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16 Jan 2001 : Column 300

Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill (Programme)

10.17 pm

Mr. Hanson: I beg to move,

This is an important Bill for Wales, and we have had a full debate on it. It contains wide-ranging powers to promote the interests and welfare of children in Wales.

Mr. David Wilshire (Spelthorne): I note the date on which proceedings in the Committee must finish. When does the Minister expect its first sitting to take place?

Mr. Hanson: I understand that we hope it will take place early next week.

I welcome the hon. Gentleman's interest, given that we have engaged in a seven-hour debate on the Bill for which he was not present. Let us put that aside for a moment, however.

As I have said, the Bill is important. It gives the Welsh Assembly powers, and it is the first Bill relating exclusively to Wales since the House of Commons passed devolution legislation. Our wide-ranging debate tonight recognised those facts.

The motion proposes that the Committee stage conclude on 1 February. I think that that allows plenty of time for discussion of the Bill, which contains only eight clauses and one schedule. It involves important points of principle, which have been discussed to some extent today. No doubt Members will be keen to discuss them further during later stages of the Bill's passage.

I think that the motion allows enough time for detailed debate on the clauses. I anticipate the possibility of five sittings, but the motion allows time for more if they are needed. That is a matter for the Opposition.

Today's debate has given us a flavour of some of the key subjects for debate, which I know will be discussed in detail in Committee. One of the main advantages of timetabling is that it allows us to concentrate on important issues. I commend the motion to the House.

10.19 pm

Mr. Evans: I am sure that it will not go unnoticed that, having failed to make our reasoned amendment, we give the Bill our full support. However, we shall seek in Committee to amend the Bill along the lines of our reasoned amendment. In his reply to the previous debate, and after listening to concerns expressed by Labour and by Conservative and other Opposition Members, the Under-Secretary of State for Wales said that he would carefully consider the amendments that we are proposing. [Interruption.] We shall have a chance to debate those amendments in Committee.

Mr. Speaker: Order. There are so many private conversations in the Chamber that it is unfair to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Evans: Thank you, Mr. Speaker.

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It is significant that the Under-Secretary admitted that he felt that the pleas made in the debate by various right hon. and hon. Members should be carefully considered and debated in Committee. I look forward to that Committee.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): Can my hon. Friend tell us how many sittings he understands it is proposed that the Committee shall have in considering the Bill's relatively few clauses? Is he aware how many hours it is proposed should be allocated for consideration of the Bill? If so, will he divulge the details?

Mr. Evans: In initial discussions, it was said that there might be four or five sittings. However, as we have just heard from the Under-Secretary, there might be more sittings, depending on the number of amendments tabled. It is unclear how many hours we shall have at our disposal to amend the Bill. However, as the motion states, the Committee's consideration of the Bill should be concluded no later than Thursday 1 February.

As Labour Members know, the Opposition do not agree with programming or guillotining Standing Committees' consideration of Bills. We therefore oppose the motion on that basis alone. We are opposed also to the very fact that discussions on programming the Committee's consideration will be held in a hybrid Committee that deliberates in private and without a record of votes or proceedings. It was the Government who talked about transparency and wanted transparency of government; yet they want to conduct such proceedings in a Committee that they themselves created.

Mr. Graham Brady (Altrincham and Sale, West): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Given that, as I understand it, no minutes will be taken of the Programming Sub-Committee's sittings, would it be open to any hon. Member serving on the Standing Committee who happened to be present to take his own minutes and publish them after the event?

Mr. Speaker: Order. It is a private meeting of a Select Committee, and Select Committee procedure applies.

Mr. Evans: I am grateful to you, Mr. Speaker. Does that mean--I seek your clarification--that any hon. Member may attend the sittings?

Mr. Speaker: That is the normal practice of Select Committees, and, as I said, Select Committee procedure applies.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I have been a member of various Select Committees, and I know that transcripts are made of Select Committee proceedings. Would it not help our proceedings if transcripts were made of the proceedings in question, so that we can discover precisely what happened?

Mr. Speaker: The hon. Gentleman is asking questions that he could be asking the Minister in the debate. Perhaps he should not pursue the matter now, as that is taking us beyond the scope of the debate.

Mr. Evans: I am extremely grateful, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Leigh: Does my hon. Friend agree that we could take these matters forward slightly if we had a proper

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transcript? At least then we would know what had happened? Do the official Opposition agree that we should have a transcript of those meetings?

Mr. Evans: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. I was just about to make the plea that those meetings should be open. If the Government insist that they are private meetings, there should not only be a transcript so that there are no interpretations afterwards, but a record of any votes. I ask the Government to think very carefully before implementing this programming motion.

Mr. Bercow: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. Is he aware that my hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Mr. Leigh) was not just wallowing in metaphysical abstraction, but making a profoundly relevant and concrete point? In that context, is my hon. Friend aware that the reason it is so relevant and concrete is that only last week, as a result of the absence of a voting account or even the published minutes of the Programming Sub-Committee, the Minister of State, Home Office, the hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke), and I subsequently had a great argument about what had or had not been said. Neither of us could be proved right or wrong precisely because of a lacuna in the proceedings.

Mr. Evans: I am extremely grateful to my hon. Friend. He is absolutely right to make that point. If there were transcripts of the meetings, all hon. Members could read the deliberations and find out how the Programming Sub-Committee had decided how many minutes should be allocated to debating each clause and amendment. As in all such matters, there are leaks and two members of the Committee might produce different versions of why it had reached a procedural decision.

Mr. Desmond Swayne (New Forest, West): Is there any need for such minutes? The Government constantly told us that it was up to the Opposition to decide what was debated, when and for how long. That was the advantage of the new procedure for us. We do not need to know what they would say had taken place; we need merely to publish our version as, according to them, that is what will count.

Mr. Evans: My hon. Friend knows that there is such a thing as spinning, and the Government have been doing it all evening. They have been spinning the procedure on the Bill from start to finish, and no doubt that will continue in the Sub-Committee. They could produce a different interpretation of what they heard in the sub-committee. It might be a genuine misinterpretation or it might simply be spin, which unfortunately happens too often in this place.

Mr. Wilshire: I have been listening carefully to my hon. Friend and I understand why he is concerned that we should have some details of what is decided. If I understand him correctly--perhaps he will put me right if I am not following his argument--we are being invited to vote on a programming motion, but the details will be worked out subsequently. Is that what he is saying? If so, how can he give the Opposition any guidance from the Front Bench on whether the Government are being

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sensible, or whether, as usual, they are trying to shuffle things out of here and work out afterwards and behind closed doors what suits them? Is he telling me that I am being asked to vote for an almost corrupt way of doing things? Is that what he is asking me to do?

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