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As the House has heard, it is not just the Opposition who believe that mediation should form a much firmer part of the process. That view is shared by outside bodies that have great understanding of these matters.

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We intend to press the motion to a Division because there is clear evidence that mediation can create better long-term outcomes for our children. At present, the availability of mediation is, at best, patchy. By amending the Bill, we would make mediation a routine part of divorce, hopefully take the sting out of the tail of some of the more acrimonious situations in which families find themselves and, ultimately, ensure better outcomes for children. Time does not allow a full debate on the two amendments in the group, so I shall bring my remarks to a close. [Interruption.]

Mr. Beith: In a sentence, on a matter that affects the welfare of many children caught in difficult and desperate situations, which I would have hoped was of concern to hon. Members, even those standing below the Bar, the Select Committee strongly recommended that there should be an element of compulsion to embark upon the possibility of mediation, and recently recorded that participation in the family resolutions pilot project was so poor that the project had to be accounted a failure because there was no element of compulsion about it. Those seem to be strong reasons for including a provision along these lines in the Bill.

The Minister for Children and Families (Beverley Hughes): The hon. Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller) was so familiar with the debate in Committee that she able to read—mostly, but not entirely, correctly—the arguments that I advanced to show why we could not accept the amendments. I accept that the amendments arise from a desire to promote family mediation, which we want to do, but I do not believe that compulsory family mediation is desirable or likely to be successful.

Contrary to the comments of the hon. Lady, amendment No. 14 and new clause 22 provide for compulsory mediation. As we explained in our previous debates on the matter, we have serious concerns about the effects of compelling mediation, rather than encouraging it in the strongest terms and providing for parties to have an information session about mediation. We think that is the right way to go.

The hon. Member for Basingstoke got one of my reasons right, which is that her amendment potentially contravenes the Human Rights Act 1998 on access to the courts. However, the main issue is that requiring parties who are not willing to sit in the same room to—

It being Nine o’clock, Madam Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the chair, pursuant to Order [2 March].

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided: Ayes 164, Noes 261.
Division No. 267]
[9 pm


Afriyie, Adam
Ainsworth, Mr. Peter
Alexander, Danny
Amess, Mr. David
Ancram, rh Mr. Michael
Arbuthnot, rh Mr. James
Atkinson, Mr. Peter
Bacon, Mr. Richard
Baron, Mr. John
Barrett, John
Beith, rh Mr. Alan
Benyon, Mr. Richard
Blunt, Mr. Crispin
Bone, Mr. Peter
Boswell, Mr. Tim
Brake, Tom
Brazier, Mr. Julian
Brokenshire, James

