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Column 812Question accordingly negatived.
Mr. Tom Clarke (Monklands, West) : It is important that I put on record and reaffirm the view of the official Opposition on this Bill. The Opposition have attempted to co-operate with the progress of the Bill-- [Interruption.] I shall not attempt to respond to the ill-informed interventions of Conservative Back Benchers, whose views I am sure are not reflected on the Government Front Bench. The fact is--I am delighted and not surprised that the Minister has agreed with this--that the Front Benches have endeavoured to co-operate to ensure that the Bill reaches the statute book. That remains our position. I hope, of course, that time will be found in which to continue the Bill's remaining stages. I repeat that our position is that we shall not seek to oppose the Bill. We want to see it on the statute book. That said, however--I say this especially in the presence of the Leader of the House, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is, of course, a reasonable man--when other reasonable hon. Members representing mining areas feel it necessary to demonstrate, as they have done, because they genuinely feel that they have a grievance about Associated British Ports--
Mr. Sims : Although I am encouraged by what we have just heard, I find myself, as a Back Bencher who has been closely involved with the Bill, somewhat perplexed by the turn of events this evening. I have been given to understand that there was a clear understanding in all parts of the House that we would seek to complete the Bill's passage this evening. As it was, our proceedings were delayed by accommodating the Opposition in the special debate on the economy for which they asked.
All hon. Members should recognise that many organisations outside the House are following the Bill's passage closely and are concerned that it should come to a successful conclusion. They will be extremely worried when they hear that we have apparently adjourned proceedings when we all know that the amount of parliamentary time available for completing such legislation is extremely limited. If we are to adjourn proceedings on the Bill this evening, I hope that time can be found as soon as possible so that, on a proper normal parliamentary basis, the Bill can be brought to its conclusion.
Mr. McCartney : Although I am a Back-Bench Member who was not directly involved in the Bill's Committee stage, I was involved in details relating to it for much of its Committee stage and spent all yesterday--and all our three and a half hours this
evening--participating positively in the debate. Indeed, I agreed to submit in writing to the Minister my detailed positive suggestions on the amendments that we discussed yesterday in our
Column 813personal time. My hon. Friends and I therefore greatly resent the accusation made by some Conservative Members that some Opposition Back-bench Members have attempted to disrupt the business this evening. We have had less than three hours of debate on legislation which, if the debate had started in the afternoon, would have continued for at least six and a half hours.
Of their own volition, the Government have tabled more than 400 amendments but at this hour have chosen not to deal with important provisions on grandparents' rights, which were due to be considered next. I hope, therefore, that the Government will allow appropriate time for Back Benchers to participate positively in fashioning the Bill before it becomes an Act.
Mr. Cryer : The Bill has run into difficulties simply because the Government have overloaded the timetable. They have produced the most mammoth Bills on record, dealing with issues such as water privatisation, in such a way that it has been difficult for the House to deal with them. The Clerks have been inundated with work and now, in the spill-over period, we are considering a Bill which, by and large, has a fair measure of cross- party support, as was demonstrated tonight by the wealth of detailed knowledge that hon. Members have exhibited. The debate on the clauses that we have considered tonight demonstrates that our debates have not been excessive.
If anyone is to be blamed, it is the Government--not for this Bill, but for occupying so much parliamentary time. Everyone knows that they have presented massive Bills, some of which are highly controversial, such as that on water privatisation, which is not wanted outside. They have been so incompetent that they have often had to come back with two or three money resolutions because they have not been able to draft the first one sufficiently
comprehensively to deal with the legislation. That is a measure of their incompetence, and it is entirely their responsibility.
Mr. Mellor : A number of hon. Members have spent a great deal of time on a measure vital for the welfare of children, which is not party- political. I am distressed that, after arrangements were entered into which should have enabled the Bill to complete its passage through the House tonight, that is no longer possible. I entirely acquit the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) of any blame. I believe that he sincerely wanted, as I did, to finish consideration of the Bill tonight but, as he said in all candour and honesty, a group of hon. Members who are aggrieved about other matters have chosen to use this debate as a vehicle to express their dissatisfaction on other matters. In effect, they have tried to hold the rest of the House and the Bill to ransom by pressing a wholly unnecessary Division.
