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This report was not approved formally by the Committee prior to the suspension of the Assembly on 14 October 2002, but is published by order of the Speaker.

Committee of the Centre

Wednesday 18 September 2002


Commissioner for Children 
and Young People Bill: 
Committee Stage
(NIA 20/01)

Members present:

Mr Poots (Chairperson)
Mr Beggs
Mrs E Bell
Mr Kennedy
Ms Lewsley
Dr McDonnell
Mr McElduff
Mr McMenamin
Mr McNamee
Dr O’Hagan
Mr K Robinson
Mr Shannon


Mrs M Bunting ) Office of the First Minister
Mrs H Stevens ) and the Deputy First Minister

The Chairperson: I welcome officials from the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. Mrs Mary Bunting is head of the Equality Directorate, and Mrs Heather Stevens is head of the Children and Young People Unit. I look forward to your presentation.

Mrs Bunting: Thank you for inviting us to give evidence. I apologise on behalf of Mr Chris Stewart, who cannot be here. He and Mrs Stevens have been the driving force behind the Bill, but he is part of the UK delegation giving evidence to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child today.

We are aware that the Committee has worked hard over the summer to examine evidence on the Bill, and the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) is happy to work with the Committee to produce the best possible Bill. OFMDFM recognises that the current Bill is not as perfect as everyone would like it to be. The Committee will want to raise several issues with us, but I would like to raise one or two points first. I am also aware that the Committee has invited departmental officials to be present during the clause-by-clause scrutiny of the Bill. Mrs Stevens and, possibly, Mr Stewart will attend those sessions.

One specific issue, the differential treatment of juvenile justice, has been a cause of concern for some of the witnesses. It was difficult for OFMDFM to deal with that issue in preparing the Bill. It involved many detailed discussions and negotiations with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) at official and ministerial levels. I am aware that the NIO has been invited to give evidence, and it can make its own decisions about that. Suffice it to say that OFMDFM has done its best to reach an accommodation on the matter.

The bottom line is that the Committee and OFMDFM must consider whether to choose a system based on the NIO’s current position or a two-tier system — one for juvenile justice and another for everyone else — which is effectively the present system. A further option is to water down the Bill across the board, although I do not think that anyone wants that. Those were the options, as we saw them, when we were preparing the draft Bill. We must be mindful that the Secretary of State has the power to give or withhold consent to the Bill. Those issues can be further considered in the question session, but it is important to make them clear at the outset. We have spent many hours trying to get the best deal for juvenile justice.

I will not say anything more because there are many issues that the Committee wants to raise. It is probably best to get stuck into the main issues.

Mr Beggs: In OFMDFM’s discussions with the NIO, what areas were discussed and what were the particular areas of disagreement?

Mrs Stevens: I draw the Committee’s attention to several provisions on safeguards, especially where the commissioner might want to act as advocate and ombudsman. The NIO felt strongly that safeguards should be put in place so that the commissioner cannot exercise those roles at the same time in relation to the same child because there is an obvious conflict. On the one hand, the commissioner is acting solely in the interests of the child, and on the other he or she is trying to take a neutral third-party stance.

Those safeguards are in clauses 10(4), 10(5), 11(4), 11(5) and 13. Other clauses and paragraphs were added at a late stage to reassure the NIO and to secure its consent to the Bill. For example, the last five lines of clause 2(2) were incorporated to account for the fact that statutory provisions relating to juvenile justice do not refer to the term "best interest".

The handling of general reviews under clause 5 and schedule 2 is the main distinction in the Bill between children involved in the juvenile justice system and other children. Differentiation was introduced because NIO was concerned that a commissioner might, to use the NIO’s phrase, go on fishing expeditions. The NIO wanted to tighten the commissioner’s access to the very strong powers provided in the Bill for formal investigations in general review cases.

The other provision relates to clause 9(2). Although that is a standard provision found in legislation relating to Commissioner for Complaints, the NIO made it clear to OFMDFM that it would require that to remain in the Bill. It provides that the commissioner cannot investigate certain matters, essentially involving court proceedings.

Mr Beggs: Have you managed to get a much more satisfactory Bill than, for example, the National Assembly for Wales did in its equivalent dealings with the Home Office?

Mrs Stevens: I think so. Our Bill is more far-reaching and contains more extensive powers. Imperfect though the current draft is, it is still at the leading edge of best practice.

