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Mr. Evans: That may well remain a mystery to many hon. Members, although we all have an inkling about exactly how the Government try to squeeze out any independent thought. They welcome the fact that Labour Members say absolutely nothing to interrupt the clear passage of whatever the Government want to happen.
This is an important Bill. Its title suggests that it will affect Wales only, but during its Second Reading we have seen that several cross-border matters are involved. Children who go from Wales to England will not receive the same protection and care, because England has a children's rights director, not a Children's Commissioner with the enhanced powers that the Bill will provide.
Mr. Brady: Does my hon. Friend agree that when this United Kingdom Parliament legislates for Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland--or, perhaps, for England only--we have a special duty to give proper attention to that legislation; and that, as we do not all come from the particular part of the United Kingdom involved, we should give it more time and pay more attention to ensure that we legislate properly?
Mr. Evans: The Conservative party still believes in a United Kingdom Parliament, representing all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom. I have said that the Bill is important for Wales, but it goes much wider because of the cross-border matters. As I said earlier this evening, several emerging countries may consider our deliberations. They view ours as the mother of Parliaments and they will consider how we pass legislation. The Bill is vital, and emerging democracies that wish to enter the 21st century and to be viewed as civilised may want to create their own children's commissioner.
We have not acted in splendid isolation; we have looked at various examples, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Germany. [Interruption.] The National Assembly, the Library and those who are interested in the Bill have been looking at the children's commissioners or ombudsmen that have been created throughout the world. So several other countries will look to Britain when we establish our Children's Commissioner.
Mr. Evans: I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for saying that, but I am trying to say--perhaps badly--that we must ensure that there is sufficient time in Committee to debate the Bill, not only because we want to get it right, but because it will have an impact far beyond Wales and this country, given that other democracies will consider what we have done.
Mr. Evans: My hon. Friend, who is sometimes mischievous, is putting an opposing view. I hear his powerful call to be a member of the Committee that considers the Bill, and that request will be carefully considered.
I am not saying that the UN convention has universal support in the House, but a number of Labour Members, Conservative Members and Members of other Opposition parties think that it is a good idea and that the Bill would be enhanced by its incorporation. If my hon. Friend is privileged to be a member of the Committee, he may want to put a counter-argument to some of the suggestions that are made. We must make sure that the arguments of all Members, irrespective of their views, can be fleshed out and worked through in the time allotted to us. The fact that my hon. Friend may be in a minority of one does not make him wrong. I remember that when Margaret Thatcher used to go to Europe, she was often in a minority of one, but that made her all the more right--although that may not necessarily be true of my hon. Friend.
Mr. Brady: My hon. Friend says that my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, West (Mr. Swayne) sometimes puts an opposing view. My view may be less opposed to that of my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans). When other countries, particularly emerging democracies, are looking at our procedures in the House--
Madam Deputy Speaker: Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman of my earlier comment. We are straying wide of the motion, which concerns the setting up of a Committee, regardless of what other democracies may or may not do.
Mr. Brady: I am grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker. My point is precisely that. Other democracies, looking at our procedures in the mother of Parliaments, would be disgusted to learn that considerations concerning the setting up of a Committee and the guillotining of its proceedings are held in private and not even minuted. If they were to follow our poor example of having Committees that sit in private, behind closed doors, without their proceedings being minuted--
I would say that other countries have a lot to learn about the Bill and about how we are trying to protect the welfare of our children, but they have nothing to learn from the procedures that we have introduced in this place.
Mr. Evans: The hon. Lady knows that I have a lot of respect for her, but I am not exactly certain what she is referring to. The Bill arises from the Waterhouse inquiry, which was set up by the leader of the Conservative party, my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), when he was Secretary of State for Wales. That is relevant to our discussion.
I have a final plea to make to Ministers. We have a briefing document from a former Member of Parliament, Gareth Wardell, who is highly respected by Members on both sides of the House. He has made several representations on areas of the Bill that he believes could be improved, including the UN convention, which I have already mentioned: areas where the commissioner ought to have direct contact with children; cross-border areas, which are vital; and non-devolved areas. That is only a small number of the areas on which Gareth Wardell and his charity have concerns. As I said, several other children's charities have already made representations, many along similar lines to Mr. Wardell's.
We are asking for an opportunity to debate and discuss those issues properly. Sidelining the whole thing to a Committee in secret so that it can cobble together a systematic guillotining of the Bill would not be in the Bill's best interests. Quite frankly, we would not end up ensuring that the Bill will give Wales the Children's Commissioner that we all seek for it. Will the Government reconsider the way in which they are undertaking the guillotine and give the House time to scrutinise the legislation properly?
The Government argue that the old Standing Committee procedure did not work. Committees would meet for hundreds of hours, and would spend the first 100 hours on clause 1 and various filibusters. No Government Members, Back Benchers or otherwise, would ever speak and there was not a proper debate. That system did not work very well. I have served on a number of Standing Committees in this Parliament, and in all of them, including those considering big social security Bills, which were highly controversial--indeed, much more so than this Bill--that was not the nature of the debate.
In Committees in this Parliament on which I have served, Conservative Members have not wasted their time in filibustering hour after hour and making pointless speeches on the first clause of a Bill. In fact, we have come to an agreement with the Government early on and had a good debate. The Government have not guillotined any big Bills in Committees on which I have sat. We have had good debates, which, I accept, have lasted for 100 hours. Why not? Surely, the Opposition's purpose is to scrutinise legislation and have a proper debate. However, that was done by agreement.
I did not see the point of that and am not sure what it achieved from Labour Members' point of view, but it was their decision. I do not think that we have been guilty of that on many occasions. However, such behaviour is a decision for the Opposition. In a democracy, the Government have the right to get their Bills through. They have the majority and, eventually, they will get all their Bills through. The previous Conservative Government got all their Bills through; this Government have got all their Bills through.
However, the Opposition have one great right--to debate, determine the timetable to a reasonable extent and pick the areas of debate. All Oppositions have done that. I am trying to look at this from the point of view of the Government, who want to create a new system. I should have thought that one purpose of a new system involved getting rid of one-sided debate in Standing Committee, having a programme motion from the beginning and having an end date clearly in view. Because one has an end date, Government and Opposition Members will want to intervene and give regular speeches. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Bercow) made clear, when the new system has worked, it has not resulted in that. There is still a certain reticence on the part of Government Back Benchers, so I am not sure what the new system is designed to achieve.
If Government Back Benchers do not want to speak, that is their decision. Leaving that to one side, if one is going to have such a system, surely it must be based on a certain degree of consensus. The Second Reading debate should be given a day or half a day and the arguments should be listened to. The Government should then consider, during a reasonable delay, how controversial a Bill is and how many amendments are likely to be tabled. The programme motion should then be introduced. The Government should not try to force it through on the same evening as the Second Reading debate.
Time and again last week, we heard entirely formal comments from Ministers and we heard them again today. The Minister is a fair-minded man, but his was not a lengthy speech on a programme motion saying, "Look, we have had the debate, various comments have been made and it is likely to take a couple of months or even six weeks to consider the Bill. I want to proceed on the basis of consensus and I shall listen to both sides of the argument."