Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that you can confirm that, under Standing Orders relating to questions, it is within your discretion to permit a private notice or written question arising after the date of due notice for questions, which in your opinion is such that the Government should answer. If such a question arises and matters escalate after midday to a degree not apparent previously, is it possible for such a question to be tabled between midday and 3.30 pm or, as I expect, does the question have to be held over until 3.30 pm on the following day?
Mr. Speaker : If that occurs--when that occurs--I have no authority to grant a private notice question at short notice, but those facts would certainly be taken into account if a private notice question were submitted on the subsequent day.
Mr. Eric S. Heffer (Liverpool, Walton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. It arises out of Question Time when you gave an answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) in which you said that he could not say that the Prime Minister had been deceitful, either in this country or abroad. I should like to ask whether that ruling is in "Erskine May" and whether we can say such things. If an hon. Member says that somebody is a liar, I accept that an hon. Member would then be brought to order. However, being deceitful is not quite the same thing as being a liar. People can lie without being deceitful and be deceitful without being liars. Many people in the House and elsewhere are deceitful, but are not necessarily liars.
I should therefore like to know the basis of the ruling that you have given, Mr. Speaker. Is it in "Erskine May"? What exactly is the position? If we continue along these lines, we shall end up not being able to say anything about anybody or about anything that they say or do, and that would be quite wrong in a parliamentary democracy. I understand that in a parliamentary democracy we can challenge Conservative Members in the same way that they can challenge us. I should like to know the precise basis for your ruling, Mr. Speaker.
Mr. Speaker : The hon. Gentleman has been here long enough to know that we in this House do not attribute dishonourable motives to each other- - [Interruption.] Order. We are not televised yet, but I hope that we shall set a high standard in the words that we use about each other. "Deceitful" is an unparliamentary word.
Mr. Harry Cohen (Leyton) : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I believe that my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) was alluding to the need for an emergency debate on the London ambulance dispute, which has been escalated by the management. After the deadline for making representations to you, I received information that the management had taken the keys away from the vehicles belonging to my local ambulance service and will not put--
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) rose --
Mr. Winnick : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. You know that I and other hon. Members observe your rulings and that we are trying to do so. Will you reflect on the ruling you gave a moment ago to my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Walton (Mr. Heffer) and what you said to me? I mentioned to you--perhaps you did not hear me because of the noise--that Commonwealth leaders use the same words that I used. If that word simply cannot be used, so be it, but since there is no list in "Erskine May", and since many people believe that the Prime Minister has been--I cannot use the word, according to you--I believe that on future occasions we should be able to speak our minds in a free Parliament and in a parliamentary democracy.
Mr. Speaker : I hope that the House too will reflect on the matter of parliamentary language. That certain words may be used outside this place is irrelevant. What we are concerned with in this House is keeping up our standards, and I hope that we shall. do so.
Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : Further to the point of order raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Newham, South (Mr. Spearing) about private notice questions. As you have said, Mr. Speaker, we are coming towards the time when the House will be televised and, understandably, the public will expect the House of Commons to reflect the immediacy and urgency of situations as they are seen outside this place.
We have a myth, which we have all sustained over the years, that private notice questions are not asked unless they are granted. That leads people outside not to understand the extent to which hon. Members on both sides of the House try to pursue matters that are of great urgency, sometimes at a constituency level, but often at a national level. Might it not be time to question whether we need to sustain the illusion that unasked private notice questions have never been asked in the first place?
Mr. Speaker : If the right hon. Gentleman wants that to happen, he should take it to the Procedure Committee because it is the Procedure Committee that binds the Chair on this matter. I cannot go beyond what the Procedure Committee has recommended and the House has agreed.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough and Horncastle) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. Will you please make it quite clear that, once Parliament is televised, television will be the servant of Parliament and not Parliament the servant of television?
That the draft Inter-American Development Bank (Seventh General Increase) Order 1989 be referred to a Standing Committee on Statutory Instruments, &c.-- [Mr. Greg Knight.]