Mr Shannon: You mentioned the difficulty that could arise when children identify themselves. How can that be avoided so that children can keep their anonymity and the process can still go forward?

Mrs Stevens: Group actions are a very tricky issue. The Bill, as drafted, does not prevent the commissioner from taking a collection of individual cases and running with them together. However, there may be difficulty if a class action were taken where certain children were not identified, and we would want to take more legal advice on that. Article 6 of the Human Rights Act 1998 may have implications if people do not know their accuser

Mr Shannon: Should the final wording be left until the legal position is clarified?

Mrs Stevens: We would be prepared to look at that and take more legal advice. However, my advice would be that the wording should stay.

Mr McMenamin: You said that the Secretary of State would have power to overrule or override any decisions. When does a teenager of 14, 15 or 16 years of age who commits a heinous crime cease to be a juvenile, and what happens when a teenager ceases to be a juvenile during his or her sentence?

Mrs Stevens: I am not sure when someone moves between the juvenile justice system and the adult system in criminal law. However, the commissioner’s remit would extend to 18 years of age. The commissioner would be interested in that child until he is 18, regardless of whether he is in an adult institution.

Mr McMenamin: Am I right in saying that the Secretary of State can overrule any decision made on any person?

Mrs Stevens: Not in relation to what the commissioner might do. The Secretary of State has power to veto the legislation.

Mr McNamee: You have said that the Bill, as presented, reflects best practice. Similar points were made in relation to clauses 6 to 10, and particularly clauses 8, 9 and 10, which restrict the occasions when a commissioner could exercise his or her power. The Human Rights Commission felt that clause 8(2)(a), where the commissioner could not exercise any power unless the complaint raised a question of principle, was unnecessary. It felt that that was an opportunity for people to contest any exercise of power by the commissioner. The Human Rights Commission, the Children’s Law Centre and the Equality Commission expressed concern in relation to clause 8(2)(b), which says that the commissioner cannot exercise any power unless the complaint falls within the existing statutory complaints system. They felt that would eliminate an enormous amount of circumstances. Similar comments could be made in relation to clauses 9 and 10, where the Bill, as presented, narrows the opportunities and scope of the commissioner.

Mrs Stevens: The commissioner will utilise a large amount of public funds, and Ministers have been keen to ensure that we do not duplicate the functions and cause unnecessary replication. The provision at 8(2)(b) is there so that the commissioner does not investigate a complaint if it falls within an existing statutory complaints system and a formal system is already available to the child.

It is important, when looking at clause 8, not to lose sight of clause 7, which will be used much more heavily, together with clauses 5 and 6. We refer to that as the commissioner’s handholding power, and that will be crucial. That is the provision that Peter Clarke in Wales has found to be most useful and which makes a real difference to children. Instead of the commissioner’s being the last port of call, because nobody else can deal with the complaint, he can be the first port of call and take the child through the existing complaints systems. If the Welsh experience is anything to go by, the authorities pay much more attention to the child when he has a commissioner sitting next to him.

A pragmatic approach was taken to the question of limits, because the commissioner could be swamped. The commissioner needs scope to look at issues that will affect other children and young people, so that he can make best us of his resources.

Mrs Bunting: The handholding effect of clause 7 should ensure that other complaints procedures will be used properly and will be open and transparent. The commissioner’s powers in that regard will produce a ripple effect, in that better results will be obtained from complaints procedures than if he were left to deal with them with his resources alone. It is a mainstreaming of dealing with children’s complaints properly and fairly.

The Chairperson: Sub-paragraphs (3) and (4) of clause 7 suggest that the commissioner should not act if there is any possibility of anyone else acting on behalf of the young person. The view has been expressed to us that the commissioner will be at the end of a queue and anyone who has gone to other bodies and not received satisfaction will not then go to the commissioner, because he has lost heart.

Mrs Stevens: We took the view that the words "likely to provide such assistance" were significant. There is disagreement among non-governmental organisations about whether "likely to" is better than "better placed to". We took the view, as did the draftsman, that the phrase "likely to provide such assistance" gives the commissioner more flexibility. The commissioner can decide if someone may have the power to give assistance and can become involved if it transpires that he is not likely to.

Dr O’Hagan: My first question concerns the recruitment process. OFMDFM is going to appoint a commissioner rather than have an open competition. What are the implications of that decision for the equality agenda and for the involvement of young people in that process?

