New Clause 8 - Presumption in favour of co-parenting

Children and Adoption Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 21 March 2006.

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‘After section 1(1) of the Children Act 1989 (c. 41) insert—

“(1A)In respect of subsection (1)(a) the court shall, unless a contrary reason be shown, act on the presumption that a child’s welfare is best served through residence with his parents and, if his parents are not living together, through residence with one of them and through both of them being as fully and equally involved in his parenting as possible.”’.—[Tim Loughton.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Motion made and question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 10.

Division number 5 Nimrod Review — Statement — New Clause 8 - Presumption in favour of co-parenting

Aye: 3 MPs

No: 9 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

NOES

Question accordingly negatived.

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

On a rather more spurious point of order, Mr. Hood. It is time for me to hand out the usual pleasantries in what has been for this Bill a short, sharp but highly entertaining Committee stage. I am   sure that some of our discussions, disagreements and misunderstandings will be taken up in the Bill’s remaining stages on the Floor of the House.

I should like to thank you, Mr. Hood, and Mr. Hancock. Despite the potential awkwardness of having so many lawyers from all parties in Committee, and having to deal with some issues about which there has not been unanimity, our chairmen have conducted the Committee with a great deal of humour and firm resourcefulness to ensure that we have all been in order. I am sure that I speak for all Committee members when I pass on my thanks to you and to Mr. Hancock. I am grateful for the concern shown for my health when I was unable to attend the Committee’s sittings one day. That was a matter of great sorrow to me and, of course, I read the Hansard report as soon as it was published.

A number of issues have caused us concern; there was perhaps more agreement on them than disagreement, but we managed to disagree in any event, in practical terms. One strange thing that happened during this Committee is that a bug or lurgy of some kind went around and appears to have disproportionately attacked those with the first name of Maria. It is the first time that I have come across that on a Committee.

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families, who is absent today but who was very much present last Thursday when I was unable to be here. She stepped into the breach admirably and, from what I read in Hansard, it is clear that she dealt with all the things that I should have dealt with. I am also grateful to a very active, vocal and informed expert bunch of Labour Back Benchers, who have been excellent in making the jobs of both of us as Ministers a lot easier by dealing with some of the points before we even had to try to deal with them.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ann Coffey), who has a long association with the Bill and its predecessors, and who served on the Committee that considered the Bill in draft. She has brought considerable knowledge and expertise to her interventions, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Stafford, one of the lawyers on our Committee. He has also brought a great deal of experience and insight to the deliberations of the Committee. I know that there are also lawyers on the Opposition Benches and they, too, have shown that they understand the legalese as well as anybody else. They have contributed well to our deliberations.

I thank the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, who has brought his usual good humour—and an occasionally vituperative way of looking at things—to our deliberations. He has his own views on some of the issues; they were formed as a result of his experience on various children-type Bills in his current post on the Opposition Front Bench, a post that he has held for some time now. Although some of his amendments were ruled out of order, those of us aware of all the deliberations of the Committee will certainly think of him in future as “Mr. Insert Reasonableness”. That seems to have been the tenor of most of his amendments. That is understandable, given where he   is coming from. There is no doubt that he is extremely concerned about the issues and brought his expertise to the debates.

Confusing though it may be that the hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) is also called Maria, she is obviously getting into the swing of things, despite being relatively new to her post. She has been very clear in her contributions to the Committee. I thank hon. Members of all parties who have attended. The hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who unfortunately is not with us today, always contributes in her very particular way to deliberations, and did so on this Committee, too. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mark Williams) stepped nobly into the breach in her absence and dealt succinctly with some of the points that she would no doubt have made.

Finally, I thank the Officers of the House who, as ever, have kept us well served with water when we were choking and needed sustenance. They made sure that Divisions were dealt with properly under your guidance, Mr. Hood. I also thank the Hansard reporters, without whose efforts I would not have known what on earth happened on Thursday. It was very helpful to read that in plenty of time for our deliberations today.

