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9.11 pm

Kevin Brennan: I should like to add my praise to everyone associated with the Bill. I should feel a fraud if I accepted the bottle of wine offered by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). As a fellow countryman, I disqualified myself from the competition. If it does come my way, I will pass it on to one of my colleagues from the other side of Offa's dyke. I feel that my hon. Friend the Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor) would be wrong to accept it, as she was born in Ynyshir in the Rhondda and is a fluent Welsh speaker.

This is the first Bill with which I have been associated and taken through its stages. I was honoured to be associated with the Special Standing Committee procedure, which was very welcome. Now that I am serving on the Committee stages of two other Bills, I know that, as I suspected, it is not common practice for us to legislate on the basis of evidence. It is a process that we should use more often.

I have sometimes felt like an impostor. Like my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman), I am not a social worker, and it has occasionally been lonely admitting to that on the Labour Benches. However, I have been tremendously impressed by contributions from all right hon. and hon. Members, particularly from those who have an enormous amount of experience, commitment and passion. As a relatively new Member, I suspect that however long I remain in the House, I will not very often see the kind of expertise or quality of evidence and debate that have been apparent during the proceedings on this Bill.

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There have been one or two lighter moments in our proceedings. One or two hon. Friends have suggested that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) looks a bit like Mr. Burns from "The Simpsons". That is an unfair comparison, because I know that, unlike Mr. Burns, the hon. Gentleman is a very nice man. One of our more interesting debates came about when he moved his amendment to allow adopted children to inherit titles. It was extremely brave of him to come out as a republican on that occasion and threaten the line and the hereditary principle of the monarchy. I compliment him on his bravery.

Jonathan Shaw: Particularly in this jubilee year.

Kevin Brennan: Indeed.

I very much enjoyed all the contributions of the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk, particularly his most recent one. He showed tremendous courage in talking about the hereditary principle, peers and the guillotine in the same speech. I compliment him on being a true radical.

I also thank the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), for piloting the Bill so well, with the able assistance of the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton). My hon. Friend the Minister for State has shown great sticking power, as well as tolerance of Labour and Opposition Members. The Bill has been improved due to her receptive attitude to suggestions.

I am disappointed that the question of access to information for birth relatives remains unresolved. If a free vote had been allowed on that matter—as it was on another matter last week—perhaps the result would have been different. That is not meant as a criticism—hon. Members are entitled to their views. I am sorry that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) pressed the matter to a Division. He was perfectly entitled to do so, but I had hoped that we should not need to establish a view in this place before the Bill went to another place. However, that has been done and I am sure that the matter will be further discussed in another place. Indeed, I hope that we can find ways to discuss it further.

I welcome the Minister's announcement last week of a national focal point for intermediary services. I hope that organisations such as the National Organisation for Counselling Adoptees and Parents will be considered for that role, and that the funding that my hon. Friend pledged last week will be sufficient to make the role meaningful so that there will be genuine help to solve the problem.

I read the Committee reports for the legislation introduced in the 1970s, especially the sections on access to information. Access was granted retrospectively so that people could find out about their origins. Some of the attitudes towards access to information at that time are still reflected 25 years later, so I hope that further progress can be made on that point elsewhere. None the less, the Bill is excellent and I wish it well during the remainder of its passage through Parliament.

9.17 pm

Mr. Andrew Turner: I feel like an intruder among Members who have seen the Bill through all its stages in this place, so my contribution will be modest—as were

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my contributions at earlier points in the progress of the measure. As hon. Members have already observed, it is unusual for us to legislate on the basis of expertise and evidence, and I note that both are available on the Labour and the Opposition Benches.

Third Reading is the time to congratulate those who have successfully taken the Bill through the House, and I congratulate Members who served on the Committee on taking evidence as they did and on bringing the Bill to Report in such good shape. It has, of course, been improved on Report.

I am especially grateful that care plans will be put on a statutory basis and that there will be an opportunity to review their implementation. I am glad that there will be seamless local authority support for adoption. I represent an authority where no one, as a matter of policy, is adopted within the authority of their origin, so I know it is especially important that the Government produce—as I am sure that they will—regulations to make that transition seamless. I thank them for that.

The interests of the child are paramount and I perfectly understand why the interests of children going through the adoption process are so important to Members on both sides of the House. However, I hope that in another place the interests of those who are equally affected by the adoption process will be given a little more thought.

