Previous Section Home Page

Mr. Cryer : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Surely you have a responsibility if a request is made by the Government to make a statement about the Chancellor's resignation. You would have to consider whether and how to fit in an emergency statement with the business of the day. The question would then arise whether any statement would come out of guillotine motion time because we have recently resolved to have a three-hour debate. Not only would there need to be consideration of whether a statement on this important economic matter should be allowed, but on what effect it would have on this three-hour debate. I seek your guidance, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is a time of great economic crisis and I wish to know whether the Prime Minister has sought leave to come to the House to make a statement on what appears to be the biggest crisis of this Parliament.

Mr. Dobson : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. The Leader of the House was swift to come to the Chamber at midnight to make a statement. He is here now, and I wonder whether he has approached you and confirmed what is now being reported on the tapes and on BBC television news--that the Chancellor has resigned in the middle of one of the most profound economic crises that this country has faced. It is right and proper that a Government Minister, and preferably the Prime Minister--who is First Lord of the

Treasury--should come to the House and explain what is happening.

Mr. Alan Williams (Swansea, West) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It is clear that we are trapped in the procedures of the House. The debate is due to continue for a set time, yet decisions will be taken at the end of that time that will pre-determine what happens tomorrow. I do not wish further to venture into the seriousness of the present situation, but it is clear that the House will wish to have an opportunity to question and to discuss the matter. Either there must be a statement this evening or there must be one early tomorrow.

In order to ensure that this debate can proceed in a sensible manner, would it not make sense to have a brief Adjournment of the House while the usual channels discuss the way in which we can deal both with the business before us and with the problems that we all wish to address?

Column 1094

Mr. Bell : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Although I understand your position, the Opposition sat through Prime Minister's questions this afternoon when the right hon. Lady gave her backing to the Chancellor. The question is whether, when the right hon. Lady made that statement, she knew of the pending resignation and whether she was deceiving the House. We have a right to know whether she made that statement in the full knowledge of the facts or whether she was unaware of the facts.

It is for the Government of the day to control the business of the House and to make the necessary statement at this time. We sympathise with our hon. Friends who are trying to discuss the guillotine motion, but in the national interest it is right that the Prime Minister should make a statement now, especially in the light of the probable impact on interest rates. The Prime Minister said today that the Chancellor had her full support and that the civil servant at No. 10 did not have that same support. It is therefore right and proper not only that there should be a statement, but that that statement should be made by the Prime Minister.

Mr. Andrew F. Bennett (Denton and Reddish) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. May I press on you the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) that there should be a short adjournment of the House so that the matter can be dealt with sensibly and reasonably? It is extremely unsatisfactory for the House not to be told the full facts. A proper statement must be made at the earliest opportunity. There would be little point in continuing to raise points of order and to force the Government to make a statement. It would be simple for the Leader of the House to stand up and ask for an adjournment, which would enable the Prime Minister to come to the House and make a clear statement about what has happened. It is the right hon. Lady's duty to report to the House before making statements outside.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Good news does, indeed, move quickly. As the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip are both here, it is right to ask them for a statement. The implications of the Chancellor--even this Chancellor--resigning will be profound upon the stock market and on international confidence in the pound. I assure you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that many of my constituents will be worried about their gold stocks, their shares and all the other assets that they have managed to accumulate during the past 10 years. In those circumstances-- [Interruption.] I note, Sir, that I have your close and undivided attention.

I suggest that there is a statement because I, for one, am becoming rather concerned about the fate of the Chancellor. He is not the most lovable person, but if he jumped from No. 11 Downing street there would now be a very large hole in the road, which could be catastrophic for the Prime Minister as she rushes back in her bullet-proof chauffeured limousine. It is because we feel such great concern for the Chancellor that we must know exactly what has happened to the poor fellow. He must be having a very rough time.

