New Clause 8 - Presumption in favour of co-parenting

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

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Photo of Maria Eagle Maria Eagle Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Department for Education and Skills) (Children and Families) 4:30, 21 March 2006

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.