Brooke, Annette
Browne, Mr. Jeremy
Browning, Angela
Burns, Mr. Simon
Burstow, Mr. Paul
Butterfill, Sir John
Cable, Dr. Vincent
Carmichael, Mr. Alistair
Carswell, Mr. Douglas
Cash, Mr. William
Clark, Greg
Clarke, rh Mr. Kenneth
Clifton-Brown, Mr. Geoffrey
Cormack, Sir Patrick
Cox, Mr. Geoffrey
Crabb, Mr. Stephen
Curry, rh Mr. David
Davies, Mr. Quentin
Donaldson, Mr. Jeffrey M.
Dorrell, rh Mr. Stephen
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine
Duddridge, James
Duncan, Mr. Alan
Duncan Smith, rh Mr. Iain
Dunne, Mr. Philip
Ellwood, Mr. Tobias
Fabricant, Michael
Farron, Tim
Field, Mr. Mark
Foster, Mr. Don
Francois, Mr. Mark
Gale, Mr. Roger
Garnier, Mr. Edward
George, Andrew
Gibb, Mr. Nick
Gidley, Sandra
Gillan, Mrs. Cheryl
Goodman, Mr. Paul
Goodwill, Mr. Robert
Gray, Mr. James
Grayling, Chris
Green, Damian
Greening, Justine
Grieve, Mr. Dominic
Gummer, rh Mr. John
Hague, rh Mr. William
Hammond, Stephen
Hands, Mr. Greg
Harper, Mr. Mark
Heald, Mr. Oliver
Heath, Mr. David
Hemming, John
Hendry, Charles
Herbert, Nick
Hoban, Mr. Mark
Hogg, rh Mr. Douglas
Hollobone, Mr. Philip
Holloway, Mr. Adam
Holmes, Paul
Horam, Mr. John
Hughes, Simon
Huhne, Chris
Hunt, Mr. Jeremy
Jackson, Mr. Stewart
Jenkin, Mr. Bernard
Jones, Mr. David
Kawczynski, Daniel
Key, Robert
Kirkbride, Miss Julie
Knight, rh Mr. Greg
Kramer, Susan
Lansley, Mr. Andrew
Letwin, rh Mr. Oliver
Lewis, Dr. Julian
Liddell-Grainger, Mr. Ian
Lidington, Mr. David
Lilley, rh Mr. Peter
Llwyd, Mr. Elfyn
Loughton, Tim
Luff, Peter
Mackay, rh Mr. Andrew
Main, Anne
Maples, Mr. John
Maude, rh Mr. Francis
McIntosh, Miss Anne
McLoughlin, rh Mr. Patrick
Mercer, Patrick
Miller, Mrs. Maria
Milton, Anne
Mitchell, Mr. Andrew
Moore, Mr. Michael
Moss, Mr. Malcolm
Mulholland, Greg
O'Brien, Mr. Stephen
Paice, Mr. James
Pelling, Mr. Andrew
Penrose, John
Prisk, Mr. Mark
Randall, Mr. John
Reid, Mr. Alan
Rennie, Willie
Robathan, Mr. Andrew
Robertson, Hugh
Robertson, Mr. Laurence
Robinson, Mrs. Iris
Rogerson, Mr. Dan
Rosindell, Andrew
Rowen, Paul
Russell, Bob
Scott, Mr. Lee
Selous, Andrew
Shapps, Grant
Simmonds, Mark
Spelman, Mrs. Caroline
Spicer, Sir Michael
Spink, Bob
Spring, Mr. Richard
Stanley, rh Sir John
Stuart, Mr. Graham
Stunell, Andrew
Swayne, Mr. Desmond
Swinson, Jo
Syms, Mr. Robert
Taylor, Mr. Ian
Teather, Sarah
Thurso, John
Turner, Mr. Andrew
Tyrie, Mr. Andrew
Vara, Mr. Shailesh
Villiers, Mrs. Theresa
Walker, Mr. Charles
Waterson, Mr. Nigel
Watkinson, Angela
Webb, Steve
Whittingdale, Mr. John
Widdecombe, rh Miss Ann
Wiggin, Bill
Williams, Hywel
Williams, Mark
Willott, Jenny
Wilson, Mr. Rob
Winterton, Ann
Winterton, Sir Nicholas
Wright, Jeremy

Yeo, Mr. Tim
Younger-Ross, Richard
Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Henry Bellingham and
Mr. David Evennett