Children Bill [Lords]
As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered .
Mr. Speaker : Before calling upon the Minister to move the order of consideration motion, I must draw the attention of the House to a printing error on the Amendment Paper. The amendments to new clause 34, which is printed on page 3173, will be found on page 3164.
The Minister for Health (Mr. David Mellor) : I beg to move, That the Bill, as amended, be considered in the following order, namely : Amendments relating to Clauses 1 to 14, Schedule 1, Clause 47, Schedule 4, Clauses 48 to 53, Schedule 5, Clauses 54 to 56, Schedule 6, new Schedule 6 A--, Clauses 57 to 59, Schedule 7, Clauses 60 to 63, Schedules 9 to 13, new Clauses 1, 23 and 20, remaining new Clauses, new Schedule 9 A--, Amendments relating to Clauses 15 to 26, Schedule 2, Clauses 27 to 33, Schedule 3, Clauses 34 to 46, Clauses 64 to 71, Schedule 8, Clauses 72 to 91 and the Title.
I should like to pay warm tribute to the officials of the House, who had to work exceptionally hard to produce the order of consideration for today having regard to the large number of amendments that have been tabled. I know that that necessitated a number of officials of the House, as well as officials of my Department, working through the night on Friday. I should like to express my gratitude and, I suspect, the gratitude of the House for that.
The motion endeavours to arrange our consideration so that a significant number of uncontentious and formal amendments are taken first.
Mr. Vaz : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I tried to attract your attention earlier, but you did not call me. My point relates to what the Minister has just said and the order in which the House will take the amendments. As you, Mr. Speaker, have said, there is an enormous number of amendments to the Bill. I am concerned about new clauses 13 and 5, which involve the child assessment orders and the child production notice. They are important clauses and, if we follow the selection that you have determined, we shall reach them by about 7 o'clock this evening. In view of the importance of the clauses and the statements made by the Minister last Saturday to the social services correspondent of The Guardian will it be possible to take those clauses out of the schedule you suggested and put them back until tomorrow?
Mr. Speaker : The order in which amendments are taken is not for me. It is in the Government's motion which is on the Order Paper. If the hon. Gentleman does not like that motion, he must vote against it.
I was about to say that the motion, which has obviously been discussed through the usual channels, is an endeavour to reflect the significance of making progress
Column 481with largely uncontentious amendments, followed by the opportunity, while the House is still fresh, to consider some issues, including the one raised by the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz), which are more contentious and on which the House will no doubt want to spend some time.
In explaining to the House why there are so many amendments, I shall make three points. First, the Bill is a major consolidation and reform of both the private and public law relating to children. It is an important technical Bill on a matter which is unlikely to be the subject of further sustained parliamentary consideration for some time. Therefore, it is crucial that all the details are right, hence the large number of amendments, many of which, though I suspect purely formal and uncontentious, are vital. I apologise for the large number of amendments.
Secondly, the Bill has proceeded through both Houses of Parliament as a non -partisan measure and, therefore, the fact that when the Bill was considered in totality in Committee the Government offered a number of concessions to opinion among all parties means that a number of the amendments reflect agreements which were reached in Committee. While that has added to the work of the House, it is an ornament to Parliament rather than otherwise that the Committee stages have led to such a measure of consideration on Report. Thirdly, one or two new issues have arisen, such as the follow-up to the Crookham Court school problems which have led to some amendments being tabled. It would have been remiss if we had not taken the opportunities offered to make changes in a part of the law which plainly gave rise to considerable public concern.
Question put and agreed to.
(A) In any proceedings in which any question with respect to the upbringing of a child arises, the court shall have regard to the general principle that any delay in determining the question is likely to prejudice the welfare of the child.'.
The Solicitor-General : Following what my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health has said, I can add that these amendments are not contentious and I shall deal with them comparatively briefly unless hon. Members wish to ask questions about them. The effect of the amendments is to state as a general principle that the court is to regard any delay in proceedings about children as likely to prejudice the child's welfare. That is something about which the House will agree and I commend the amendments.
