Adoption and Children Bill

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Mr. Llwyd rose—

Tim Loughton: Will the Minister give way?

Jacqui Smith: No, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy.

Mr. Llwyd: With respect, the Minister's argument is not very persuasive. I am not saying that we want the Government to interfere in family life—far from it. We want to enshrine a child's right to know their roots. That is the main aim, and we are looking for a way to achieve it. None of the Minister's arguments hitherto should prevent that.

Jacqui Smith: That is the point that we are discussing. What are the implications of enshrining such a right? I am attempting to exemplify some of them.

Tim Loughton: I am glad that my amendment has prompted such an interesting discussion. The Minister is discussing the fundamentally different issue of the state interfering in family life, and there are provisions in the European convention on human rights and the

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UN convention on the rights of the child to deal with that. We, however, are talking about a different issue, because the state will have legitimised the adopted child's relationship with their family. That will not be a natural birth relationship, so the state will have a right of involvement.

Jacqui Smith: That is an important point. That is why I said that it might be more fruitful to state that it was someone's fundamental human right to know that they had been through a legal process of adoption, rather than to know the nature of the people who were bringing them up. That may be the way forward.

Mr. Brazier: As a Burkean Conservative who is not very impressed by a dialogue about rights as the best way to examine the obligations that make for civilised society, I rather sympathise with the Minister's point.

The critical point is that we are dealing not with children, but with people who have reached the age of 18. Rather than telling people that they were adopted—that will already have happened in nearly every case—we might get round the problem by making it a statutory duty to make them aware of their right to see their birth certificate, which will include the information that they were adopted. Given that that will happen when they are 18, the birth parents will have plenty of time to get ready, and the information will appear slightly less ghastly when it comes through the post.

Jacqui Smith: Perhaps I have had a Burkean transformation over the Christmas break. I need to think about the suggestion made by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham, as I am not sure that it is the most appropriate way to go forward, and I see practical difficulties in implementation. The amendment would place an onerous duty on adoption agencies in that it would be necessary for them know that an adopted person was approaching 18 and was able and willing to make contact—[Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman, having made much of the resource implications of the proposals, now dismisses something that is potentially onerous.

Tim Loughton: This whole Bill is about making lifetime adoption work; it is about providing lifetime adoption services. If the adoption agency cannot even manage the not onerous task of working out when one of its previous charges reaches 18, then it is not doing its job very well. That is not a great responsibility or burden.

Jacqui Smith: That is the hon. Gentleman's view. I shall be interested to know whether adoption agencies consider it onerous or not. That might be one of the implications that we need to consider.

Mr. Djanogly: On the method of informing the adopted child, it might be that the first approach should be made to the adoptive parents, to remind

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them that the child must know by the age of 18; after 18 years, they might have forgotten that they had to tell him. They should be reminded that they should take matters into their own hands rather than having the state bluntly inform the adopted person.

Jacqui Smith: I am pleased that, as the hon. Gentleman's intervention shows, the debate has forced us all to consider both the principles and the practicalities of the issue. Given that, perhaps I can reassure the Committee that the Government will consider in more detail both the practicalities and the principle and that I will give further information to Committee members before consideration of remaining stages on the Floor of the House. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham will feel able to withdraw the amendment, which is not quite ghastly, but might not achieve what we want to do.

Tim Loughton: I am flattered that the Minister thinks that the amendment is not ghastly. The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) went slightly over the top in saying so. I did not suggest that it was ghastly. I implied that it might be flawed. Like all Opposition amendments, it is far from ghastly.

It will be useful to address the outstanding points in Committee—I am grateful that the Minister is sympathetic to returning to them on Report, but I hope that her undertaking to come back to us before the remaining stages does not mean the night before—so that we have more time to consider what she might come up with. I would want to table amendments along these lines for consideration on Report, and they would be dependent on what the Government are thinking.

The Minister started by saying that the amendment was difficult. Then she said that she had some sympathy with the points raised, then she said that she would consider the matter further and then she said that it was a bit of a problem. Initially, I was slightly alarmed, because she seemed to pray in aid a case—I think that she is talking about the Slater family and what is currently going on with Kat, Zoe and Uncle Harry. I am concerned about the use of the example of what happens in ''EastEnders''. [Interruption.] I am very surprised that Labour Members raise the question of which soap opera is relevant. I should be alarmed if the Minister were citing those not exactly everyday instances that people have been watching on their screens in recent weeks as a good basis for not adopting a legitimate amendment—

It being twenty-five minutes past Eleven o'clock, the Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned till this day at half-past Two o'clock.

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The following Members attended the Committee:
Stephenson, Mr. George (Chairman)
Bellingham, Mr.
Blackman, Mrs. Liz
Brazier, Mr.
Brennan, Kevin
Dawson, Mr.
Djanogly, Mr.

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Fitzpatrick, Jim
Llwyd, Mr.
Loughton, Tim
Love, Mr.
Munn, Ms
Smith, Jacqui
Winterton, Ms Rosie

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