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It’s sometimes claimed that the Commons Chamber now counts for nothing. Tell that to Edward Timpson, MP for Crewe and Nantwich.
Yesterday evening, Edward, together with Henry Bellingham from our front bench, forced the Government to climb down over the courts, families and reporting.
The details are perhaps hard to follow. But the big picture issue is simple to grasp: family courts and reporting restrictions. Camilla Cavendish of the Times and others campaigned to reform court procedures – arguing that they were so restrictive as to be “the secret state that steals our children”.
Last April, the Government allowed the gist – through not the substance – of County Courts and the High Court family proceedings to be reported for the first time.
Ministers proposed a two-part further easing of restrictions in the Children, Schools and Families Bill. First, they’d further loosen the reporting reins if the bill becomes law. Second, they’d allow a further loosening once the Lord Chancellor had carried out a review – after a minimum of a further 18 months.
The proposals weren’t considered in committee. So yesterday, at report stage, Henry and Edward argued in their “new clause 2” that the review should be independent – not undertaken by the Lord Chancellor. And that pilots of anonymised judgements should be completed before the start of the review.
The Minister, Bridget Prentice, began by saying just after 8.30pm that she had “no objection” to the new clause in principle, that there was “much to be said for some of things in it”, but that it was “unnecessary” because Government amendments would meet the same aims.
Just after 8.45pm, Edward pointed out that there was no guarantee in the bill as drafted that the pilots would be completed before the independent review takes place.
A few minutes later, Henry pressed the Minister again. She caved in:
“I am with the honourable gentleman – I accept new clause 2.”
So if the bill – or at least these parts of it – pass through Parliament, there will be an independent review of the loosening of family court reporting restrictions based on the assessment of evidence. And all because of the persistence of two MPs on the floor of the Commons – one of them the backbench winner of a by-election.
Who says that the Chamber doesn’t matter?