Mr. Vaz : The Solicitor-General invited questions on these technical amendments. Does he believe that the amendment pre-empts the debates that we shall hold later on family courts? Does he agree that if we had a family
Column 482court, it would meet many of the criticisms of the delays that occur when the court system deals with cases affecting children? 3.45 pm
The Solicitor-General : I am sure that the steps that we propose to take and which we shall have an opportunity--I hope not much later--this afternoon to discuss fully will meet the hon. Gentleman's point.
Mr. Ian McCartney (Makerfield) : My point is not so much a question as a contribution about an issue that causes me great anxiety. During the past decade, much of my work has concerned the delays involved in court hearings of children's cases--delays between hearings and subsequently in the appeals procedure.
When considering provision for a child's future welfare, it is vital that circumstances dividing the child from the wider family and that access, when appropriate, to the child by the parent during proceedings be taken into account. Unfortunately, either because of duplicity, pressure of work or lack of communication between parents, the representatives of parents, the wider family, the local authority and the court, in the period leading up to court proceedings there is often a vital breakdown in communications and in the link between the family and the child. When a final decision has been made by the courts that break often leads to an irreversible breakdown in relationships which can cause unnecessary anxiety for children and for the family, the parents, the wider family and especially grandparents.
I do not want to pre-empt future debates on clauses dealing with maintaining family links during proceedings, but will the Minister assure us that statutory instruments will be brought to the House laying down the responsibilities of the court and the local authority to maintain the link between the child and the wider family during proceedings? Such advice should set out the basic tasks that must be undertaken to ensure that the relationship continues for all practical purposes.
When proceedings are pending, parents and the wider family are often wholly excluded from communication with the child--they cannot celebrate birthdays, Christmas or other special events together ; they cannot gain access for usual family activities, either. It is vital to lay down in legislative form certain other practical steps that the courts must take. Local authorities and courts must not be given options : we must set down clear duties for them to undertake in respect of maintaining the important link between the child in care and the authorities who are responsible for determining its future welfare.
In many instances, courts and local authorities should be empowered to expedite the following matters : facilities should be provided for preparing meals for children and giving babies a feed. Families should be able to take a child to and from school or nursery if the child is still attending during care proceedings. They should be able to go out on social outings to shops and cinemas and clinics and doctors. Families should be able to clean a child's room, make its bed, wash and iron its clothes, read to it and tell it stories. They should be able to help the child with reading or writing and with shopping for shoes and clothes, with or without the foster parents if the latter are involved in care proceedings. All these are vital in cases in which the courts have yet to decide whether long-term
Column 483separation from the family is in the interests of the child. In that preceding period the link must be maintained and carefully nurtured, along with the support of professional social workers under the guidance of the court.
It is also important when there is some measure of access to the child during proceedings, that prior to access facilities are provided to choose clothing and the other things that a child needs and which can be provided by a grandparent, another member of the family or a family friend. Those are minimum standards that require to be set down, and without them the situation will remain as it is now.
Efforts have been made to amend the clause. When delays take place-- sometimes for legitimate and at other times for not so legitimate reasons-- the break-up of the family begins and gathers pace, and further anxieties and pressure are brought to bear on the child and there is extreme pressure on the family. That is unacceptable, given that part of the whole ethos of social work in most cases is to try to retain the link between the family and the child. Even if at the end of the day the court makes a determination order for either a short or a long period, the child will not live in the family context.
At some stage during the passage of the Bill will the Minister provide clear advice to local authorities in court? Where, in specific circumstances, it is necessary to maintain the link with the family, will he set out clear instructions detailing the tasks that will have to be carried out on behalf of the court by the social services to maintain the vital family link?
The Solicitor-General : All those matters are covered at one point or another in the Bill. There may be an opportunity to debate some of them later today. The amendments before us deal with delay and the desirability of avoiding it wherever possible.