Dr. John Reid (Motherwell, North) : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it not opportune to remind the Leader of the House that less than three hours

Column 1095

ago the Leader of the Opposition asked a specific question about the Chancellor and about part-time advisers-- [Interruption.] We are completely in the dark. The Prime Minister gave no sign of what was to happen. It is a crucial time, yet we have absolutely no idea of who is now to marshal the economic resources of this country. However, a few moments ago I did notice that my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Monklands, East (Mr. Smith) had been called from the Chamber, so perhaps interesting developments are taking place. Because this matter was discussed no more than three hours ago and because of the grave implications for the stock market and the economy, we are in order to demand a statement to the House. Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I remind the House that the matters being raised are not the responsibility of the Chair. Equally, I well understand the seriousness of the situation. I very much hope that hon. Members will bear that in mind in their points of order.

Mr. Cryer : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to you for calling me as I have a genuine point of order--as, indeed, has every Opposition Member. There has been a suggestion that the House should adjourn while we consider the economic crisis that is engulfing the country because of the incompetence of the Government's conduct of affairs, the resignation of the Chancellor and the issues arising from the guillotine motion that is currently before the House.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Swansea, West (Mr. Williams) requested an adjournment of the House, and I wonder whether that would be treated as a dilatory motion or whether it would be accepted. If it were to be treated as a dilatory motion under the terms of the guillotine, it could be moved only by a Government spokesman. It is incumbent upon the Government to rearrange the proceedings of the House and to make a statement. It is outrageous that such events can happen and that the arguing and bickering between No. 10 and No. 11 about Professor Walters can result in the resignation of the Chancellor, with the information being given to television and radio but not to this House. We are the accountable body.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : The hon. Gentleman began by saying that he had a genuine point of order, but he is now raising matters that have nothing remotely to do with me. Only a Minister can move a dilatory motion and even that would not make provision for added injury time. Mr. Skinner rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that he must keep his seat while I am standing.

That would not of itself add to the time allowed for the guillotine motion.

Mr. Dobson : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. With the exception of the wind-up speeches and the interrupted speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), there are not many Members any longer wishing to take part in the debate on the guillotine motion.

Column 1096

I seek your advice, Mr. Deputy Speaker. If we are to ensure that the opportunity arises within the rules of order for a statement to be made, would it not be necessary for us to pass the guillotine motion? As I understand it, that would then foreclose the proceedings for the rest of the day. I hope that either by your ruling, or by discussions through the usual channels, we can ensure that the most senior member of the Government has the opportunity to come to the Chamber to explain what has happened and why, in the middle of an economic crisis, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has resigned. That is a most important matter to the British people and to people abroad. It will affect markets and it must be cleared up. It will not be satisfactory to hon. Members on either side of the House for the situation to be explained and clarified by Mr. Bernard Ingham. The place for it to be clarified and reported to the British people is in the elected House of Commons. That is our job.

Sir Geoffrey Howe : Further to the points of order in which Opposition Members have expressed some interest, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I would suggest two things. First, the resignation, or proffered resignation, of a member of the Government does not normally lead to the making of a statement, and so it does not follow that that should happen as a matter of course. Secondly, it would certainly not follow that there should be any deflection of the business before the House for a variety of reasons, including those referred to by the shadow Leader of the House. I suggest that the business of the House, the debate now taking place and that which is to follow, should proceed. I shall see whether I can consider through the usual channels the possibilities that have been suggested, but I do not want to imply that the business would be interrupted or any presumption of a statement on the matter. However, I can show my willingness to listen.

Several Hon. Members rose--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. It might be helpful if the House were to reflect on what the Leader of the House has said. The Chair has not yet received any intimation from the Government of a wish that a statement be made, but if there were such an intimation the Chair would have to consider it seriously. I am advised that whatever happens, at 7.46 pm, when the three hours provided for the guillotine motion expire, the Question must be put, notwithstanding the seriousness of other matters that have intervened. I am sure that the House will wish to consider whether it would like to have a view from the Front Bench spokesmen before the House is required to make its decision on the guillotine motion. In the meantime, the Chair will listen to any further genuine points of order and, while those are being dealt with, those responsible may wish to consider the appropriate response in the circumstances.