Mr. Eric Illsley (Barnsley, Central) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is worth recording the fact that not one member of the miners parliamentary group has attempted to speak in the debate on the Children Bill tonight. One, or perhaps two at most, hon. Members who are members of that group have been present throughout the debate. We did not force a Division. [ Hon. Members :-- "Yes, you did."] Not one member of the group has spoken. It is wholly inappropriate--
Column 814made his point. The Minister was very unwise to open up this type of discussion as the Chair must inevitably allow hon. Members an opportunity to defend themselves if they have been charged. It is unwise to pursue this argument.
Mr. Mellor : I am obliged merely to state the facts. A Division on clause 32 was forced by the hon. Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) but no hon. Member entered the Division Lobby. It is an open secret around the Palace of Westminster that that tactic was to be pursued on this entirely innocent Bill because of grievances about a private Bill which is to be considered next week.
Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I have told the hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) that this is a matter on which we should not open a discussion. The Minister is inviting a much wider debate than is appropriate on matters which are totally unrelated to the issue before the House.
Mr. Mellor : Of course I accept your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker, so I shall say only this. It is a matter of deep regret that this Bill should not be able to make progress because of matters quite beyond the control of those who care about it and because some have been determined not to permit progress in the normal way. I regret that.
Mr. Stuart Bell (Middlesbrough) : I do not want to incur your ire, Mr. Deputy Speaker, but we who have been involved with the Bill for several months have worked in close co-operation in the interests of children.
I have a little phrase here which runs, children have been the great unsung losers in the change in social attitudes and morality. Children have always lost out. I have a short quotation : "These crowds and crowds of little children are strangely absent from the the written record."
We have spent much time on the Bill. We are writing children into the record. We are doing something to help children.
My hon. Friends and I agreed to be here and were prepared to stay here until the Bill had completed its proceedings tonight through to Third Reading. We are still willing, regardless of any outside events, to stay here to complete the remaining stages of the Bill. I urge two courses of action upon the Minister. First, that we stay here tonight and continue until the Bill is finished. If we are unable to do so, however, for reasons that are without our control we should have a clear commitment from the Government that the Bill will come back immediately so that we can complete its remaining stages. We are all aware of the pressure of time on the other place as well as on the House and the risks that are incumbent upon the proceedings tonight and that, therefore, the Bill may not complete all its stages by the time the House prorogues.
I urge the Minister and his Front-Bench colleagues to reflect seriously, before we put the motion to a vote, that we may, because it is the wish of the House, stay here until we complete the Bill.
Column 815pertinent points about the importance of the Bill for all children and about the amicable way in which all the debates have taken place.
Earlier the hon. Member for Makerfield (Mr. McCartney) suggested that it was the Government's fault that we had not made sufficient progress because they had tabled so many amendments. If he had followed the entire proceedings of the Committee, he would know that the Government approached the Bill in an open manner. They were prepared to listen to the debate and to introduce amendments following the results of those Committee debates. A substantial number of amendments have already been passed without any dissent from the Opposition. The hon. Member for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) has been outstanding in his support of many of the amendments tabled by the Government as part of their bipartisan policy.
Sadly, the hon. Member for Monklands, West blew the gaffe, given the manner in which you intervened, Mr. Deputy Speaker, as to the true cause of our dilemma tonight. I am sure that many hon. Members would happily sit here with me for the rest of the night if we believed that we would make progress on the Bill. Rumours throughout the House, however, as well as the comments of the hon. Member for Monklands, West have led us to believe that that is not possible. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Barnsley, Central (Mr. Illsley) was missing when his hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, North (Mr. Welsh) intervened at great length in the speech of his hon. Friend the Member for Wentworth (Mr. Hardy). The hon. Member for Barnsley, Central therefore missed the speech of a Member representing mining interests.
