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8.53 pm

Jonathan Shaw: It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson). In fact, it is tremendous to follow my hon. Friend, who made a fundamentally tremendous speech about children in care, about whom he speaks so passionately. Perhaps he should get a prize, another bottle of wine from the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), for the number times he mentions "tremendous" and "fundamental".

The Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), stands tall because she has delivered this Bill. We have had White Papers and various attempts by Governments of both parties to deliver an improvement on the Adoption Act 1976. She can be proud.

My hon. Friend mentioned the fact that she was surrounded by social workers during the Bill's consideration—a fact that may not always have curried favour. Perhaps she should be an honorary social worker. The brown corduroys are in the post, but we do not expect her to grow a beard or to drive a 2CV.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) invited me to intervene on his closing statement, but I did not do so because it was a fine speech that encapsulated his response throughout our deliberations—apart from last Thursday, when he let himself down. In talking about political correctness, he demonstrated the right-wing version of it to which I referred in Committee. That apart, he has made a good

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contribution, and has introduced proposals that my hon. Friend the Minister accepted. Such consensus has been the Bill's hallmark, and it has made for a better measure. I also pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton).

Such was the atmosphere created by the presence of so many former social workers in Committee that the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) felt the need to share some of his pain with us. According to Hansard, which I was able to consult during our proceedings, he said that he had suffered as a statistician, and I responded that we had all done so.

Mr. Brazier: That was very cruel.

Jonathan Shaw: Indeed. I was in the Corridor with the hon. Gentleman—we are both Members for Kent constituencies—discussing certain parts of the Bill. I was quite annoyed, but I got even angrier when he kindly told me to calm down. He has also made a contribution, and no one can deny the genuineness of his belief in adoption as a means to provide a better future for children. He has consistently spoken on that issue, and although we hold differing views on several matters, I take my hat off to him: he has shown commitment throughout. [Hon. Members: "Hear, hear".] The same can also be said of other hon. Members.

This has not been a unique experience, however. After my former job as a social worker, I, like other hon. Members, arrived in this place hoping to bring about change. I have been privileged to play a part not only in the Adoption and Children Bill, but in the Care Standards Bill and the Children (Leaving Care) Bill. All three Bills sought to bring about change for some of the most vulnerable children in our communities by making their lives better. Given my background, to have been involved at the coal face of such legislation has been an immense privilege.

The Bill will provide greater opportunity for children and young people to be adopted. My hon. Friend the Minister deserves praise, but we should also acknowledge the many agencies outside the House that have helped us all. I pay particular tribute to Felicity Collier and Deborah Cullen, of British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering, who campaigned and lobbied hard for the Bill before it came before the House. The Bill is testament to their hard work, but most of all to the children who want adoptive placements. That is what our proceedings on Second Reading and in Committee have been about, and the consensus that we have found bodes well for the future of adoption.

8.59 pm

Liz Blackman (Erewash): I regarded myself as a junior member of the Special Standing Committee—I have no background in social work, social services or adoption—but I learned a great deal from my colleagues who are former social workers. I should point out that most of them are not politically correct, but they are very knowledgable. I also learned a great deal from my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), and from the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), thanks to the evidence that he brought before the Committee.

The whole process was fine and outstanding. I know that we had two bites of the cherry initially, with two Second Readings and two lots of evidence, but that was

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valuable because it helped to refine what is now a fine piece of legislation. We were given first-rate evidence by all the groups and individuals who appeared before us. I have sat on other Committees that have taken evidence, but the quality was not as outstanding, crisp and meaningful. That was a great privilege.

As I have said before, I did not have a background in adoption practice, but a couple came to see me because they could not obtain information on a child whom they were considering adopting. They were blocked at every step of the way by the local authority. In the end, out of sheer frustration and upset, they backed off. I have pressed to put rigorous provision in the Bill that will make local authorities provide detailed information to prospective adoptive parents. The children can be difficult, and parents need to know as much about them as possible to know whether they can give them a stable, loving home. Throughout the process, my point was listened to and the Minister has said that it will be addressed in regulations. Indeed, all the hon. Members involved have beavered away and chivvied the Minister, and she has been so receptive that we have made progress. I praise her for that.

One of the groups that gave evidence to the Special Standing Committee was the Nottingham Catholic Children's Society. I live in Nottingham, so I took up the society's invitation to visit. Staff took me through the practical measures that they take in the lead up to an adoption and described the post-adoption support they provide. They are responsible for some very fine practice. As several other hon. Members have said, we must ensure that the legislation is put into practice on the ground. We must implement it with the best possible practice, network it and ensure that it happens. The finest piece of paper in the world does not mean much to children who want to be adopted if the procedures are not working.