Mr. Dobson : Further to that point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I recognise all the problems that the Leader of the House faces and the dilemma that you face. May we have a clear ruling on whether, if the guillotine motion were to be passed, the Government could interrupt the then guillotined business in order to make a statement? We should not proceed with the discussion on the guillotine motion until we know that.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Let me respond to that immediately. I have made it clear to the House that the

Column 1097

time available for the guillotine motion will expire at 7.46 pm and at that time, if not before, the Chair will be required to put the Question. If the hon. Gentleman is asking what might be the situation if there were a request for a statement to be made at a time after that, doubtless, as in the past, arrangements can be made for a subsequent statement to be made.

Mr. Dave Nellist (Coventry, South-East) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you confirm that under normal circumstances any hon. Member wishing to make an application under Standing Order No. 20 would have had to have submitted an application to Mr. Speaker before 12 o'clock today unless circumstances arose after that time which, in the view of the Chair, were sufficiently urgent to allow a later application? Must not the Chancellor's resignation, and hence the collapse of the Government's direction of economic policy, be the one occasion in this Session when an application under Standing Order No. 20 from me or from one of my hon. Friends should be accepted by the Chair and the business of the day set aside for a debate, if for no other reason than to find out whether the deputy Prime Minister is going to get his house back?

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Our Standing Orders rule out any application under Standing Order No. 20 being made in the course of this day's sitting. Equally, an application for an emergency debate under Standing Order No. 20 cannot be made on a Friday. If there were a request for a statement to be made and the Chair conceded that a statement should be made after the conclusion of the motion that is before the House and before the first guillotine falls, it would take time out of that provided in the motion before the House.

Mr. Ron Leighton (Newham, North-East) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Can you give us some guidance? We are not sure who is running the country or who is speaking for the Government. Yesterday, we were assured by Ministers, and it was confirmed by the Prime Minister today, that advisers advise but Ministers decide. Now the Minister has resigned, so what credence can we give to the guarantees that have been given to us? The House of Commons needs to know who is running the Government. Is it the advisers or is it the Ministers? Are other Ministers going to resign? I want a clear statement in the House of Commons on the present position.

Mr. Tony Baldry (Banbury) : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. It will not go unnoticed in the country that the vast majority of these points of order are an abuse and that the Labour party's response was to start singing the "Red Flag" in Committee Room 10 and to turn this Chamber into something like a knockabout Whitehall farce.

Mr. Skinner : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Further complications have arisen during the past two or three minutes which make the passage of the guillotine motion on the Companies and Children Bills more problematical.

The Foreign Secretary has now been given the Chancellor's job. That being so, it could well be that the Leader of the House is going back to the Foreign Secretary's job. If that is the case, we have not got a Leader of the House to carry the guillotine through.

Column 1098

I believe that the House needs to adjourn, because while this pack of dominoes is falling we are not sure which Minister is in what charge of which Department. I think it imperative at this point, as the Leader of the House has now left the Chamber--presumably to get the Foreign Secretary's job, his own job, back--for us to adjourn for the matter to be resolved.

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Let me remind the House that these are very grave matters, which should be dealt with very seriously by the House.

Mr. Dobson : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. These are indeed very serious matters, and I think that that is all the more reason why it is right and proper for a senior Minister--whoever he may be at the moment--to come to the House and explain what is going on, who is being reshuffled and who has resigned. If the matter is to be dealt with properly, I think that the sitting should be briefly suspended to give the Government the opportunity to sort out who is going to make the statement, and then deal with this in a proper and seemly manner ; otherwise, there is no possibility of the current debate continuing in any sensible way.

I hope that you will accept my request for a brief suspension of the sitting, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I think that there would be no objection on either side of the House.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. David Waddington) : Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, Mr. Deputy Speaker, in an effort to help the House, may I tell the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson) that serious consideration is now being given to the making of a statement at the end of the debate on the guillotine motion?

