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Clause 11

Establishment of the Service

Lords amendment: No. 31, in page 6, line 8, leave out ("13(1)") and insert ("13(2)")

The Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department (Jane Kennedy): I beg to move, That this House agrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendments Nos. 32 to 38, 55 and 56.

Jane Kennedy: The assurances that I sought to give in Committee did not allay the fears of the officers doing the work. However, the issue was debated fully in another place, and the amendments--especially those on clause 15--address the concerns expressed. I shall not, therefore, detain the House by elaborating further. The points raised previously were clear, and the concerns were expressed in measured and thoughtful terms. Anyone reading Hansard will be impressed by the detail involved and by the conclusions reached.

Mr. Hawkins: I am sorry to say that I want to spend some time examining this matter. A lot was said in another place, not least by my noble Friend Baroness Hanham, who raised the concerns--to which the Parliamentary Secretary referred--that we had expressed in Committee.

There continue to be many concerns, as the Parliamentary Secretary has fairly conceded, among those at the sharp end of the new service as to what effects the Government's proposed changes will have on them and on the way in which they conduct their business. I am relieved that the Government have at last recognised that not only do the official Opposition and the Liberal Democrats have these concerns, but that they are widely shared by those who have to carry out the difficult work involved with family welfare connected to the courts.

Since the Committee, I have had personal discussions with several people working in the guardian ad litem service. At a successful and pioneering magistrates court open day in the constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Woking (Mr. Malins), I was approached by people from the court welfare service and the guardian ad litem service. They told me that they were concerned that they would be the subject of ridicule because of the Government's choice of the new name, CAFCASS.

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I had not put that thought into their minds. I do not suppose that they were even aware that we had raised that issue both on Second Reading and in Committee. However, that was proof positive, if proof were needed, that the official Opposition's concerns that the new service would be ridiculed as "carcass" had filtered through to those at the sharp end. Nothing to do with the courts should ever be the subject of ridicule, but this was confirmation that those who are doing the job share our concerns. The Parliamentary Secretary finally recognises that there are concerns, and we welcome that as a small concession.

In another place, Baroness Hanham came across another possible interpretation of the rather inelegant and ugly acronym that the Government have chosen. She said on 31 October:

It is extraordinary that the same point that my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made was raised in another place in relation to another aspect of the Bill. It may become known as the most Kafkaesque Bill that even this Government have ever introduced.

6.45 pm

Baroness Hanham also said:

She is absolutely right. She pointed out:

the alternative which we proposed in another place--

[Interruption.] It is all very well for the hon. Member for Lewisham, East (Ms Prentice) to be twittering from a sedentary position, but she should recognise that these are serious points, and were regarded as such by her noble Friend Lord Bach. I know from having conducted cases against him at the Bar that he always takes such issues seriously. Lord Bach said that if a name similar to that of one of the three services that the Government were proposing to amalgamate into the new service were chosen, it would send a negative message to the other services. That is nonsense and a minor point compared with the dangers of ridicule.

We find it surprising that Lord Bach said:

The services are all, by their very nature, welfare services. In family court cases, the welfare of the children is the first and paramount consideration. All Labour Members who have ever dealt with family law cases will know that that is a term of great respect and a hallowed phrase. It is hallowed by precedent and handed down from leading

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cases, so that everyone who has ever practised family law in the past 20 or 30 years knows that that phrase is the starting point. That is why we feel so strongly about the matter.

We are still very concerned. Baroness Hanham and others who spoke in the debate were right to discuss this matter and several of our concerns were taken further. At this late stage, the Government have started to move in our direction and made concessions, even though they had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do so. We hope that by accepting the Lords amendments or, at least, by accepting the spirit of the argument, the Government will think about promoting other more sensible names for the new service. I hope also that the points raised by the Earl of Listowel in the debate will be taken into account.

It is important to recognise that, whichever party we represent, we are all concerned to ensure that the welfare service supports the courts and works for children and families. That is crucial, and if the Bill promotes that, it will be helpful. However, there is a risk that if these services--and the hard-working, dedicated people working in them--are brought into ridicule and disrepute, it will do harm. That has been our concern at every stage, as I hope the Parliamentary Secretary will have the grace to recognise.

Jane Kennedy: With all due respect, and without wanting to denigrate the sincerity with which the hon. Gentleman holds his views, which he has expressed at every opportunity as we have debated the Bill, I believe that the 1,800 staff who will come together in April from the three different services to form the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service deserve better than to have their important new role reduced to an argument about the name of the service.

As my noble Friend Lord Bach said, the name Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service describes exactly the role of the new service. It will represent the interests of children in family court proceedings. In bringing together the three strands of the service, we expect CAFCASS to reduce delay and institute a more child-focused service that the courts can rely on when they consider the serious and sensitive issues that these officers deal with in supporting the work of the courts in arriving at their conclusions. The courts' decisions affect children and families at some of the most critical points of their lives. It is important to recognise the contribution that these staff already make and the contribution that we expect them to make as they come together to form the new service.

I have to disappoint the hon. Gentleman. I must resist his entreaties to reconsider the title. If, in the future, someone suggests a name that is snappy and cannot be reduced to ridicule in any way, I may be persuaded to consider it, but as matters stand, the name has been widely accepted by those working in the three services and will remain. I have not heard any concerns from those family court practitioners whom I have met.

I hope that the House will join me in welcoming the move made in the other place to recognise the concerns surrounding the definition in clause 15 and to support us in establishing a service that will be widely welcomed in the family courts.

Lords amendment agreed to.

Lords amendments Nos. 32 to 38 agreed to.

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Clause 18


Lords amendment: No. 39, in page 8, line 28, leave out
("(other than a chief probation officer)")

Mr. Straw: I beg to move, That this House disagrees with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Lords amendment No. 44 and the Government motion to disagree thereto, Government amendments (a) and (b), Lords amendments Nos. 45 and 46 and the Government motions to disagree thereto, Lords amendments Nos. 47 to 50 and the Government motions to disagree thereto, Government amendments (a) to (f) to the words so restored to the Bill, Lords amendments Nos. 51 and 121 to 124 and the Government motions to disagree thereto, Lords amendment No. 130 and the Government motion to disagree thereto, and Government amendment (a) to the words so restored to the Bill.

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