This is a good Bill and I and my hon. Friends welcome it. I congratulate the Minister of State on bringing it to Report.

9.19 pm

Mr. Brazier: I am delighted to have served on the Bill, which the Opposition have welcomed throughout. There is no time to reiterate at length the Bill's merits, on which we have dwelled during most of the last two and bit days on Report, but I should like to congratulate Ministers, especially the Minister of State, Department of Health, the hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), on announcing so many concessions today, many of which, as she generously said, had their origins on this side of the House. She has engaged in lively discussion in Committee and throughout the consideration of the Bill.

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) on carrying the burden single-handedly, often at the same time as serving on a Committee that was considering another Bill. He has brought considerable energy and intelligence to a very difficult and complicated subject.

I congratulate three Conservative Back-Bench Members: my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), who has just made such an interesting speech, bringing out, once again, the very strong commitment that he has to the issue because of his personal position; my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), who was with us earlier this evening and is the former chairman of a social services committee; and my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter), who has also been so energetic.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd)—I never thought I had a chance of winning that bottle of wine—brought real expertise to the Committee. I hope that, even at this late stage, the Minister will take on board the very strong plea that he has made, based on his experience as a family lawyer, about CAFCASS, without which much of the Bill cannot succeed.

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I congratulate a number of Labour Members on making lively contributions throughout the consideration of the Bill. In most cases, their contributions have been based on tremendous personal experience of social services. In particular, I should mention the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), with whom I have been debating this subject, on and off, for almost five years now.

Although he mentioned some anecdotes, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) did not comment, in pulling my leg on a variety of subjects, on my visit to the barber, when I had to suggest that he was perhaps short of materials for the makeover that I was seeking. Perhaps he was thinking of glass houses and all that. He has also made a great contribution. He has mentioned my being a statistician, for my sins. A couple of days ago a single table crossed my path that brought home to me, just like that, what the Bill is all about. It was a horrifying table showing the number of moves among the 25,000 children who left care in 2000. Just over a fifth of them had been moved five or more times in the previous 12 months. Some 16,000 of them had been moved more than 10 times in that time. What sorts of lives do those children have? That is why adoption is so vital.

A girl from care visited me for a day's work experience, organised through one of the campaigning groups with which the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre is involved. Very sadly, at the end of the day, she said, "Yes, I would have loved to have a family of my own, but my mum objected to it." I asked when she had last seen her mother, and the answer was when she was aged five. That is what this is all about.

The national register has been put on a statutory basis, and independent review is important. The targets for delay, which had already been announced, will now be backed up by changes in court procedure, but please think, "CAFCASS, CAFCASS, CAFCASS"—we have got to get it right. There is some extra money, but we shall see whether it is enough. Adoption support services have been changed. All those are achievements.

I should like to spend the last two or three minutes of my speech focusing, without sounding sour, on two points that have not been considered so far, both of which are very important, and I hope that they will be considered in another place. The first relates to contact.

Several hon. Members made the point that we are introducing new safeguards on contact. However, the group led by amendment No. 182 could cause problems. That amendment states:

There is a serious danger that the amendments on birth families, which were tabled at the last moment and not debated, will restore the contact that in many cases it is so important to cease. There is not time for me to dwell on the many harrowing examples of that, although I mentioned a case in my constituency in which fresh contact with birth parents destroyed the adoptive relationship. I hope that those amendments are considered in another place.

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My second concern relates to placement orders. Many of us welcome the move from freeing orders to placement orders. Although time prevents me from going into the matter in depth, some of the better informed pressure groups—I refer in particular to Sue James of the Adoption Forum and her briefing—are worried that placement orders are in danger of becoming freeing orders by another name. I see the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre nodding. The problem is that the orders do not necessarily involve placements. Although the amendments legislate for placements, the orders are not tied to them. That is why we hope that the amendments that were not reached here will be tabled in another place so that we can at least bring the matter back to court if the situation is drifting.

I do not want to end on those two sour notes, however. I know that another place will have a chance to consider the amendments that we did not debate. I end, therefore, where I started. The Bill is excellent. I am proud to have served on the Committee and I very much enjoyed working with the Committee on it. We commend the Bill to the House.

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