Mr. Alan Williams : We are obviously very grateful to the--

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. I did not call the right hon. Gentleman. I wonder whether--

Mr. Williams : On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. We are very grateful for the intervention : it was helpful. The question remains, however, not only of the statement but of who makes the statement. [Interruption.]

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. We could continue with such points of order interminably, and that would not help us. I should have thought that the House might have found the statement that has just been made very helpfully constructed.

Several Hon. Members rose --

Mr. Deputy Speaker : Order. If, as now seems very likely, we will not be able to return immediately to the guillotine motion, and are going to lose time, it might make sense for the House to have a brief cooling-off period. I suspend the sitting for 10 minutes.

Sitting suspended.

On resuming --

6.33 pm

Mr. Speaker : Procedurally there is no way in which we can change the motion before the House. The Question will have to be put at 7.46 pm. If the Government decide that a statement should be made, it could be made at that time. We should now proceed with the debate.

Column 1099

Mr. Dobson : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Further to your ruling, the Opposition agree entirely that the best way of dealing with this serious matter, following the brief suspension of the sitting, is that the Government should make a statement following the Division at the end of the debate. Therefore, we think that the debate should proceed.

Mr. Hinchliffe : I am grateful for the support that I have had from hon. Members during-- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker : Order. Will hon. Members kindly leave the Chamber quietly?

Mr. Hinchliffe : I was making the point--it now seems quite pertinent--that there is clearly a direct connection between the economic circumstances affecting many families, which are the direct consequences of the Government's policies, and the need to pursue some of the legal provisions that are contained within the Children Bill.

I wish to express my concern at the narrow view held by many Conservative Members concerning the way in which the legislation affects children. Clearly, we need to look at the reasons why young people are abused or have to be removed from home. It is clearly connected with the Government's policies on poverty, homelessness, the economy and unemployment. That is where my view differs from that of hon. Members who have criticised some of my hon. Friends from the miners group who, quite rightly, have been fighting valiantly the various ports Bills.

The issue concerning hon. Members--including myself--and others representing coalfield areas is how unemployment affects children, families and communities. In my area, communities have been wiped out as a direct result of the Government's policies on the coal industry. When the Government took office in 1979, within the Wakefield district 17,000 people were employed in 20 pits. That figure has now been reduced to some 3,000 employed at five pits. Fourteen thousand jobs have been wiped out, and that has a direct bearing on the prosperity of families, children and the lives that people lead. Therefore, I hope that hon. Members can see why some of my hon. Friends are concerned about the way in which children will be affected by the Bill coming before the House next week.

My constituency has been affected directly by pit closures. In addition, there has been a knock-on effect in the mining-engineering industry where 1,000 jobs have gone since 1979 in companies within my constituency supplying materials to the coal mining industry. It is important that we make the point that the ports Bills have a direct bearing on the worsening of the problems. I am deeply concerned about the impact those Bills will have on many coalfield communities in my area, the wider parts of Yorkshire and the midlands. The coalfield communities campaign said that if imports went ahead at projected levels 36 more pits would close.

Mr. Vaz : On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) and I have served for many hours on the Standing Committee of the Children Bill. The Prime Minister's Parliamentary Private Secretary was conducting a conversation in the corner of the Chamber but he has now gone. Surely it would be fair and proper for the House to listen to what my hon. Friend has to say.

Mr. Skinner rose--

Column 1100

Mr. Speaker : Order. There has been a good deal of Back-Bench discussion on both sides of the House. That is understandable, but I think that we should hear what the hon. Gentleman has to say.

Mr. Skinner : Further to that point of order, Mr. Speaker. I want to make sure that my hon. Friend, who was rudely interrupted by a number of people, including myself, when we heard that the Chancellor of the Exchequer had resigned, should be listened to decently. When the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister comes in here, we know what his game is. He is doing two things. He is saying to the Government Back Benchers, "This is the line. The Chancellor of the Exchequer is saying that he wanted Alan Walters sacked. That is not true"--

Mr. Speaker : Order. But he has not said it in the House or to me, so it is not a proceeding of Parliament. It is not a matter for the Chair.

