be—of any such plea from the local government ombudsman. However, I will ensure that your point is responded to in writing.


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