|Children's Commissioner for Wales Bill
Mr. Hanson: Does the hon. Gentleman accept that not saying when the knives will fall on clauses is an equally valid part of the programming discussion as saying when they will fall? Both are valid approaches to the Bill.
Mr. Gray: Indeed, and I welcome the fact that no knives will fall. There is no verbatim account and no one else was present, so we cannot check it, but my memory is that there was no discussionnot even one wordof whether knives would fall on particular clauses. If any hon. Member who was at that Sub-Committee disagrees and believes that we did discuss when the knives would fall, I am ready to be corrected. It looks as if I shall be.
Mr. Win Griffiths (Bridgend): I was present at the Programming Sub-Committee. It was implicit in the motion that we approved that the Opposition would be given the opportunity to decide where they wanted to focus their effort. We were as flexible as possible in allowing additional sittings, so I did not feel that there was any need to talk about knives. That would have been negative, and we wanted to be positive.
Mr. Gray: I am grateful for that intervention. The hon. Gentleman is exactly right. Conservative Members welcome the spirit of flexibility and generosity shown at the Programming Sub-Committee. The point that I am making is that the Government did not lay down when matters would be discussed, but only the number of sittings and the fact that the Bill would be out of Committee by 1 February. I welcome that, because that is how Committees of the House have always worked. The usual channels go out into the Corridor in the middle of the Committee to decide how much longer to take on a particular clause, who else needs to speak, what will happen next Tuesday and when the Bill will be out of Committee. I welcome the flexibility and generosity of the Government's business managers.
I have raised a couple of points on which we would like clarification from you, Mr. Jones, or from the business managers at some stage in the future. The Committee has established a useful precedent, and I hope that the Hansard writers and those who draft ``Erskine May''clever people that they arewill note that. The procedure that we have established in this Committee is exactly as it should be. It should be conducted with flexibility and generosity by consensus and by negotiation through the usual channels, not under procedures laid down by the Procedure Committee and agreed by the House recently. It is an important Committee and I am grateful to the Government for their generosity.
I hope that the Bill will make good progress, and I intend to co-operate with the Government Whip to ensure that it does. Conservative Members believe that it is a good Bill, and I am sure that under the procedures of the House used for Committees, which have been established since time immemorial, it will make good progress.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I was a member of the Programming Sub-Committee under your chairmanship, Mr. Jones. I, too, welcome you to the Chair and wish you well in making progress on the Bill. I echo the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire. The Programming Sub-Committee met, discussed and established the concept of flexibility. As I came out of that meeting, I wondered why it was necessary for us to meet, because the Government seemed to be totally flexible about the time needed for us to discuss the measure, as long as we got it through by 1 February. They even made the concession that, if necessary, we could go back to the House and ask for more time, although Opposition Members hope that that will not be necessary. We are content with the motion of the Programming Sub-Committee, as I said during its proceedings. However, the new procedure seems almost meaningless, as we will have the flexibility to meet as often as necessary between now and 1 February.
Mr. Andrew Rowe (Faversham and Mid-Kent): I am not sure whether this is the right moment to declare an interest. I am a trustee of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and co-chairman of the steering group for establishing a United Kingdom youth Parliament. I also have a conflict of interests: I may not be able to attend all the morning sittings because I serve on a Select Committee, and it is difficult to divide my time up.
Mr. Hanson: My response to the hon. Member for North Wiltshire is that traditions are there to be broken. It used to be a tradition in the House that Whips did not speak in Committee, but Conservative Whips are now speaking in Committees and on Second Reading because there are so few Conservative Members.
Mr. Gray: I think that I am right in saying that even when the Labour party was in opposition, Whips were allowed to speak. In our view, as the greatest talent lies in the Whips Office, it is important that they should be allowed to speak.
Mr. Hanson: When a party has only 165 Members in the House, talent is thinly spread, so Conservatives must find their resources accordingly.
Like the hon. Member for Ribble Valley, I believe that there is a willingness in the Committee to get the legislation on the statute book as soon as possible. I also recognise the experience that his hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent brings to the Committee, as well as that of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, who introduced measures for a Children's Commissioner in a previous Parliament. I acknowledge, too, the experience of my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, North and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgend, who was formerly a Minister. All members of the Committee bring a wealth of experience to our debates.
It is especially pleasing, from the Government's point of view, that the Committee includes hon. Members from English constituencies, as that recognises the strength of the United Kingdom Parliament and brings more expertise into the area that we will be discussing.
As far as possible, I want to exclude party politics from our discussions of the Bill, for which there is wide support. However, to make one final party-political point, it would have helped if we had not had the reasoned amendments on Second Reading. That brought an unwelcome element of party politics into the debate on the Bill. If we had supported the Conservative measure on Second Reading, we would not be here now. Having said that, I will try not to refer to the subject again, if at all possible.
I am not aware of the date of the general election. This Parliament may run until May 2002
Mr. Gray: June.
Mr. Hanson: Well, June 2002. Whatever may happen and whatever my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister decides, we will seek to introduce this measure as early as possible, as it is a good one.
Mr. Rowe: If the Minister gets early news of the date of the general election, will he let me know? I am finding it extremely different to plan my retirement.
Mr. Hanson: I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if I should hear, he will be the first to know. I reassure him that, to my knowledge, no Labour Members are planning their retirementeither by accident, design or force. I am sure that we will return en masse, whenever the election is called.
I welcome the hon. Member for Brecon and Radnorshire (Mr. Livsey), although he is not in his place. He spoke about the consensual nature of the discussions on the programming motion, and I welcome his support for that motion.
The hon. Member for North Wiltshire raised some important issues. We had a consensual discussion through the usual channels before the programming motion, which made for flexibility in debate, but that should not diminish the importance of programming as part of our consideration of a Bill. In controversial Bills, it is important that all clauses are fully considered. Many Government Members have also been in opposition, so we know the tricks of opposition and how Oppositions can stall Bills by discussing them. It is important to consider that.
We have a consensus. My time is running out, but we can progress with that consensus and have a useful discussion. I commend the programme resolution to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that there is a financial resolution in connection with the Bill, copies of which are available in the Room. Adequate notice should be given of amendments. As a general rule, my co-Chairman and I do not intend to call starred amendments.
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