Mr. Skinner : The second point, which is very important, concerns what happens in future. If the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Prime Minister says to Conservative Back Benchers. "Say what I say and what the Prime Minister says", they do so, hoping to get a job in the reshuffle. There will be a number of jobs available in that reshuffle, so instead of listening to my hon. Friend they have been sorting out jobs for themselves in the Tory reshuffle.

Mr. Hinchliffe : I fully appreciate the points that have been made. I am concerned that there is a clear connection between the impact that the ports Bills will have on the coalfield communities in Yorkshire, north Derbyshire, the midlands and across the country, and the lives of families and children. I see a clear connection between what is contained in the Children Bill about the welfare of children and the action that has been taken by some of my hon. Friends to draw attention to the way in which the ports Bills will have a direct effect on people's lives in their constituencies.

If the ports Bill that we are to discuss next week in time that should have been accorded to the Children Bill and other Bills about the welfare of individuals goes ahead, 36 more pits will close and 51,000 jobs will go. Those jobs directly affect the lives of children for whom we are legislating in the Children Bill.

We differ in our views on child welfare in that Opposition Members believe that child abuse is not just about nasty people. It is about marital stress, marital problems, isolation, deprivation, poverty and, above all, unemployment. Research after research shows a clear connection between job losses-- [Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker (Miss Betty Boothroyd) : Order. I would be very much obliged if those hon. Members who wish to carry on conversations would do so on the other side of the swing doors. We must now get on with the business of the House.

Mr. Hinchliffe : My voice is going, so I will conclude my remarks. My central point is that the Government take a very narrow view of child protection. Child protection is not just about legal measures but involves wider social and economic policies. It is about poverty, inequality and unemployment. I urge the House not just to look at the

Column 1101

symptoms that have been dealt with by the legislation, but at the causes. Some of those causes are sitting on the Government Benches tonight.

6.42 pm

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East) : The House should pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), who began the discussion on the Children Bill and whose speech was interrupted by the suspension of the sitting. As many hon. Members on both sides of the House have said--and as the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) said in his speech--the Children Bill was an all-party Bill. Indeed, if the former Chancellor of the Exchequer were here today, he would be supporting the measure. One of the features of the Children Bill is the fact that it has been a consensus Bill.

As we all know, it was introduced last November by the Lord Chancellor and received Second Reading in the House of Lords. At that stage it was clear that hon. Members on both sides of the House who were to take part in its deliberations would do so in a constructive and positive way. They would ensure that constructive comments were made concerning the improvement of the Bill. I am delighted to say that when the Bill was considered in the House of Lords and in Standing Committee the response of the lead Ministers both here and in the House of Lords has been remarkably fair.

I hope that it will not damage the hon. and learned Gentleman's career if I pay tribute to the Minister of State at the Department of Health, the hon. and learned Member for Putney (Mr. Mellor), for the way in which he has conducted himself during the passage of the Bill. He has been fair and reasonable. As a relatively new Member of the House, I have occasionally discussed with other more senior colleagues the way in which the Minister has approached the Bill. They were very surprised when I told them that the Minister adjourned the Committee over a crucial aspect of policy in the Bill--the rights of social workers to take emergency action to remove children during periods of stress. He adjourned the Committee and offered us his officials--Rupert and other people who have assisted in the passage of the Bill. We had a long discussion on ways in which we could improve the Bill.

