Adoption and Children Bill

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Mr. Shaw: I am fairly ignorant about that aspect of society, but I am curious. Will the hon. Gentleman enlighten the Committee about what he means by courtesy titles?

Mr. Bellingham: Yes, indeed; let me explain. If the hon. Gentleman loses his seat at the next election, and the Prime Minister gives him a life peerage as a consolation prize, his children could, if they wanted, call themselves ''the honourable'' followed by their name. If they were adopted children, however, they would not be able to do that. I have always taken the view that, for life peerages, courtesy titles are pretty irrelevant, but the Prime Minister still has the power to create hereditary peerages. In fact, several have been created over the past 20 years or so, including Lord Whitelaw, Viscount Tonypandy and the Earl of Stockton. Obviously, the eldest son of an earl is titled Lord—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Order. I ask hon. Members on the Government Front Bench to stop conversing with each other while others are engaged in debate.

Mr. Bellingham: I hope that we in this country will be using titles for many generations to come, but our priority should be to treat adopted children of such families as fairly and compassionately as possible. Let us imagine what an enormous outcry there would be if adopted children were excluded from other social or even religious groups.

Tim Loughton (East Worthing and Shoreham): Is my hon. Friend aware that one witness who gave evidence on the video provided by the Children's Society to the Committee, which I watched with interest last week, was the adoptive daughter of the Duke of Richmond, from Goodwood in Sussex? She is a fascinating woman from Lesotho in southern Africa. She was brought up in the aristocracy, as she freely called it, in this country, and enjoyed herself immensely, but of course will not be able to inherit any part of the Goodwood estate or any title, even though she has been brought up as the child of the Duke of Richmond.

Mr. Bellingham: My hon. Friend is right. The Duke of Richmond and Gordon adopted two daughters, both of African descent. One, Maria, was born in 1959 and is married to Christopher Handy. I think that it was Naomi, who was born in 1962, to whom my hon. Friend referred. She is known as Nimmy March; she is an actress. If they were not adopted, they would be able to call themselves Lady Maria March and Lady Naomi March. They are not allowed to do so because they are adopted. I should have thought that enough stigma is attached to trans-racial adoptions, but adding to it is completely unacceptable.

The question has been asked how many families are affected by the clause. I have been doing some research and have discovered that 23 peers and 16 baronets have adopted children, so a substantial number of families are affected. Some of the families will be without property, but many will have property, and many of those properties will be entailed with the title, so the potential property rights of a substantial number of adopted children will be removed.

I shall give an example, which is relevant to the point made by the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) about the importance of the love and affection that a family gives to an adopted child. That is paramount. The fourth Marquess of Aberdeen and his wife adopted a child, who was born in 1950. He is called Andrew David Gordon. Five years later, the Marquess of Aberdeen had a natural son, who is called Alexander George; he also has two adopted daughters. The natural son has the courtesy title of the Earl of Haddo.

Labour Members may not like titles or courtesy titles, but I should have thought that the situation would be pretty demeaning and unpleasant for that eldest son, who, to all intents and purposes, is the eldest of four children. He was born to one family and adopted by another. He was given a loving home by a couple who assumed that they would be childless but then had three more children. I am sure that the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford would agree that, whatever the love and affection given by the parents to the eldest child in that situation, it must be difficult for him. We are considering measures to give adopted children every other right, but we are not prepared to give them this one, for archaic and unacceptable reasons.

Kevin Brennan: I am interested by the hon. Gentleman referring to the reasons for the clause as archaic. Will he respond to my points about archaic principles, hereditary principles and the monarchy?

Mr. Bellingham: Yes, I shall refer to that now. Adopted children should have the same rights as natural children. We hope that Prince William will eventually succeed to the throne, marry and have children, but let us assume that he has only one child—a son—whom he adopts. It would be outrageous if that son could not, in due course, call himself the Prince of Wales and be the heir to the monarchy. To follow the logic of my argument, my answer to the hon. Gentleman is yes.

