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Foster Children Bill Lords

Volume 977: debated on Tuesday 29 January 1980

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Order for Second Reading read.

10.51 pm

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I can move the Second Reading even more briefly in this case, the considerations being similar to those in the previous two Bills.

Again, this is a consolidation Bill. It consolidates certain enactments relating to the fostering of children by private individuals in England and Wales. The Joint Select Committee in its third report to the House on 31 October 1979 reported that it was of the opinion that the Bill, as amended, was pure consolidation and represented existing law. It again follows that it makes no changes whatsoever in the existing law. I commend it to the House.

I listened closely to the words of the Solicitor-General. He said that the Bill makes no changes in existing law. I do not think that that is wholly accurate, because it brings into force some of the provisions of the Children Act 1975 which are not yet in force. That is the distinguishing feature. If I am wrong, I am sure that the Solicitor-General will correct me.

With the leave of the House, I shall be happy to look into that point. The only difference of which I am aware is a minor improvement that represents not a change in the law but an improvement in the way in which it is expressed. The Committee reported that the Bill made no changes and that it was pure consolidation. I shall certainly look into the point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and write to him about it.

Order. I was going to call another hon. Gentleman first. There can be one reply.

10.54 pm

The mere fact that a provision is not yet in force does not mean that it is not the law of the land. Power is given to the Minister in the Children Act to bring certain sections or measures into force, and presumably the Shadow Attorney-General is referring to that. If I am right, there is no merit in the right hon. and learned Gentleman's point. I understood that previously he was angry, or to some extent irritated, by the impressive manner with which my hon. and learned Friend introduced one of the earlier measures. He might well stand in shame at making a point that appears to me to be in unutterable ignorance of the procedures of the House and the effect of legislation. He ought to give us an apology.

10.55 pm

I support what my hon. Friend the Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) has just said. Bills often provide that at some future date a provision will come into force, when the Minister so states or requires. My hon. Friend is quite right. As soon as the measure passes through the process in Parliament, it becomes the law. The fact that its operation may be postponed for a few months does not in any way detract from the truth of what my hon. Friend has just said. Therefore, I am bound to say that the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) is wholly wrong and, like my hon. Friend, I hope that he will apologise to the Solicitor-General.

With the leave of the House, I should like to attempt to apologise in my own way. When I am told that I should be ashamed, naturally I look at my position to see to what degree I should show contrition. When I put my point to the Solicitor-General, at first he seemed to be totally unaware of it. In good faith, as he told us, he was putting before the House the words that it makes no change in the existing law—full stop. I was not bringing to the attention of the House a matter out of my own head, without having studied the matter. I relied, indeed, upon eminent legal sources and on the way in which it has been put elsewhere.

The way in which it has been put is that the Bill
"makes no changes in the existing law, except that it brings into force some of the provisions of the Children Act 1975 which are not yet in force."—[Official Report, House of Lords, 23 July 1979; Vol. 401, c. 1630.]
Presumably there is a reason why it was put in that way, with a comma, followed by the words
"except that it brings into force some of the provisions of the Children Act 1975 which are not yet in force."
The source of that authority—first, that there is no change in the law and, secondly, that there is the one exception referred to—is no less a person than the Lord Chancellor, in introducing the Bill in another place. On that ground, on reflection, I do not think that the hon. Member for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) will press me to don my sackcloth and ashes and show contrition—unless he wants me to do it in tandem with the Lord Chancellor. I would be perfectly willing to consider doing that.

We are not in Committee, and the hon. Gentleman is not permitted to make two speeches.

10.58 pm

With the leave of the House, perhaps I may say that I may have been perhaps too brief in my comment on what the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon (Mr. Morris) said. It seems that one cannot win—one is either too long or too brief—but one must keep trying.

We sent to the right hon. and learned Gentleman a copy of the Bill and of the evidence, and of the report of the Joint Committee, in advance of these proceedings. If there had been a point on which he wished to speak to me, I should have been very glad to speak to him about it. He now raises a very technical point, as he is perfectly entitled to do. I must deal with it as best I may. I believe the answer in law to be that which I have given to the House.

Having regard to the second thoughts that the Solicitor-General is now having about this matter, will he have second thoughts about his answer to me yesterday, in which he made the most disgraceful and disparaging aspersions about the value of The Times Law Reports?

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. This is utterly irrelevant and is another reason why the Opposition spokesman should apologise to the House for wasting our time.

I was about to say to the hon. and learned Member for Abertillery (Mr. Thomas) that his point has absolutely nothing to do with the measure.

It is also a little surprising that the hon. and learned Member for Abertillery (Mr. Thomas) should refer to an intervention by himself which ended with his being rebuked by Mr. Speaker, but let that pass. It has nothing whatever—

Order. Could we get off this subject, Mr. Solicitor-General, and back to the Bill?

I would have been happy not to have got on to it, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I was not having second thoughts; I was adding to what I had said in the hope of helping the House. Had the right hon. and learned Member for Aberavon wished to discuss this point with me, I would have been happy to do so. I shall be happy to do so after these proceedings if the right hon. and learned Gentleman wishes. I must advise the House that this is a pure consolidation matter. It has been certified as such. I think that the points made by my hon. Friends the Members for Burton (Mr. Lawrence) and Grantham (Mr. Hogg) adequately deal with the points raised on technical matters.

My advice is that the House should give the Bill a Second Reading.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[ Mr. Newton.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 ( Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.