Unfortunately, the Minister could not accept the amendment in my name and that of other hon. Members, which sought to introduce the child production notice. However, he listened to our comments, and came back during the recess and at the start of the new session with constructive suggestions. Until last Wednesday and Thursday he was prepared to discuss with us at great length the circumstances surrounding the child assessment orders. Indeed, he was so reasonable that when he had a visitor from America, the actor Charlton Heston, he was able to bring along Mr. Heston, who has played God in the movies on a number of occasions, and introduce him to members of the Committee. I was disappointed that the all-party nature of the Bill was broken when Charlton Heston was introduced to Conservative Members and not to the Opposition. However, despite that minor circumstance, the Committee proceeded in an all-party fashion. When the matter was brought before the House last Monday, it was agreed that Members on both sides of the House should co-operate as best as they could in deciding on the many Government amendments. Some people may

Column 1102

regard the fact that the Government tabled more than 400 amendments as a sign of weakness. I do not believe that that was the case. I think that it was a sign that those who drafted the Bill and were responsible for the conduct of the Bill were concerned to ensure that the Bill was perfect, simply because we have waited more than 100 years for this radical piece of legislation. The last time that child care law was reviewed to such an extent was more than 100 years ago. The Bill is a radical measure. It seeks to repeal completely six existing statutes including landmark legislation such as the Children Act 1975. It amends 30 other pieces of legislation--

Mr. Skinner : On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that it is an unusual day and that an afternoon is a long time in politics, but we were wondering about the consequential changes in the Government team. I happen to ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman, who is supposedly the Secretary of State for Health, who is on the Front Bench, whether he has become the Leader of the House. He says he does not know.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. Had the hon. Gentleman been doing his duty he should have been listening to the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz). No breach of our Standing Orders has been committed.

Mr. Skinner : If I may continue--

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. That is not a genuine point of order.

Mr. Skinner : On another point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker.

Madam Deputy Speaker : It had better be a new one.

Mr. Skinner : Yes, it is. My hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) is more interested than many others in the Children Bill, as he has demonstrated several times during the consideration of the Bill. Because he has reservations about the Bill--we have discussed it--he wants to know who is to pilot it through its latter stages. We all want to know. If the Secretary of State for Health has been shifted, there may be consequential changes for those who have piloted the Children Bill. I want to know from the Secretary of State for Health whether he is still in charge.

Madam Deputy Speaker : Order. The hon. Member for Leicester, East is articulate enough to ask the right questions for himself.

Mr. Vaz : I do not know whether the Secretary of State for Health wishes to intervene, but he is free to do so during my speech.

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Kenneth Clarke) : The hon. Gentleman will be reassured to learn that I am still Secretary of State for Health. I am present because the Bill is part of my departmental responsibility. It is being ably handled by my hon. and learned Friend the Minister for Health.

Mr. Vaz : Will the Secretary of State for Health nod from a sedentary position to indicate whether the Minister for Health will remain in charge of the Bill? I am inviting him to intervene, but he does not wish to do so. I see that he is giggling. The Secretary of State is such a charming person. He was described by my hon. Friend the Member

Column 1103

for Monklands, West (Mr. Clarke) as "Mr. Nice"--or was it "Mr. Nasty"? I cannot remember the description. I assume that the hon. and learned Gentleman will remain in charge of the Bill.

The Bill was designed radically to reform the law on child care. It aims to replace six statutes and amend 30 others.

One of the features of the Bill when it was introduced by the Lord Chancellor in another place was the desire to ensure that it is enacted on a fixed date--1 April 1991. Those involved with child care matters were concerned about the large amount of legislation which had been passed by the House, some of it on an all-party basis, but which had not been brought into effect. Many of the provisions of the Children Act 1975, which was regarded as landmark legislation, have never been brought into effect, and because of the Children Bill they will never be brought into effect. It is important to remember the Lord Chancellor's explanation that when the Bill becomes law it should take effect immediately.

Last week, we had meetings with the Minister for Health and his officials to discuss the crucial rights of social workers to intervene in child care proceedings. With the assistance of the Family Rights Group--I place on record my gratitude for its assistance--I drafted new clause 5, which aimed to change the way in which social workers notify parents of their concerns. My proposal for a child production notice and the Minister's proposal for a child assessment order were discussed at half-past nine last Wednesday in the Cathedral room at the Department of Health. Twenty four hours later, in keeping with the way in which the Minister had approached the Bill, we again discussed with officials the possibility of limiting the amount of time for which the child assessment order should continue. The Minister was prepared to reduce the period of the child assessment order from 14 days to seven.