Ainger, Nick
Ainsworth, rh Mr. Bob
Allen, Mr. Graham
Anderson, Mr. David
Anderson, Janet
Armstrong, rh Hilary
Atkins, Charlotte
Austin, Mr. Ian
Bailey, Mr. Adrian
Baird, Vera
Balls, Ed
Banks, Gordon
Barlow, Ms Celia
Barron, rh Mr. Kevin
Battle, rh John
Bayley, Hugh
Beckett, rh Margaret
Begg, Miss Anne
Benn, rh Hilary
Benton, Mr. Joe
Berry, Roger
Betts, Mr. Clive
Blackman, Liz
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta
Bradshaw, Mr. Ben
Brown, Lyn
Brown, rh Mr. Nicholas
Brown, Mr. Russell
Bryant, Chris
Buck, Ms Karen
Burden, Richard
Burnham, Andy
Byers, rh Mr. Stephen
Byrne, Mr. Liam
Cairns, David
Campbell, Mr. Alan
Caton, Mr. Martin
Cawsey, Mr. Ian
Challen, Colin
Chapman, Ben
Chaytor, Mr. David
Clapham, Mr. Michael
Clark, Ms Katy
Clarke, rh Mr. Charles
Clarke, rh Mr. Tom
Clelland, Mr. David
Clwyd, rh Ann
Coaker, Mr. Vernon
Coffey, Ann
Cohen, Harry
Connarty, Michael
Cooper, Rosie
Crausby, Mr. David
Cruddas, Jon
Cummings, John
Cunningham, Mr. Jim
Cunningham, Tony
Curtis-Thomas, Mrs. Claire
Darling, rh Mr. Alistair
Davidson, Mr. Ian
Dean, Mrs. Janet
Denham, rh Mr. John
Devine, Mr. Jim
Dhanda, Mr. Parmjit
Dobbin, Jim
Donohoe, Mr. Brian H.
Doran, Mr. Frank
Dowd, Jim
Drew, Mr. David
Durkan, Mark
Eagle, Angela
Ellman, Mrs. Louise
Engel, Natascha
Ennis, Jeff
Field, rh Mr. Frank
Fisher, Mark
Flello, Mr. Robert
Flint, Caroline
Foster, Michael Jabez (Hastings and Rye)
Gapes, Mike
George, rh Mr. Bruce
Gerrard, Mr. Neil
Gibson, Dr. Ian
Gilroy, Linda
Goggins, Paul
Goodman, Helen
Griffith, Nia
Griffiths, Nigel
Grogan, Mr. John
Gwynne, Andrew
Hall, Mr. Mike
Hamilton, Mr. David
Hamilton, Mr. Fabian
Hanson, Mr. David
Havard, Mr. Dai
Healey, John
Hendrick, Mr. Mark
Hepburn, Mr. Stephen
Heppell, Mr. John
Hermon, Lady
Hesford, Stephen
Heyes, David
Hill, rh Keith
Hillier, Meg
Hodge, rh Margaret
Hodgson, Mrs. Sharon
Hope, Phil
Hopkins, Kelvin
Howarth, rh Mr. George
Howells, Dr. Kim
Hoyle, Mr. Lindsay
Hughes, rh Beverley
Humble, Mrs. Joan
Hutton, rh Mr. John
Iddon, Dr. Brian
Illsley, Mr. Eric
Irranca-Davies, Huw
Jackson, Glenda
James, Mrs. Siân C.
Jenkins, Mr. Brian
Johnson, rh Alan
Johnson, Ms Diana R.
Jones, Helen
Jones, Mr. Kevan
Jones, Lynne
Jones, Mr. Martyn
Joyce, Mr. Eric
Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald
Keeley, Barbara
Keen, Ann
Kemp, Mr. Fraser

