Clause 17 - Short title, commencement and extent

Children and Adoption Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:30 am on 21 March 2006.

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Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children) 11:30, 21 March 2006

I beg to move amendment No. 9, in clause 17, page 17, line 36, leave out ‘Children and’ and insert ‘Child Contact and Intercountry’.

We now come to the heart and kernel of the Bill: the short title. In what is becoming something of a habit, I seek to amend the short title of a Bill that is about children and adoption. Amendment No. 9 would lengthen, although not excessively, the short title from the Children and Adoption Bill to the “Child Contact and Intercountry” Bill, a much more helpful and obvious description of what the Bill is about.

We should adopt the Ronseal principle—“Does exactly what it says on the tin”—to deliberations in Parliament, and I want to apply it to the Bill. I have led   for my party on this Bill, as I did on the Adoption and Children Act 2002 and the Children Act 2004. There has been constant confusion in our deliberations, as there was when we debated those earlier Acts, about the legislation to which hon. Members are referring.

I did a little research and found that over the past few years the following legislation has been enacted that refers to children and adoption. It starts with the Adoption Act 1958, the Adoption Act 1960, the Adoption Act 1964, the Adoption Act 1968, the Adoption Act 1976 and the Adoption and Children Act 2002; and now we have the Children and Adoption Bill, which I presume will become an Act in 2006.

We next have the Children Act 1958, the Children Act 1975, the Children Act 1985, the Children Act 1989, the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 and the Children Act 2004.

We also have the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Act 1952, the Children and Young Persons (Amendment) Act 1986, the Children and Young Persons (Protection from Tobacco) Act 1991, the Children and Young Persons Act 1956, the Children and Young Persons Act 1963, the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, the Children’s Homes Act 1982, the Children’s Commissioner for Wales Act 2001, the Foster Children (Scotland) Act 1984, the Foster Children Act 1980, the Indecency with Children Act 1960, the Matrimonial Proceedings (Children) Act 1958, the Protection of Children (Tobacco) Act 1986, the Protection of Children Act 1978 and the Protection of Children Act 1999.

The Hansard reporter will be relieved to know that I will happily give her a list of those Acts after the debate. It is a serious point, however, because there has been an awful lot of legislation by all Governments over the past 50 years to do with children and adoption. There are many other similarly titled Acts. It seems sensible, with the addition of a few extra words, to name the Bill differently to predecessor legislation to do with children and adoption. People would then know instantly to which Act we were referring. That would avoid future confusion when hon. Members start talking about previous legislation.

It is a helpful, small, sensible and weighty amendment—weighty in terms of its implications, and small given the number of words involved. I hope that the Minister will leap up to welcome and embrace it, and that she will accept it for the greater good of working out which Act we are talking about.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Children and Families)

Would that it were easy for me to leap and accept the serious points that the hon. Gentleman makes. I have much sympathy with them. However, despite the fact that I applaud his efforts to bring clarity to the statute book by clearly differentiating the various Acts, that is not the primary purpose of the short title. I am not able to accept the amendment, but I am happy to explain why, which is the next best thing.

Parliamentary counsel have some influence on short titles. They have to consider subject matter and scope. The short title gives an interpretation of the scope of the Bill, as does the long title. The difficulty with the short title proposed by the hon. Gentleman is that it does not legally or accurately reflect the contents of the   Bill. As well as dealing with contact, it deals with family assistance orders, which may be made in any case with risk assessments, following the amendment made in the other place, and which may be ordered in proceedings other than contact proceedings. In addition, he seeks to add private fostering provisions to the Bill, which would further widen its scope. His suggested wording would not be an accurate description.

The hon. Gentleman’s description of inter-country adoption is not strictly accurate. He may be interested to know that parliamentary counsel deliberately avoided using that term because it is used in connection only with Hague convention proceedings. The Bill, of course, deals with countries other than those that are party to The Hague convention, so that phrase would not be appropriate; it would give the wrong idea of the Bill’s scope. Part 2 is therefore modelled on the terminology of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, which refers to adoption with a foreign element.

Although I have every sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman says, I can only tell him why I cannot accept the amendment. I assure him that the short title was carefully selected by parliamentary counsel in accordance with the usual parliamentary procedures and practices, so that it would be acceptable to the authorities of the House and do its job, which is to delineate the scope of the Bill. It may also have the slightly disadvantageous consequence of confusing us ordinary mortals further, in light of the long line of other Acts to which he referred. I hope that he will understand, even if he does not agree, why I cannot accept the amendment, and he may care to withdraw it.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

As my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson) might have said, sympathy doesn’t butter any parsnips. I am devastated. The Minister had to dig deep to come up with ways of refuting this eminently sensible suggestion. She said that private fostering would not be covered by the title, yet she has set her face entirely against any suggestion of adding private fostering to the Bill. Indeed, she knows that private fostering amendments were ruled out of order and were not debated. That is a pretty limp excuse for not acceding to our suggestion.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Children and Families)

I did not wish to be provoked, but I have been. I thought that I said that the hon. Gentleman was trying to add provisions, not that we were discussing them. His amendments would have had an even wider scope had they been accepted.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I had sought to do that but was frustrated, so any reference to those amendments is irrelevant to the case that the Minister makes against this amendment.

The Minister said that parliamentary counsel have a big influence on short titles. I dare not think how much we pay them to play around with a few words, when we could in effect do it for free. We would offer a great   financial saving if the Government were to ask us to title future Bills rather than relying on highly paid parliamentary counsel.

The amendment is not entirely frivolous, but it is tempting to push it to a vote—the numbers on either side of the Committee are interesting, Mr. Hood, and we might have to rely on your intervention. However, I do not wish to tease the Committee any further. We have made our point. It is a shame that the Minister should come up with a load of hogwash in order to say why it is not eminently sensible, but eminently sensible things are not necessarily the Government’s hallmark. Reluctantly, therefore, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Children and Families)

I beg to move amendment No. 28, in clause 17, page 18, line 22, leave out subsection (9).

The amendment would remove the privilege amendment inserted in the other place. As hon. Members will know, it is the privilege of the House of Commons to control charges on public funds, a long fought-for privilege of ancient lineage, and one that we do not wish to give up. The privilege amendment avoids any formal infringement of that privilege. Provisions in the Bill that, but for the privilege amendment, would have the effect of creating, imposing or increasing a charge, were authorised by the money resolution, which was agreed to immediately after Second Reading. The privilege amendment may therefore now be removed.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 17, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.