It is clear that the Bill is stronger than the Welsh model, although I do not know whether it is appropriate to use that model as a yardstick. Over the last few weeks, people working in the sector have given compelling evidence of the serious weaknesses of the Bill in relation to best interest and welfare, restricted powers of investigation and the fact that a commissioner will be last in a queue. Many of those problems arise from the fact that the NIO is taking a particular line. How far is the Department prepared to go? Is it a case of rolling over and allowing the NIO to call the shots, or is the Department prepared to get the strongest legislation and the strongest commissioner possible?

Mrs Stevens: I shall try to answer all those points. Ministers are absolutely committed to an open selection and recruitment process. We are hoping for an international field of applicants for such an important post. An addition to the legislation stipulating that the process should be open and transparent would be unusual. We already operate under strict guidelines on public appointments, and we have already begun to follow those guidelines in relation to this appointment. An independent assessor who will oversee everything that we do in connection with the appointment has already been put in place.

We have also already put in place arrangements to select a group of young people who can become involved in the appointments process. We have established a young people’s advisory forum, which will comprise 50 young people from all over Northern Ireland with representation from children from ethnic minorities, young mothers and children with disabilities. They will form a sounding board for my branch as we advance the work on the children’s strategy. On 19 October, we will ask them to self-select a group of approximately a dozen young people whom we can train further to enable them to participate in the appointments process. The commitment to that is under way.

You asked about the appropriateness of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister making the formal appointment. It will be a formality after an open recruitment process has been gone through. It is appropriate because of the lines of accountability that are proposed in the Bill. Accountability by the commissioner will be through OFMDFM in relation to finance and through our Department ultimately to the Assembly. Ministers feel strongly that the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister should make the appointment.

You then spoke about when "rights" and "best interests" were used in the Bill. That was the subject of much discussion with the NIO. From the start, our term of choice has been "best interests", recognising that that reflects international best practice. In some parts of the Bill, it talks about "rights and best interests"; sometimes it refers to "rights or best interests". No policy difference is intended. Those phrases have been used on the advice of the draftsman, and it is purely for grammatical reasons that "and" or "or" is used in a particular context.

There are several occasions in the Bill where we have had to use the term "welfare" on the advice of the first legislative counsel because it refers to an existing body of law on welfare. We do not have a body of law relating to best interests. The legislative term that is used throughout Northern Ireland is "welfare", so we felt that it was more appropriate to use "welfare" in these instances.

In other places in the Bill, particularly clause 7(1)(b), the word "interests" is used on its own. The reason is purely grammatical; it did not make sense to use "best interests". It would be setting an impossibly high standard for a public authority if the term "best interests" were used there. That is why those phrases have been used at particular points in the Bill.

The one area that caused most discussion is in clause 2(2)(a). In clause 2(1), it states that the commissioner’s principal aim is to safeguard and promote "rights and best interests". In clause 2(2)(a) it states that the

"paramount consideration shall be the rights of the child".

To be frank, if the words "best interests" had been included, the NIO would have withheld consent. It was so important to the NIO because under the juvenile justice system there are other issues to be considered apart from the best interests of the child; they must be balanced against the wider interests of the community. The NIO is better placed to answer those questions than I, but we were under no illusion that it would withhold consent.

Mrs Bunting: Your first point was about equality issues in relation to how the process would operate. Any appointment process that the Department runs must comply with equality legislation and must be open, fair and transparent. That would also apply in this case. We are aware that the Committee feels that there may be a need to make it more explicit in this clause that we will be involving children and young people in the process. That is something that we may consider if Committee members feel that it would strengthen and make the Bill more transparent.

We went very far indeed with the NIO. We were left under no illusions that there were certain things to which it would not consent, which is one reason why it took us so long to get to where we are now. We would have liked to have the draft Bill much sooner, but a great deal of time was spent dealing with those issues.

There are issues surrounding the fact that justice systems may eventually be devolved. The question is whether we should take juvenile justice out of that altogether. That option was on the table, but we felt that this was not the best course of action, since it would be better to secure some movement in that area now rather than none. We are most concerned to ensure that we get a children’s commissioner. We were left in a difficult position, but we have certainly not rolled over. We stood up to things earlier in the process, and we have the best that we could have hoped for given the strength of feeling in the NIO at the time.