Khabra, Mr. Piara S.
Kidney, Mr. David
Knight, Jim
Lammy, Mr. David
Lazarowicz, Mark
Lepper, David
Levitt, Tom
Linton, Martin
Lucas, Ian
Mactaggart, Fiona
Mahmood, Mr. Khalid
Malik, Mr. Shahid
Mallaber, Judy
Mann, John
Marris, Rob
Marsden, Mr. Gordon
Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert
Martlew, Mr. Eric
McAvoy, rh Mr. Thomas
McCabe, Steve
McCarthy, Kerry
McCarthy-Fry, Sarah
McDonagh, Siobhain
McDonnell, Dr. Alasdair
McFadden, Mr. Pat
McGovern, Mr. Jim
McIsaac, Shona
McKechin, Ann
McKenna, Rosemary
McNulty, Mr. Tony
Meacher, rh Mr. Michael
Merron, Gillian
Michael, rh Alun
Milburn, rh Mr. Alan
Miliband, rh David
Miliband, Edward
Miller, Andrew
Moffat, Anne
Moffatt, Laura
Mole, Chris
Moon, Mrs. Madeleine
Moran, Margaret
Morden, Jessica
Morgan, Julie
Morley, Mr. Elliot
Mountford, Kali
Mullin, Mr. Chris
Munn, Meg
Murphy, Mr. Denis
Murphy, Mr. Jim
Naysmith, Dr. Doug
Norris, Dan
O'Brien, Mr. Mike
Olner, Mr. Bill
Osborne, Sandra
Owen, Albert
Palmer, Dr. Nick
Pearson, Ian
Plaskitt, Mr. James
Pope, Mr. Greg
Pound, Stephen
Prentice, Bridget
Primarolo, rh Dawn
Prosser, Gwyn
Purchase, Mr. Ken
Purnell, James
Rammell, Bill
Raynsford, rh Mr. Nick
Reed, Mr. Andy
Reed, Mr. Jamie
Reid, rh John
Riordan, Mrs. Linda
Ruane, Chris
Ruddock, Joan
Russell, Christine
Ryan, Joan
Salter, Martin
Sarwar, Mr. Mohammad
Seabeck, Alison
Shaw, Jonathan
Sheerman, Mr. Barry
Sheridan, Jim
Short, rh Clare
Simon, Mr. Siôn
Simpson, Alan
Skinner, Mr. Dennis
Slaughter, Mr. Andrew
Smith, rh Mr. Andrew
Smith, Ms Angela C. (Sheffield, Hillsborough)
Smith, Angela E. (Basildon)
Smith, rh Jacqui
Smith, John
Snelgrove, Anne
Southworth, Helen
Spellar, rh Mr. John
Starkey, Dr. Phyllis
Stewart, Ian
Stoate, Dr. Howard
Straw, rh Mr. Jack
Stringer, Graham
Stuart, Ms Gisela
Sutcliffe, Mr. Gerry
Tami, Mark
Taylor, David
Thornberry, Emily
Timms, Mr. Stephen
Tipping, Paddy
Todd, Mr. Mark
Trickett, Jon
Truswell, Mr. Paul
Turner, Dr. Desmond
Turner, Mr. Neil
Twigg, Derek
Ussher, Kitty
Walley, Joan
Waltho, Lynda
Wareing, Mr. Robert N.
Watts, Mr. Dave
Whitehead, Dr. Alan
Wicks, Malcolm
Williams, rh Mr. Alan
Williams, Mrs. Betty
Wills, Mr. Michael
Winnick, Mr. David
Winterton, Ms Rosie
Woolas, Mr. Phil
Wright, Mr. Anthony
Wright, David
Wright, Mr. Iain
Wright, Dr. Tony
Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Frank Roy and
Mr. Michael Foster
Question accordingly negatived.
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Order for Third Reading read.

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9.12 pm

Beverley Hughes: I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

The Bill is important and will have considerable implications and benefits for many families. It is therefore important that we can say that our debates at various stages of its passage have been constructive and valuable and, above all, have shown the commitment throughout the House to improving outcomes for children.

The measure tackles some difficult issues—for many families, the most difficult and emotional that they will face: the break-up of families, parenting children and, in difficult circumstances, adopting children in other countries. It has received rigorous scrutiny from hon. Members of all parties at all stages. I am grateful for the chairing of our discussions today and for the equally kind but firm chairmanship in Committee.

I thank the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and for Mid-Dorset and North Poole (Annette Brooke), who led the debates from the Opposition Benches, and their hon. Friends. I also thank the previous Under-Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Garston (Maria Eagle), now Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, for the valuable part that she played before moving on to other things.

I especially thank the Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), who showed today how well he has grasped the detail in a short time and responded to amendments and hon. Members’ points with consideration and thoughtfulness. I hope that hon. Members appreciate that. He is not in his place to hear that tribute because he needed to have something to eat, but I want the record to show my appreciation of him.

I also want to thank all my hon. Friends who have taken part so actively in the debate, and all the Clerks and officials who have supported us so well. It has been apparent that all Members have approached these issues with great diligence, and with great commitment to getting the detail of the Bill right. I want to thank them for doing that, and to pay tribute to the spirit in which they have done it. Finally, I should like to express my gratitude to the members of the Joint Committee that gave the Bill its pre-legislative scrutiny, who were responsible for some important changes before the Bill reached the Floor of the House.

I have already said that the Bill addresses some fundamental issues. As we have seen again today, some fundamental differences have been expressed during the debate, particularly on the question of whether the Bill should make explicit reference to the need for reasonable contact and so, in our view, compromise the principle of paramountcy of the welfare of the child. I believe that Opposition Members share our aim of providing for the child’s best interests above all else, but we have fundamentally different views—they have been explored somewhat graphically on occasion today—on how that should best be achieved. We are united in the view that the courts will want to enable children to maintain good contact with both parents. In our view, however, compromising the principle of the paramountcy of the individual child’s welfare is not the right way to achieve
20 Jun 2006 : Column 1281
that. Notwithstanding the rather intemperate remarks of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, I hope that he and his hon. Friends on the Conservative Front Bench will accept that we have come to our view with careful thought and integrity, just as I accept that he has done to his, however misguided I believe it to be.