Finally, I must say what a pleasure it has been to deal with the Bill so succinctly and sharply. It has been a relatively short Committee stage, but I think that we have gone into many of the issues in some detail. No doubt we will come back to them in the remaining stages on the Floor of the House. I look forward to that.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children) 4:45, 21 March 2006

Further to that point of order, Mr. Hood. As is traditional, I add my thanks and comments to those of the Minister and I concur with everything that she has said. I thank you and Mr. Hancock for the very balanced way in which you have chaired the Committee, even if you did not select a lot of our amendments. However, we shall not bear a grudge about that.

I pay tribute to my very active hon. Friends, who have all participated in the Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth was the only lawyer among my hon. Friends during our proceedings and he certainly merited his selection in the Committee with his in-depth legal analysis of what was a very legal Bill. I welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), who came as a Committee virgin and is a virgin no more. He certainly acquitted himself very well with his knowledge of these matters, which has been voiced in other parts of the House.

I thank our Whip, who has kept us in order so well to the extent that he missed more votes than all of my other hon. Friends. However, that was for perfectly understandable reasons: we need to be multi-skilled. I particularly pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke, who, as the Minister says, has come   to this role very recently. In a short space of time, she has more than picked up the reins of what is not an easy subject—it is very technical—and mastered the brief exceedingly well without being a lawyer, although she is married to one, so it must rub off in some respect.

As usual, the Minister and I have conducted proceedings in a reasonable fashion and our debates have been measured. She has certainly soldiered on through the adversity of her illness and, as she said, her right hon. Friend the Minister for Children and Families took up the reins the other day. It is also a rare pleasure to see Labour Back Benchers contributing to the debates and risking voicing their own views on certain subjects. It was particularly good to hear the contributions from the hon. Member for Stockport, who has long-standing knowledge and experience in this area, and the hon. Member for Stafford, who brings a great wealth of expertise, as do other Labour Members. It is also worth mentioning the hon. and learned Member for Redcar, who, like Banquo’s ghost, has not been physically part of our proceedings, but her name has been on the amendment paper more than certain Government Members who have attended our proceedings. Such is her influence on these matters.

I also thank those who have helped me and my hon. Friends. We do not have an enormous civil service—it is getting more enormous all the time—to help us in our deliberations, so we have to rely on the good will and efforts of certain people who bring their concerns and points of view to us. In particular, I would like to thank Oliver Cyriax, a lawyer who has great expertise and has been a great advocate for reform of the family courts in this area.

As the Minister said, we will not agree on the Bill because our disagreement deals with some fundamental issues of principle, about which we argued long and hard in the other place. We will continue to argue long and hard about them on Report and I cannot see my hon. and right hon. Friends wanting to agree to the Bill in its present form. The amendments that we have tabled were designed to make the principle behind the Bill, about which we all agree, workable in practice. That is where I fear it falls down. For me, the biggest blow I have taken is the Minister’s refusal to entertain the idea of changing the short title of the Bill, which is fundamental to the way in which we approach the legislation. I have taken that particularly badly. However, we have many points to return to on Report, and I am sure we will.

We have done the Bill a good service in our deliberations in the Committee. It was certainly right to have additional time, and I am grateful that the Government Whip was able to give us time beyond that originally granted by the House. The length of our deliberations has certainly been justified. We have had   good debates and good arguments, and I thank all of those who have made that possible. We look forward to further scrutiny of the Bill on Report.

Photo of Jimmy Hood Jimmy Hood Chair, European Scrutiny Committee, Chair, European Scrutiny Committee

I thank the Minister and hon. Members for their kind words during their points of order. I now rule that they were not points of order   but, on behalf of Mr. Hancock and myself, I thank them very much for their kind words. I do not know what they will do to my reputation, but they are very welcome indeed.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at ten minutes to Five o’clock.