Amendment agreed to.
(2) No parental responsibility agreement shall have effect for the purposes of this Act unless--
(a) it is made in the form prescribed by regulations made by the Lord Chancellor ; and
(b) where regulations are made by the Lord Chancellor prescribing the manner in which such agreements must be recorded, it is recorded in the prescribed manner.'.
The Solicitor-General : Again, these amendments deal with the question of the prescribed form for parental responsibility agreements and, in future, with methods of recording them as laid down as and when the Lord Chancellor comes to lay them down. Amendment agreed to.
Amendment made : No. 38, in page 3, line 42, after may', insert only'.-- [The Solicitor-General.]
The Solicitor-General : I beg to move amendment No. 269, That Clause 5 be divided into two Clauses, the first consisting of page 4, subsections 1-8 and page 5, subsections (16) and (17) and the second of page 4, subsections (9) to (15) on page 5.
The Solicitor-General : The amendments are largely technical. They deal with the splitting of clause 5 into two parts with detailed provisions about the appointment of guardians and with amendments consequent upon the splitting of the clause and some other drafting amendments.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made :
No. 270, in page 4, line 4, leave out from (1)' to end of line and insert
Where an application with respect to a child is made to the court by any individual, the court may by order appoint that individual to be the child's'.
No. 271, in page 4, line 9, at end insert--
(1A) The power conferred by subsection (1) may also be exercised in any family proceedings if the court considers that the order should be made even though no application has been made for it.'. No. 272, in page 4, line 15 leave out is signed by the person making it' and insert
is signed by the person making the appointment or--
(a) in the case of an appointment made by a will which is not signed by the testator, is signed at the direction of the testator in accordance with the requirements of section 9 of the Wills Act 1837 ; or
(b) in any other case, is signed at the direction of the person making the appointment, in his presence and in the presence of two witnesses who each attest the signature.'.
No. 273, in page 4, line 16, after a', insert child's'. No. 274, in page 4, line 36, leave out subsection (2) or (3)' and insert section 5(2) or (3)'.
No. 275, in page 4, line 42 leave out subsection (2) or (3)' and insert section 5(2) or (3)'.
No. 276, in page 4, line 45, leave out by him' and insert -- (
(a) by him ; or
(b) at his direction, in his presence and in the presence of two witnesses who each attest the signature.'.
No. 277, in page 5, line 1, leave out subsection (2) or (3)' and insert section 5(2) or (3)'.
No. 278, in page 5, line 2, leave out from if' to end of line 3 and insert
, with the intention of revoking the appointment, the person who made it--
(a) destroys the instrument by which it was made ; or
(b) has some other person destroy that instrument in his presence.'.
No. 279, in page 5, line 4, leave out subsection (2) or (3)' and insert section 5(2) or (3)'.
No. 280, in page 5, line 6, leave out subsection (2) or (3)' and insert section 5(2) or (3)'.
No. 281, in page 5, line 10, leave out subsection (14) and insert-- (14) Where regulations are made by the Lord Chancellor prescribing the manner in which such disclaimers must be recorded, no such disclaimer shall have effect unless it is recorded in the prescribed manner.'.
Column 485No. 282, in page 5, line 13, leave out this section' and insert section 5'.
No. 283, in page 5, line 14, at end insert--
(on the application of any person who has parental responsibility for the child ;)
(on the application of the child concerned, with leave of the court ; or)
(in any family proceedings, if the court considers that it should be brought to an end even though no application has been made.'.) No. 284, in page 5, line 17, at end insert--
(16A) Subject to any provision made by rules of court, no court shall exercise the High Court's inherent jurisdiction to appoint a guardian of the estate of any child.
(16B) Where rules of court are made under subsection (16A) they may prescribe the circumstances in which, and conditions subject to which, an appointment of such a guardian may be made.'.
No. 285, in page 5, line 18, after guardian', insert of a child'.-- [The Solicitor-General.]