From a child’s point of view, the break-up of a family is a devastating experience in most cases. Most children want their parents to stay together, almost at any cost. So when parents have decided that that is not possible, the first and overriding priority must be to safeguard the child’s welfare, her emotional and psychological health, her experience of being loved by both parents, and her ability to draw strongly on the contribution that each parent can make to her health, growth and development.

The Bill gives the courts the power to do what is right for children. It offers them the flexibility to support the 10 per cent. of separating parents who turn to them, by helping to facilitate contact at the start of proceedings, and by giving them options about how to enforce it when things go wrong, but focusing always on the interests of the child. Thanks to a very welcome amendment in the other place, the Bill also now introduces an important new measure to safeguard children involved in court proceedings by requiring a risk assessment when CAFCASS has cause to suspect that a child might be at risk of harm. This is equally a Bill about inter-country adoption, and about putting in place the right arrangements to help children in difficult circumstances in other countries to find a home in ours.

This is a Bill that has at its heart the principle that every child matters. It deals with some of the most vulnerable children in our society and abroad, and I believe that it will make life better for many of those children. I welcome the support that the vast majority of measures in the Bill have received from Members in all parts of the House. I think that our debates have dealt with some of the important issues of detail, and that some have led to improvements.

I commend the Bill. I am sure that its implementation will make a significant difference to many children and families.

9.20 pm

Tim Loughton: Perhaps my few comments, with the support of other speakers, will take us past the 9.45 pm watershed after which it will be safe to summon colleagues back for a debate that may or may not happen.

I, too, thank the various Members and staff who have aided our deliberations. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs. Miller), who has performed a tour de force on the Front Bench throughout the Bill’s passage. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) and for Peterborough (Mr. Jackson), both of whom served on the Committee, and of course to our assiduous Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for Bexleyheath and Crayford (Mr. Evennett). To be fair, I should also congratulate the new Under-Secretary of State for Education and Skills, the hon.
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Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda), on dealing single-handedly with the entire Report stage, apart from two minutes before 9 pm. For him to do that after being thrown in at the deep end was no mean feat, given that this is a complex and controversial Bill that has been around for a year, since well before the hon. Gentleman’s promotion. He had a very quick dinner, but some of us did not have any dinner at all. There are those who did not have any lunch either, but that is another matter.

This has been a long journey. Back in 2004, we saw the Green Paper “Parental Separation: Children’s Needs and Parents’ Responsibilities”. Back in January 2005, we saw the next steps progress report. Soon after that, we saw the draft Bill. Before the last election, the draft Bill was presented to a pre-legislative scrutiny Committee in a rather truncated form. On 29 June 2005, almost a year ago, the Bill started its passage in the other place. It came to this House on 14 November, and ended its Committee stage at the end of March. Three months later, we are finally finishing Third Reading. It seems to take rather a long time for some Bills, particularly those dealing with children, to progress through both Houses, and there seem to be large gaps between the ending of their Committee stages and the start of their Report stages. This is not the first time that that has happened.

Meanwhile, there has been an extraordinary development in the shape of early-day motion 128, which has been mentioned several times today and which was signed by a majority of Members of Parliament of all political persuasions. The signatures of 345 Members appear on that motion, which supports us on the principle and presumption of reasonable contact being in the child's best interests.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The figure is rather more significant than my hon. Friend suggests. A good many Members, including me, do not sign early-day motions as a matter of principle, but profoundly supported the thrust of that motion.

Tim Loughton: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Of course, as well as those who do not sign early-day motions for reasons of personal choice, there are Ministers, who cannot sign them. That means that a vast majority of free-thinking Members put their pens to the motion. Only 146 of those 345, however, were prepared to go into the Lobby this evening, when it really mattered. That speaks volumes about the attitude of certain Members.

The Minister said that, taken as a whole, the Bill offered improvement in life chances for some of the most vulnerable children in our society, and elsewhere. We, of course, support that intent. She also said that the House was united in wanting to maintain good contact with both parents, and we agree with that too. However, she could not resist tagging on a condemnation of the Opposition’s approach, which she said compromised the paramountcy of the child’s welfare.

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