Adoption and Children Bill

Part of the debate – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:45 am on 27 November 2001.

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Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons) 10:45, 27 November 2001

I will clear up the confusion on the point made by the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley). The breakdown of the clauses was agreed without a vote in the Programming Sub-Committee, but the grossly inadequate number of sittings to scrutinise the Bill was determined by a whipped vote on the Floor of the House.

I have supported the Bill's main measures for a long time. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) mentioned, some were included in a draft Bill under the last Conservative Government. Sadly, this Bill has taken a long time to come to fruition. It deals with a complicated subject, on which there is a broad consensus of principle, but also disagreement on complex and detailed issues. The Government accordingly agreed to the Special Standing Committee process, which followed on from the three hearings of the special Select Committee before the general election.

We have a truncated programme, with only five weeks for debate, which has directly followed that scrutiny process. We were not allowed even a one-week interval to digest those complicated and intensive hearings, which lasted for six hours on one day. We all felt tired by the end. However, we had only a day and a half to table amendments to the initial clauses dealing with complicated issues of principle, particularly clause 1.

The Government's approach contrasts strangely with the handling of earlier Bills—for example, the Children Act 1989, which has been referred to repeatedly. That legislation was not forced through on a timetable. It was not guillotined, and Members of all parties worked hard to make the best stab at a complicated subject. The Act achieved much good. Some mistakes were made despite the time taken, and we will deal with some today.

Another example is the Family Law Bill. The debate on that lasted much longer than five weeks, and I was privileged to serve on the Committee. The then Opposition welcomed parts of the Bill, and they agreed that, if elected, they would bring it into force. No fixed time was set to bring it into force, and after three or four years, it has now been abandoned.

My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham is not making an empty point. There is a huge discrepancy between the incredible rush in which the Bill is being forced through and the lack of a specified time when the Bill will become law. It is a question not just of when the legislation comes into force, but of when resources will be made available. We all know that any amount of laws and regulations relating to social services can be passed, but without the resources to implement them, little will be achieved in practice.

The Bill will definitely become an Act. The Minister may attempt to suggest that the Opposition, in stressing that the time for scrutiny is inadequate, are trying to damage, slow down or wreck the Bill. Let us be clear that the Opposition are strongly committed to the Bill. It is being dealt with early in the Session, and no one could argue that allowing an untimetabled approach with a few extra weeks for scrutiny—and an extra week's reflection between the hearings and the start of our working scrutiny—would prevent the Bill from becoming law. Rather, it would allow us to get our teeth into the issues and produce better law. Nevertheless, with the support of my hon. Friends, the Opposition will work as best we can within the limited time available.