We now understand clearly why it is necessary to adjourn the debate tonight. It has nothing to do with the Bill, or with what has happended in the past ; it is to do what is likely to happen. That delay is a matter of regret, but we cannot do anything else but adjourn the debate. It would be tragic if the Bill were guillotined at this late stage.
The only answer is for the Opposition to ensure that their colleagues do not impede the sensible debate on the Bill and that we proceed with the amendments in a manner befitting the future of our children.
I have not taken part in any of the proceedings on the Bill, but I have stayed here, deliberately, to vote for certain proposals debated tonight-- first, new clause 2. I also intended to vote on the next group of amendments relating to the rights of grandparents, about which my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) has campaigned strongly for many years.
It was wrong for the Minister to speak as he did as it was the Government who chose to adjourn further consideration. If they want to make progreess, these issues could be concluded tonight and the Bill could get its Third Reading. It is outrageous. The Minister referred to a Bill which he believed some Opposition Members might try to influence next week. The Government could withdraw a nonsensical Bill which is down for debate next Monday,
Column 816the Football Spectators Bill. They could return in the next Session of Parliament with a more sensible proposal to deal with the football problems.
I regret the trend of Government Members who seem, like the Prime Minister, to believe that the only people who know what is right for this country are the Prime Minister and Government Members. They want to stifle democracy and debate. We have a right to debate and divide on issues in the House, and I regret that the Government have chosen to try to stop discussion of this issue tonight.
Mr. Frank Haynes (Ashfield) : I do not know why Tory Members are getting themselves in a tizzy. They put themselves up as candidates to fight an election and it is the Government who have given us the problem we face tonight.
I resent some of the remarks being made by Government Members, particularly the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), the Government's Deputy Chief Whip, who suggested that Scargill had something to do with this. I can tell the Deputy Chief Whip and the Chief Whip, who has a big grin on his face, that Scargill has not contacted me about the Bill.
I have a particular interest in new clause 10 and I and my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) have prepared ourselves for today's debate. I, like my hon. Friend, am a grandad. I know that you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, are amused but this is a serious matter.
Mr. Haynes : I do not know anything about that, but I am proud to be a grandfather and I wanted to participate with my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore on the grandparent clause. We are being denied that opportunity. What sort of guarantee will we have that this Bill will come before the House again? The Government have so much business to get through in the overspill period that they will be in difficulty. They will have to drop something, otherwise we shall have to go through the night to finish the business.
The Government have caused the problem because of the number of amendments they have tabled. I am prepared to go through the night if necessary because I am interested in the Bill. Conservative Members have suggested that they, too, are interested in it. This sort of thing has happened many, many times in years gone by. Some hon. Members had nappies on when it was taking place. Many of them are only young lads and they do not understand the procedure of the House. We are an Opposition. Are Conservative Members trying to tell me that if they were the Opposition they would not do what we are doing tonight, and have done on other nights? Who do they think they are kidding, especially the hon. Member for Crawley (Mr. Soames) who indicated that he wanted to speak just now. I have not seen him here on nights of this sort. He has been tucked up in bed in Crawley while we have been doing the work. When we have had this sort of difficulty I have seen regularly the same faces among the Conservative Benches, and they are there now. However,
Column 817on previous occasions, some right hon. and hon. Members have been tucked up in bed. I listened to the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit) earlier on. He will be tucked up in bed now. He was not pleased about today's debate and if he were here now he probably would not be pleased about what was happening.
Conservative Members are not really interested in the Bill-- [Interruption.] Not in the way in which my hon. Friends are interested in it. We want to continue debating it so that it can reach the statute book because we agree with some of it. We want an opportunity to speak on, for example, new clause 10.
Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke) : The hon. Member for Ashfield (Mr. Haynes) said that my hon. Friends and I would be doing the same as Labour Members are doing now if we were on the Opposition Benches. I assure him that we would not be obstructing a Bill which is designed to prevent child abuse simply to promote a different measure that is not the subject of discussion tonight. The Government would be in order in introducing a timetable motion to get this important Bill through as soon as possible.
