Adoption and Children Bill

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Mr. Bellingham: The Minister has not answered my question. I asked why Government amendment No. 209 is not being discussed under clause 61, the clause

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to which it refers—unless I am very dim and did not understand what she said. It is part of a group of amendments to clause 54, but if it is indeed relevant only to clause 61 we should be discussing it then, because I cannot ask questions on clause 61 now.

The Chairman: The amendment is grouped under this clause because it is relevant. The decision will be taken when we come to the clause in question.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 197, in page 32, line 8, after '(1)' insert 'or (1A)'.

No. 198, in page 32, line 13, leave out subsections (4) and (5).

No. 199, in page 32, line 18, leave out 'or section 76 information'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Mr. Djanogly: I beg to move amendment No. 190, in page 32, line 20, at end add—

    '(7) Nothing in this Act shall permit local authorities to provide birth parents with information relating to an adopted person who has attained the age of 18 years or more and, prior to attaining the age of 18 years, other than pursuant to an order made pursuant to section 25.'.

I tabled amendments Nos. 189, 190 and 191 together. I was advised by the Public Bill Office, whose staff know a lot more about drafting legislation than I do, that they could not be debated together because they apply to different clauses, so I start with the amendment on birth parent access.

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I should also like to add that I am not sure what the Government's position is on this issue. Two minutes before I rose to speak, I noticed Government new clause 7. It looks as if the new clause deals with birth parents' access to information, but I am sure that the Minister will tell me if I am wrong. New clause 7 is starred, which means that it must have been tabled some time yesterday. That timing is unacceptable—even more unacceptable than the previous group of amendments, which were at least tabled last Friday and were, therefore, not starred. I believe that I am right in saying that the effect of the new clause being starred is that the Committee will not be able to discuss it today because it was not tabled in time, so the situation goes from bad to worse. That is a shame because it relates to an important issue, which to many people is also emotive.

From my brief consideration of new clause 7, which presumably we shall discuss later—perhaps when we reach the end of the Bill—it seems to me that the Government are introducing the same sort of provisions for parental access as they have introduced on a child's access to information, in so far as the new clause contains a consent provision. If I am incorrect about that, I would appreciate some further explanation from the Minister.

Access for natural birth parents is conceptually different from access for children, in so far as the adoption decision is that of the natural parent and not that of the child. In practice, that is not relevant to adoption on a day-to-day basis in this day and age and has not been for some time, progressively since the

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1975 legislation, and it is unlikely to become any more relevant to future adoptions. It is now rare for children not to know who their parents are. The number of babies who are adopted has decreased dramatically and most young people have some connection with their parents. Increasingly, the adoption process is becoming an open adoption system, whereby contact provisions are made. Indeed, the Bill takes that process further with the contact provisions contained in clause 25. It is a great shame that we have not had the chance to debate clause 25, as I have received almost as much correspondence on that clause as on any other issue. We were unable to discuss it because of the timetable, which shows the deficiency of the system.

If no contact is given—presumably because of abuse or where the child may be endangered—the local authority should not then give information to the birth parent once the child has reached 18. Furthermore, in the case of pre-1975 legislation adoptions, where the children involved would all now be over 18, the assumption is that no contact orders will be made. There was not a system for contact orders then and it was not the culture of the time. That culture is an important consideration in relation to pre-1975 adoptions because the ''deal'' under which adoptions then went ahead was that the child was removed from one parent and given to another, with no contact between the two. Frequently, in those times, the children's first names were changed. The individuals who were adopted then as babies—there were many more baby adoptions then than there are today—and are now adults may not know who their natural parents were. Many hundreds, or even thousands of such people, might not even know that they were adopted.

I do not want to say that the system before 1975 was wrong for its time. Whether it was right or wrong, it changed at that time—I accept and support that. For that reason, I am as delighted as any of my hon. Friends on the Conservative Benches that the Government have seen sense and gone back, essentially, to the system that was adopted post-1975. However, children obviously have a right to know who their parents are and to have access to their birth certificates. It should be for the child to initiate contact with birth parents, not vice versa. The provisions need to be seen in the light of the further amendments.

Kevin Brennan: Can the hon. Gentleman not envisage that, in many cases, it may be a more favourable proposition for contact to be initiated by a birth relative, rather than by the adopted person? Plenty of research evidence shows that adopted people find it a difficult subject to raise with their adoptive parents and that in 90 per cent. or more of cases where contact is initiated by a birth relative, it is welcomed. Is he not ignoring the evidence?

Mr. Djanogly: I do not think that there is evidence, as such, that says that. More to the point, the hon. Gentleman will see that, in amendment No. 191, my hon. Friends and I have gone some way to alleviating his concerns. His point is a fair one. The expression of the approach can often best be made by the natural

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parents—the amendment provides for that. Providing for an expression of the position of the natural parent towards contact is very different from making contact. That is the distinction that we need to make.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman says that he does not think that there is any research evidence. I can provide him with it. Is he aware that research quoted in ''Adoption, Search and Reunion - The long Term Experience of Adopted Adults'' by Howe and Feast, published in 2000, showed that 90 per cent. of non-searching adopted people who are informed of a birth relative's inquiry agree to have some form of contact? Is he also aware that 74 per cent. of non-searching adopted adults did not feel comfortable asking their adoptive parents for information about their birth family and background?

Mr. Djanogly:. I do not know how well the hon. Gentleman's statistics can be verified. Even if they are correct, that means that 10 per cent. would not want contact. That is a large enough proportion to support my view that the system under which they were adopted should not be changed in retrospect. The question of where we go from here is a different matter. We are considering contact provisions and I do not dispute that it is often appropriate to maintain contact. However, I am not talking about where we go from here and the Bill must take account of the historical position. We must respect the culture and provisions under which adoptions were previously carried out.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman says that the provisions would be unacceptable if 10 per cent. did not agree that contact was suitable, but the figure in the research is 6 per cent—a small minority. He talks about the culture of the past, but is he not in danger of setting it in stone? We should move on and accept that we are talking about human beings now, not then.

Mr. Djanogly: The hon. Gentleman is talking about the relatively short period from the mid-1920s to 1976—from the creation of adoption until the introduction of new laws in the Adoption Act 1976, which we all support. That does not mean, however, that we can simply overturn the basis on which adoptions were made between 1926 and 1976. Rather, we must accept that adoptions were made on that basis. It is easy to say that someone in their 60s should be sent a letter saying that they were adopted, but we must take on board the implications for their state of mind and the potential need for counselling. We should not simply assume, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, that they will accept the news. I do not accept that.

Mr. Dawson: I honestly cannot believe what I am hearing. Is the hon. Gentleman seriously saying that we should accept the standards of a time when women who gave birth outside marriage were ostracised and sometimes put in mental asylums? The standards of that time and the rights that were accorded to women were far fewer than they are now. Is the hon. Gentleman really saying that we should accept those standards in the 21st century?

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Mr. Djanogly: I am not saying that those standards were right or that the basis for adoption was right, but we must respect as an historical fact that adoption was carried out in a particular way for a limited period. We cannot go backwards; we must go forwards, as the Bill does.

Mr. Shaw: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr. Djanogly: No, it would be best if I moved on.

It is important that information is given in two instances, which are reflected in other amendments. The first is the death of a child. From a humanitarian point of view, information should certainly be passed to the natural parents in such a case. They have no automatic right to information and they should be given one. Secondly, we shall promote a procedure whereby natural parents can provide the adoption agency with written information. In that way, a child who makes contact with the agency can receive the information and have some understanding of their natural family. However, it should be the child who has the right of approach and not the birth parents.

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