The Bill is excellent and it was a privilege to serve on the Committee. We must get this right for all those children who are in care and who want to be adopted.

9.2 pm

Mr. Bellingham: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman). Like her, I learned much from the progress of the Bill. I declare an interest, because I am the father of an adopted child. I declared that in Committee, and I declare it now, because that is the right thing to do. Having been through the experience of adopting, I know quite a lot about it, but I have learned much more from Labour Members and their experience of social work. It was a fulfilling Committee on which to serve.

The Bill is long overdue and I hope that it will be implemented as soon as possible. The Minister touched on that subject earlier on Report, but I hope that final implementation will be brought forward even further.

As the Minister pointed out, the Bill's overriding priority must be the interests of children. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) mentioned permanency, security and stability, which are critical. It is crucial that the interests of the child are put first. A moving article in today's Evening Standard tells the story of a man called Paul

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James, who pursued a council for its failure to have him adopted. The council had to give him his notes, which stretched back over many years. Paul James is quoted as saying:

Anyone who gets the chance should read that article, because it sums up what the Bill is about. It is about the lives of people such as Paul James. It is also very much in the country's interests, because children brought up in a secure and stable family are much more likely to fulfil their own potential and then go on to contribute more to the country.

I thought that Thursday's debate was all too short. As an adopter myself, I feel that adopters make a lifelong commitment to the children they adopt. Indeed, they probably make even more of a commitment to someone else's child than they would to their own. That is why I felt it was equally important for the person concerned to make a lifelong commitment to the partner with whom they are adopting a child. Obviously the debate will go on and on—it will continue in another place—but of course I accept the result of Thursday's votes, and indeed the results of any votes tonight.

I understand the concern felt by many Members about inter-country adoption. In Committee, I tabled an amendment to allow private social workers to compile projects such as private home studies under licence to local authorities. There are many private social workers out there, most of whom are former public sector social workers. We must try to harness that resource. Unfortunately my amendment was not accepted, despite being supported by Plaid Cymru and the Liberal Democrats, but I hope that it will be resurrected in another place and given serious consideration.

Local authorities are already stretched, and, as my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham pointed out, many are retrenching towards statutory responsibilities. The one thing they do not want to take on now is inter-country adoption. I have spoken to a number of social workers, who made their point very clearly. Many of them cannot join voluntary agencies, but a sensible solution might be to contract them to local authorities and introduce a licensing system.

I hope that the other place will also return to another amendment tabled in Committee, which would enable adopted children to inherit titles. There was a certain amount of sneering from Labour Members in Committee, but the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department did not sneer, because it was important. Adopted children are allowed to inherit everything else. They are on a par with other children, with the exception of inheriting titles. It would surely be appropriate for the amendment to be considered again in another place. As I said in Committee, 15 peers and 15 baronets have adopted children. It seems absurd that those children can inherit a home or, for instance, a picture, but cannot inherit a title—especially at a time when the Government are so keen to remove all hereditary peers from the other place.

It is a pity that the Bill has been subject to so much timetabling. As the last three days have shown, there is great interest in it, and we have engaged in a series of constructive, worthwhile debates during that time; but in

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Committee the axe descended on swathes of it, and those debates fell by the wayside. That does not reflect well on the House. While I agree with all who have described the Committee stage as excellent and fulfilling for all who participated, the curtailment of so much debate was extremely frustrating. I am sure that, in their heart of hearts, Labour Members agree. When a Bill is not particularly controversial and has attracted all-party agreement, why timetable it? In fact, we might even have made quicker progress in Committee if the Bill had not been timetabled. We would have had less of an artificial framework in which to pursue the debate, which would have meant quicker progress in some areas. We could have focused the debate on areas that we have not been allowed to debate at all.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham in the tribute that he paid to Tom Goldsmith, who was quite superb. The Opposition team went to him with a number of amendments. Some of mine were certainly not as expertly drafted as they might have been. I went to see Tom Goldsmith, who provided a great deal of patient help, assistance and understanding.

I also pay tribute to the Minister's civil servants. I appreciated the letters that both Ministers sent us—I raised a number of quite technical, legal points in Committee, but both Ministers always replied; they were extremely conscientious. I also thank the Minister of State, Department of Health for the lengthy letter that she sent on 10 May—it was about 10 pages long. That sums up the attitude of the civil servants who worked on the Bill. They worked tirelessly, they were extremely professional and they served all members of the Committee equally. Finally, I wish the Bill well as it goes to another place.

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