We have been told that a private Bill is to be debated next week and it seems that several Opposition Members know that. You will be aware, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that that Bill has not been brought to the attention of the House and that business for next week has not yet been published. May I ask you to inquire how those Members have prior knowledge of that Bill?
Mr. Deputy Speaker : That does not arise on the motion that is before the House. Hon. Members speculate about such matters. I assure the House that the Chairman of Ways and Means is well aware of the concern about the Bill which should not be discussed now.
Mr. Vaz : Having been a member of the Standing Committee, I am concerned at the way in which the Bill is likely to end its parliamentary stages--in what appears to be a mess from the point of view of the business of the House. The situation in which we now find ourselves was predictable.
When we met the Minister of State and his officials last Wednesday in the Cathedral room of the Department of Health, we were told that we would not be getting the two full days that we had been promised to discuss this important measure. I agree with the hon. Members who have pointed out that a record number of amendments have been tabled. I am glad of that because it shows that the Minister was true to his word and was prepared to heed the reasonable arguments that were adduced in Committee.
At that stage, several Members, including the hon Members for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) and for Mid-Kent (Mr. Rowe), were as concerned as my hon. Friends lest the amount of time allocated would not be sufficient. It has been said time and again that the Bill is of crucial importance in that it has taken 100 years to reach the position when we can radically reform the law of child care. We are prepared to go on debating it through the night-- [Interruption.] The deputy Chief Whip, the hon. Member for Watford (Mr. Garel-Jones), seems to be indicating dissent at that. Because hon. Members who were members of the Standing Committee spent many hours debating these issues, we are prepared to go on
Column 818discussing the Bill through the night to reach a conclusion on it. Many organisations in the voluntary sector are looking to us to reach that conclusion.
If the Minister is not minded to proceed with it tonight, the Leader of the House, who is in his place, must give an assurance that he will provide a full day in which to discuss the important issues involved. It is not sufficient to begin the resumed debate at 10 o'clock at night and continue into the early hours without reaching a conclusion.
Let us have a full day in which to discuss the Bill. Let us not discuss simply the amendments that have been tabled by the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and others concerning grandparents' rights. After all, in clause 91 we shall be considering the abolition of the ancient jurisdiction of wardship that has been part of our legal system since the 15th century. Adequate time must be provided to discuss such issues. Will the Leader of the House give us that assurance? If he will, I am sure that some Opposition Members will support the motion.
Mrs. Elizabeth Peacock (Batley and Spen) : Many of us who sat for many hours on the Committee considering the Bill are worried that we have degenerated into this shambles. When we met the Minister of State last week, we were disappointed to find that we were not to have two full days of debate on the Bill. It is quite wrong for Opposition Members to try to make capital out of that, because it was their debate on the economy today which prevented the start of the business earlier.
After the long hours of consensus discussion on the Bill, steps should now be taken to ensure that time is provided for the Bill to finish its passage through the House and to go to the other place in time to arrive on the statute book. We would be failing in our duty to all the children who need this Bill if that did not happen. We should now try to resolve the problem and avoid this shambles. Question put :--
The House divided : Ayes 110, Noes 20.
Division No. 337] [1.55 am
Alison, Rt Hon Michael
Arnold, Jacques (Gravesham)
Baker, Nicholas (Dorset N)
Bennett, Nicholas (Pembroke)
Blackburn, Dr John G.
Carlisle, John, (Luton N)
Carlisle, Kenneth (Lincoln)
Coombs, Simon (Swindon)
Currie, Mrs Edwina
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James
Fishburn, John Dudley
Forsyth, Michael (Stirling)
Glyn, Dr Alan
Goodson-Wickes, Dr Charles
Gorman, Mrs Teresa
Greenway, John (Ryedale)
Griffiths, Peter (Portsmouth N)
Hamilton, Neil (Tatton)
Hayhoe, Rt Hon Sir Barney
Howarth, G. (Cannock & B'wd)
Howe, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Hughes, Robert G. (Harrow W)