Dr O’Hagan: I do not want to hog the time, but my question is very important: you mentioned clause 2(2)(a), but could you inform the Committee of all clauses to which the NIO objected? Mr Chairperson, does the Committee intend to invite witnesses from the NIO to give evidence?

Mrs Stevens: The relevant provisions of the Bill were clause 2(2)(a) and the ones that I mentioned that were specifically included for the NIO, including the last five lines of clause 2(2). Schedule 2 in its entirety — and the way it interlinks with clause 5 — was introduced for the NIO, as were clauses 9(2), 10(4) and 10(5), 11(4) and 11(5) and 13.

The Chairperson: The Committee and the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister have been working to get the NIO to give oral evidence and will continue to do so. Until now, however, we have not succeeded. As a last resort we could opt for written evidence, but I will be pushing for an oral evidence session.

Mr Beggs: Is it within the power of a NIO minister to decide not to attend?

The Chairperson: We dealt with that point before. Under the guidance notes, the Minister is to be invited to the Committee and cannot be instructed to do so, as in Westminster. However, Ministers are to try to treat the devolved institutions as they would treat a Westminster Committee. The Minister would be expected to attend, so we shall pursue that line.

The document refers to both "rights and best interests" and "rights or best interests". Why does the reference differ?

Mrs Stevens: No policy difference was intended. On the advice of the first legislative counsel, it was decided that in certain places it made more grammatical sense to write "or" and in other cases "and".

The Chairperson: So the difference is simply grammatical. I should have thought that "rights and best interests" was stronger and could be inserted throughout.

Ms Lewsley: You commended the Committee on its input to the Bill; I commend you and the Department for all your hard work, particularly in the negotiations with the NIO that are being refused us. I should like to follow up two matters regarding our meeting with the Welsh Children’s Commissioner. Some people here last week thought that the commissioner should take on more individual cases. The Committee’s feeling was that such a step would only swamp the person appointed. We were looking at more specific issues or themes.

The Welsh Commissioner said that they do not refuse any young person help but try to guide them. It is hoped that that our commissioner will have such a remit and the authority to monitor the young person’s progress. Last week, some members said that they feared that the commissioner would start the procedure but, because of the bureaucracy, fail to conclude it and that people might be put off. Someone in the commissioner’s department should be entitled to support the young person through the process and ensure that any red tape is dealt with to see the child through to the process’s end.

Mrs Stevens: That makes sense. The intention behind clause 7 was to ensure that the commissioner would not just take the child to the door and say "There you go". If the Committee thinks that clause 7 should be stronger to reflect that, the OFMDFM will look at ways to amend it.

Ms Lewsley: Can the commissioner’s remit be extended with regard to disabled people in care? It would be beneficial if the commissioner could help disabled people aged up to 25 years leaving care.

Mrs Stevens: The Bill provides for the commissioner to have a role as regards care leavers up to 21 years old. Children with a disability are treated differently because their difficulty arises from a disability and not because of their childhood. That is why children who have been in care are singled out in the Bill for special treatment. The Children (Leaving Care) Bill acknowledges that young people are in a period of transition due to the circumstances of their childhood. The OFMDFM contends that children with disabilities are in a different position so the Bill treats them differently. However, I am happy to work with the Committee to consider the matter.

The Chairperson: The commissioner’s main power regarding the clawback on the part of children and young people against those who have treated them unfairly is the "name and shame" provision. Clause 14 and clause 15 negate that. They state that the report of an investigation should be sent to

"(a) the relevant authority concerned and, where the report contains recommendations as to action to be taken by any other relevant authority, that relevant authority; and

(b) such other bodies or person as the Commissioner thinks appropriate."

There is no indication that the report referred to in the Bill would be public. The report is to be sent to relevant and other appropriate bodies, but the naming and shaming would not be public.

Mrs Stevens: Clause 14(1)(b) provides flexibility for the commissioner to send the report to whomever he or she thinks fit in order to make it public. The naming and shaming provision that flows from the notice procedure in clause 15 includes scope for a register that would be open to public inspection. That register records the authority’s response to the commissioner’s recommendations, and there are two opportunities for the commissioner to send out notices to seek the authority’s response to the recommendations. That provides the public aspect.

