New Clause 8 - Presumption in favour of co-parenting

Part of Children and Adoption Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 21 March 2006.

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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.