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Mrs. Browning: My hon. Friend will know that, last Thursday, when I raised with the Leader of the House the issue of the Prime Minster's pledge on adoption legislation in this Session, she indicated that, in relation to adoption, private Member's Bills and the time available to consider them were very important. However, after hearing my hon. Friend's comments, I am totally confused about the matter. At last Thursday's business questions, my very clear understanding was that the Prime Minister's pledge would be honoured using private Members' Bills.
Mrs. Spelman: I confess that I am similarly confused, for there has been no clarification of the matter. Are we to take the Prime Minister at his word? So far it has not been retracted--unless such an occasion arises tomorrow, when I shall seek to catch the Speaker's eye so that I can probe the Prime Minister on the offer that he made last week. Perhaps we shall all be much clearer after Prime Minister's questions tomorrow.
Given his pledge last week, it seems perfectly legitimate to ask the Prime Minister to introduce legislation this Session to reform adoption law, and to ask him for which reforms he plans to use primary legislation. It seems legitimate also to ask him to clarify for the public that the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 is done and dusted. Interestingly enough, that legislation started as a private Member's Bill. It has been enacted and now requires only to be implemented. That is all that delays the introduction of those provisions.
In reply to the perfectly valid points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning), I can only say that the whole House is confused on the issue. My Bill is sponsored by members of the all-party parliamentary group on adoption, which is an entirely cross-party group of hon. Members. They support the initiative to try to enable the Government to introduce reform of adoption law because reform is so obviously needed, as has been highlighted by the recent cases of the internet adoption babies. However, the all-party group is similarly confused by the current situation.
Mr. Bercow: I do not wish to embarrass my hon. Friend, but I should like to pay her a compliment. She has just vouchsafed to the House an assurance regarding her willingness to sacrifice her Bill to the Government because she is concerned about the issue at stake and about achieving urgent progress on it. That is an example of heroism, selflessness and statesmanship of which I have known no equal from any hon. Member during the past four years. Does not it demonstrate the Government's base ingratitude that they are not prepared to respond in a similar spirit?
Mrs. Spelman: I thank my hon. Friend for that compliment. I have learned to take all compliments made in the House with a pinch of salt, but he has a valid point. There is a distinct arrogance in a Government who assume comfortably that they will win the next election and that they can afford to wait for their victory before they introduce legislation. Indeed, they count on that victory just as one counts the eggs in a basket, and it is that arrogance that has caused their current embarrassment. Their sheer complacency allowed the issues involved in the internet adoption case, which caused all of us such disgust and horror, to arise. The case arose in the absence of reform and implementation of legislation that has already been agreed to--something that has shown the Government to be more than a little wanting.
Mr. Tipping: A number of hon. Members, many of them Opposition Members, made it clear that they wanted this debate. I agreed with them, and I believe that this has been an interesting and important discussion. It was perhaps short, but it has been taken in prime time, as the hon. Member for Christchurch (Mr. Chope) recognised.
The debate has reflected hon. Members' different views of private Members' Bills. We have heard of hon. Members--I shall not name them--who are alleged to be stranglers of such Bills. The right hon. Member for
Mr. Tipping: I refer to the right hon. and learned Member for Sleaford and North Hykeham (Mr. Hogg), whose constituency I hope to visit during the election campaign, whenever it comes. [Interruption.] Indeed, I have been in Lincolnshire today, but rather than being dragged kicking to the Chamber, I have rushed and sweated to get here for this important debate. The right hon. and learned Gentleman thought that private Members' legislation gave Back Benchers an opportunity to raise important issues. We saw an example of that tonight, when my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Northfield (Mr. Burden) advocated his outworkers measure, which will help to deal with scams such as the receipt of money in advance for bogus schemes.
The hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) spoke at length about the need for adoption legislation, on which I agree. That is why the Government produced the White Paper. That document and my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister say that adoption legislation will be introduced during the current year. As the hon. Lady pointed out, my right hon. Friend said last week that legislation would be introduced during this Session. I hope that we can work together on a consensual basis to make changes that are of paramount importance--a phrase that is used in the relevant law--for the children themselves. However, she also made one or two party political points. I chide her gently; the previous Conservative Government, whom she supported, also published a White Paper on adoption. After that, however, it took them three years to produce a Bill that was never enacted.
I offer the hand of partnership, as adoption is an extremely important issue. The hon. Lady has heard what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister and the Government have said, and has seen the White Paper. We will introduce legislation.
Mr. Redwood: Can the Parliamentary Secretary explain how the Prime Minister's extraordinary promise will be fulfilled? Is he saying that the Government now regret spurning the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) that her Bill might be used--of course, if they wanted to take that option, they would have to allow more time for private Members' debates such as this one--or that they will introduce a Bill about which we have not yet been advised? They would have to be very quick to introduce a Bill before the election, so how will they honour their promise? I do not believe that it will be honoured.
Mr. Tipping: The right hon. Gentleman is keen to pursue the date of the general election. He has emerged from the darkness of the Back Benches and into the light, but I fear that the Opposition Members' desire to try to name the day reflects an anxiety to get out of the light and back into that darkness.
Mrs. Spelman: On comprehensiveness, will the Parliamentary Secretary accept that the Protection of Children Bill 1999 was a comprehensive, pertinent and important measure that was enacted through precisely the sort of vehicle with which I am trying to change the law?
Mr. Tipping: The advice from the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton)--it is valuable to have the Minister of State with responsibility for these matters beside me--is that the Bill to which the hon. Lady referred had 20 clauses. We envisage that the Government Bill will have far more clauses and that it will be comprehensive. I am not saying that it is her driving motivation to seek to gain party political advantage of these issues, but it must be borne in mind that they are important and are paramount to children's interests. She has heard what the Government have said; we will introduce the legislation.
Mr. Hogg: I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary will forgive me for issuing a warning to him. I have now been in the House for 20 years, so I know that when we come to a general election, the Government of the day seek to pop through all their outstanding legislation in the hope that it will go through on the nod. I point out to him that a number of my hon. Friends and I do not intend to let that happen. We intend only those Bills that are right and with which we agree to be popped through.
Mr. Tipping: Well, I heard what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said and I am not surprised by his view. He and his Conservative colleagues resemble turkeys waiting for Christmas. I look forward to the general election, whenever it comes. When it arrives, we will have to have the discussions to which he refers. I am not sanguine about the idea that the Bill will be popped through, as he charmingly put it.