The Chairperson: If the commissioner thinks that a children’s home is not providing appropriate care he will make recommendations, compile a report on it and send it to the local health board that is responsible for the home. Where else does the report go?

Mrs Stevens: It would be at the commissioner’s discretion.

The Chairperson: Does the commissioner have the discretion to make information fully available to the public?

Mrs Stevens: Yes.

Mrs Bunting: He has the discretion. However, I get the feeling that you would prefer it if the Bill stated more explicitly that such information would be made public.

The Chairperson: I am concerned that the commissioner may feel that, although he or she may be allowed to make information public, it may be inappropriate. I do not want the commissioner to feel shackled by those clauses. I want the commissioner to feel that he or she has the freedom to make information public if something is seriously wrong. The only power that the commissioner has is to name and shame, and the only people who receive that information are those directly concerned.

Mrs Stevens: We could consider the provision in clause 14(1), and if the Committee felt that clause 15 needed to be strengthened at the other end of the process, which is very public because of the register that is open to inspection, we could consider that clause also.

Mr K Robinson: I share that concern, but from a slightly different angle. A commissioner could decide to make findings available to certain groups, such as the media, which would undermine the purpose of the Bill. If it were explicit that the commissioner has the power to release information to the media per se, so that we do not have selective reporting, that could negate the object of the Bill. If the information were released to one area of the media only, such as television, or to a particular type of journalism, as opposed to journalists per se, there is a danger that sensationalism could creep in, rather than factual reporting of how the problem was discovered, addressed and remedied. In such situations, the explicit comment must be made.

I do not normally defend public bodies and persons who find themselves in the dock, but clause 12 seems to remove the right of witnesses to cross-examine. Those of us who have served on bodies that consider measures such as equality sometimes wished that we had the power to cross-examine the complainant and draw the commissioner’s attention to facts that he or she omitted to mention. It would be awful if that were the case again. For example, if a child makes a complaint against an adult, there is a certain in-built sympathy for the child, which may not be well placed. However, once an adult in authority is perhaps wrongly, or too heavily accused, their attempt to redress that imbalance is a non-starter. I do not want anyone to be badgered by the person under investigation but, by the same token, I do not want the person or authority under investigation to be put in the position where one hand is tied.

Mrs Stevens: In drafting the clauses for formal investigations, we were mindful of our obligations under the Human Rights Act 1998, which states that people have the right to a fair trial. Paragraph 9 of clause 12 outlines a provision that would give an authority that felt that an adverse finding might be made against it an opportunity to do that. If the Committee feels that that clause should be strengthened, we can do that.

Mr K Robinson: That would be good. I am not happy with the term "inquisitorial". It is emotive. I would like the person who is subject to the accusations to have a fair opportunity to respond and to provide the commissioner with information so that a fair and sensible conclusion could be reached.

The Chairperson: There is concern that the wording of clause 17 could restrict the commissioner’s access to public places, such as leisure centres, that regularly cater for children. Is it necessary to be so definitive? Could the wording not be more open?

Mrs Stevens: The Department is happy to reconsider that matter. It depends on the definition of other services provided for children or young people. If a leisure facility were construed as providing services for children and young people, it would come within the scope of clause 17.

The Chairperson: I would not expect most local authorities to be awkward about that. Nevertheless, we should leave the door open for the commissioner at all opportunities by making the legislation as inclusive as possible at an early stage.

Clauses 10(4) and (5), 11(4) and (5) and 13 are similar in policy, intention and content. They are intended to prevent a conflict between the commissioner’s advocacy and ombudsman roles. It has been suggested that it is logical for the commissioner to carry out an investigation, and then intervene in, or assist with, legal proceedings as necessary. Many submissions stated that those were exactly the steps that the commissioner needs to be able to take. One submission suggested that retaining these parts of the clauses might encourage the commissioner to move straight to legal proceedings instead of taking the less adversarial route of complaint or investigation.

Mrs Stevens: We are aware of those arguments. However, the Bill provides for the commissioner to carry out an informal investigation before deciding whether to pursue a more formal investigation or legal proceedings. The NIO and others expressed concerns that safeguards should be introduced to the Bill so that the commissioner could not act as a neutral third-party arbitrator or act completely on the part of the child in relation to a single case. That is why the safeguards have been introduced in paragraphs 4 and 5 of clauses 10 and 11. There is still provision for the commissioner to carry out an informal investigation before starting legal proceedings.