I understand why Labour Members feel that peerages and inherited titles are socially divisive and a relic of the past, irrelevant in this modern society. I do not take that view, but I imagine that many Labour Members do. None the less, I hope that they feel that it would be unwarranted to exclude adopted children.

10.15 am

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): Has my hon. Friend considered giving advice to the Emperor of Japan?

The Chairman: Order. That is not related to the amendment.

Mr. Bellingham: This is a very interesting debate, and I shall make a point of sending a copy of Hansard to the Japanese ambassador.

Tim Loughton: I am sure that the ambassador to Japan will read it with great interest. However, let me bring the debate slightly closer to home. My hon. Friend said the overt republicanism displayed by Labour Members was understandable, but is it? The leader of the Labour party, the Prime Minister, has created more hereditary peers who take the Labour Whip in the other place—

The Chairman: Order. The hon. Gentleman is going wide of the mark. His comments are not relevant to the amendment.

Mr. Bellingham: My hon. Friend is right. Whatever the Prime Minister says about—

The Chairman: Order. I thought that I had given a little hint about my concern. I suspect that I need not hint any more.

Mr. Bellingham: I shall return to my comments on the amendments. There are undoubtedly contradictions in the Labour party's attitude, to which I may return in my concluding remarks.

Those countering my argument that adopted children should be able to inherit ancient titles, such as dukedoms, earldoms or baronetcies, have made much of the fact that blood offspring should inherit them. However, fundamental changes have taken place. There was a time when political power attached to hereditary peerages, which were part of the legislature. That is still true to an extent, although the Government will, regrettably, put an end to that. Hereditary peerages are now only a small part of the legislature, and the Government intend to remove them completely in phase 2 of their reform of the House of Lords. The constitutional implications of my suggested reform will not be that far-reaching. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) rightly suggested that it would have far-reaching implications for only one aspect of the constitution—the monarchy.

The debate has moved on in another important regard, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) will be well aware. In the past, he has spoken at length about in vitro fertilisation treatment and the problems faced by couples who cannot have children. As different aspects of infertility treatment have moved on, the term ''blood offspring'' has become more difficult to define. There are many permutations of infertility treatment. Sometimes, donated sperm may be involved, and a child may be the blood offspring of the mother, but not the father. Sometimes, an egg may be donated, and the father's sperm will be used. Sometimes, both the egg and the sperm are donated, and although born to a mother, the child is not her blood offspring. In America, surrogate mothers have often been used by childless parents. A surrogate mother may give birth to a child that was conceived with donated sperm—an even more complicated situation.

My submission is simple. The argument about blood offspring has become confused. There are many forms of assisted conception. The area is complex and technological advances mean that it is moving on apace. Anyone who reads articles by Professor Lord Winston or Professor Ian Craft will know that there will be a huge amount of debate and discussion about this area in future.

Kevin Brennan: I want to probe the hon. Gentleman on the implications of his remarks. Does he think that the adopted child of a person with a hereditary title should take precedence in inheritance over an illegitimate child of that person?

Mr. Bellingham: That is a good point. Illegitimate children cannot inherit a title and that should be examined. There is a good example in my constituency, which concerns, Labour Members will be pleased hear, a Labour hereditary peer. Lord Melchett, an old Etonian, former Labour Minister and current executive director of Greenpeace, inherited a large estate in my constituency. I get on with him very well, although we do not have the same political views. His son will not be able to inherit the Melchett title, because he was born out of wedlock. I am sure that Lord Melchett would not mind my mentioning that—it is common knowledge that he has not married his partner. It is scandalous that his son cannot inherit the title—

The Chairman: Order. I ask the hon. Gentleman to return to his amendment. He is moving far away from it.

Mr. Bellingham: Only by moving away from the amendment are we able to get to the spirit and flavour of the endeavour. We are trying to break new ground. The amendment will change the law in a small but fundamental way.

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