At that stage, hon. Members registered their first concerns that we were not to be given the full two days to discuss the Bill. One of the reasons why I and other Labour Members who served on the Committee were so co- operative with the Minister and did not speak unnecessarily in Committee was the promise that we would have much time to discuss the Bill on Report.

In Committee, we had lengthy discussions on a new clause moved by the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Mr. Devlin), who is not present, which introduced proposals for a family court. I was pleased to second the proposal because I believed that it was an all-party issue. We took an entire sitting of the Committee to discuss it. We did not press it to a Division because we wanted to consider on Report whether we had had sufficient time to convince the Government of the need for family courts. That is why, when we discussed the allocation of time with the Minister last week, we wanted the two full days that we were promised.

The hon. Member for Batley and Spen (Mrs. Peacock) said that she did not believe that it was right for the two days to be curtailed. At that stage-- looking back, it was probably appropriate--the Opposition decided to hold a debate on the economy. Although hon. Members believed that it was necessary to discuss the Children Bill for a full day on Monday and a full day on Tuesday, we accepted the need to discuss the economy. Therefore, we did not

Column 1104

dissent from the fact that a large chunk of Tuesday would be spent discussing the economy, and as a result of the resignation of the Chancellor today that seems to have been an appropriate decision. We were told that the second discussion on the Children Bill would begin at 10 o'clock on Tuesday evening and continue until 2 am on Wednesday. We were happy to agree to that. Indeed, when I spoke to new clause 1 on Monday evening, I ensured that I kept my remarks to a minimum to enable other clauses to be debated at length. I further ensured that there was no dispute about the way in which we proceeded.

Labour Members did not oppose the proposal for child assessment orders, although there were differences among us about how best to proceed, because we did not believe that it would be helpful to do so. I could have pressed a vote on new clause 5. Indeed, I raised a point of order with Mr. Speaker and asked him to call a Division on new clause 5. He said that he did not feel that that was appropriate because the matter had been dealt with by the House agreeing to new clause 13. I did not press the matter to a vote because we had to discuss the 400 amendments introduced by the Government and because it was necessary to prepare for the debate, which was ably and eloquently dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Durham, North-West (Ms. Armstrong).

Other hon. Members came into the Chamber to take part in the debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberdeen, South (Mr. Doran) raised the issue of transracial adoptions and gave us the benefit of his personal experience. Other hon. Members took part in the debate and raised issues which concerned them. My hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore (Mr. Powell) and others were concerned about grandparents' rights, which is an important issue. Grandparents were left out when representations and rights were allocated under the Children Act 1975.

Before I became an hon. Member, I worked as a senior solicitor for the London borough of Islington. My entire case-load was concerned with child care work. One of the reasons why we decided not to institute proceedings in the juvenile court under the Child Care Act 1980 or the Children and Young Persons Act 1969 but instead to ward children who came within those categories in Islington was that we believed that it was extremely important for grandparents--as interested parties concerned about their grandchildren, and who in many cases looked after them and gave them parental support--to be able to appear before the High Court in wardship proceedings, declare their interests and submit affidavit evidence. That is why I and so many other solicitors in local authorities in London and throughout the country decided to ward. We believed that the High Court was a much better and safer venue to deal with such cases.

Many of my concerns about wardship were met by the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Ogmore. I was ready late on Tuesday night to debate grandparents' rights. Labour Members decided to place the arguments before the Minister in the hope that he would take on board our constructive comments and continue in the same spirit in which he began the Bill--a spirit of compromise and reasonableness. We were not able to do that.

In an intervention during the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield, the Minister raised his concerns about the activities of the miners group, or

Column 1105

whatever it is called. The Children Bill was so important that we were prepared to sit all night on Tuesday and into the early hours of Wednesday to resolve the matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, West (Mr. Madden), who has an interest in grandparents' rights, raised this issue. I have re-read his contribution on Second Reading in April this year. The issue was one of the first matters that he raised with the Minister of State.

Next Section

  Home Page