The Chairperson: Concern has been expressed about clause 10(2). If a child comes forward but does not wish to make an official complaint, and the commissioner believes there to be a problem, he or she could not investigate the potential breaches in his or her own name. It would have to be done in the name of a victim. Currently, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission can carry out investigations without a complaint having been made.

Mrs Stevens: The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is restricted in its ability to bring about proceedings under the Human Rights Act 1998 if no complaint has been made. The provision in the Northern Ireland Act 1998 that deals with that matter has not been included in this provision. We felt that it might be limiting. Clause 10(3) deals with that point. The commissioner can bring proceedings in his or her own name if the case raises a question of principle or if other special circumstances make it appropriate.

The Chairperson: During the Second Stage, many Members raised the issue of the commissioner’s powers being extended to include unborn children. The Committee wondered how appropriate it would be to include in utero provisions in clause 24. What is the possibility of those being included, and what are the thoughts of the Office of the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister on that issue?

Mrs Stevens: Ministers obviously support the promotion of the health of pregnant women, as it clearly influences the health and welfare of unborn children. The legislation, as drafted, already allows the commissioner to do that. However, we must ask what the added value of the commissioner’s doing that would be, because the Health Promotion Agency already deals with that. We are keen to ensure that the duplication of responsibility is kept to a minimum so that public money is used in the best way possible.

Extending the definition of "child" to "unborn child" raises the difficult issue of abortion. Domestic law on abortion in Northern Ireland is unclear, and a definitive ruling has not been given in Europe under international human rights instruments. Therefore, if we extend that definition, it would immediately throw the commissioner into the debate between pro-life and pro-choice. It may be inappropriate to do that at this stage as the commissioner already has a remit under the Bill. However, if the words "unborn child" are not included in the definition, the commissioner can have a view on abortion and can contribute to the debate without it being included in the legislation.

The Chairperson: There have also been cases of human rights abuses of unborn children. Two cases stand out in my mind. The first case happened in Bangor, when an individual was charged with causing the death of an unborn child through the savage and brutal beating of the child’s mother. The second case was that of the twins killed in the Omagh bombing. There are thousands of smaller cases in which unborn children have suffered unnecessary abuse and harm. Many Assembly Members and members of the public expressed their concern in that regard. The Committee will probably discuss the matter further.

Mrs E Bell: Would it be useful to have a summary of the Bill for young people, since it was introduced for their protection? Clause 17(4) mentions "the parent of the child", and it is also mentioned in another part of the Bill. However, it may be useful to change that to "someone with parental responsibility" to suit today’s circumstances.

Mrs Stevens: I agree with that. They are very good points, and we will re-examine the definition of parent with a view to including people with parental responsibility. A young people’s summary of the Bill is an excellent idea, and we are happy to produce that, as the legislation is very difficult to read. The Bill became more complex as additional safeguards were introduced, and it has resulted in a hefty piece of legislation that would be too unwieldy for young people and their advisers to deal with. One of the commissioner’s first tasks would be to publicise the role and make the legislation accessible.

Mrs E Bell: A publication similar to the young people’s edition of the Human Rights Bill would be appropriate, as young people said that that was a useful consultation paper.

The Chairperson: I want to examine clause 22, which is the definition of "relevant authorities" and the differential remit for children in the juvenile justice system.

The Bill relates only to public bodies, but private bodies’ functions will occasionally affect the rights of children. In addition, "relevant authority" is sometimes restricted to health and social services independent providers. For example, the work of the Training and Employment Agency applies to children under the age of 18. Recruitment agencies, many of which are private companies, would also come into play. However, the Bill does not provide any powers in that regard.

Mrs Stevens: You are correct. It was not our policy intention to exclude such bodies, and we will consider the definition of independent providers so that it can be extended beyond the health field.

The Chairperson: Thank you very much for coming. Members appreciate the Bill. Several of us are concerned that the NIO restricted its progress, but we will try to pursue the matter. We are happy with what OFMDFM has put in the Bill thus far. We will probably suggest some amendments, but the bulk of it is acceptable to the Committee.

We look forward to seeing you again.

Mrs Bunting: We have been encouraging the NIO to appear before the Committee, because it is important that members hear its arguments so that both sides of the debate can be fully understood.

11 September 2002 (ii) / Menu / 25 September 2002