Adoption and Children Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Brazier: May I rephrase the second point of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre? I agree with everything that the Minister said about retrospection, but the parties to the contract were two sets of adults. The contract dealt with a child or in some cases a baby. We are now dealing with a new adult who was not

Column Number: 776

party to that contract. We could give those who do not want any contact an absolute veto by slightly modifying the retrospective angle of new clause 7, but I cannot see how the principle of non-retrospection could apply to a new adult who was not privy to the original contract, which was made to protect the children in an adoptive relationship, and the adoptive parents and their children. We are talking about new adults who were not part of the original contract; provided that they have a veto, I cannot see the Minister's objection to retrospection.

Jacqui Smith: I have already responded to the point on the veto; contact will be necessary for the veto to be exercised. It would be useful if I continue—some hon. Members might then think more positively about what the Bill would enable us to do.

Mr. Brazier rose—

Jacqui Smith: I have tried four times to continue, but I shall give way once more.

Mr. Brazier: The Minister is generous indeed. A brief mention of a constituency case might illustrate the difference that the Minister has touched upon. A constituent of mine with a terrible medical difficulty fell into exactly the category that the Minister has outlined. My constituent was absolutely passionate that she wanted to have nothing to do with her birth parents; she did not want to know who they were. As her Member of Parliament, I had to organise a third-party search to establish a medical fact for her without such contact taking place. If we turn that round the other way, we would have a constituent who falls exactly into the Minister's category. Were an adoption agency to approach that constituent and say We are anxious that you receive some medical information from your birth parents, even though we know that you want nothing to do with them. Would you like us to pass on this file to you?'' surely there could be no objection. She can still refuse to see the file.

Jacqui Smith: I am not sure that that adds much to our discussion. I shall now make progress.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): The arguments against retrospection are not persuasive. If there were an agreement or contract between those two sets of adults, under the main public policy thrust of the Bill, which is the welcome paramountcy of the interests of the child, the interests of the child would dictate that that information should be disclosed, surely it should override any agreement entered into—

Mr. Shaw rose—

The Chairman: Order.

Jacqui Smith: I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) is continuing to point out that no one has argued that new clause 8, as it relates to children, should be retrospective. The argument is about adults.

Mr. Llwyd: I withdraw that; I am sorry.

Column Number: 777

Jacqui Smith: I now come to what it is possible to do without retrospection, and to deal with some of the concerns raised by hon. Members. We have already discussed the intermediary services, which are at the heart of some of the points raised today. The adoption support provisions of the Bill, which are an improvement over the March version of the Bill, include a provision to offer adoption support services to a wider group of people than adopted people and their families. As I said before Christmas, the Bill has made possible the future consideration, as part of the framework of adoption support, of the extent to which intermediary services should be made available. It will be possible for those intermediary services to be made available to people adopted prior to enactment of this Bill. We have also argued that we would like to see agencies take a positive and compassionate view of approaches made by birth relatives who wish to trace people from whom they were separated. I believe that I referred to that before Christmas. To ensure some consistency in the process, we produced guidance on the provision of intermediary services, so there is opportunity, subject to the framework and to consultation, for consideration of intermediary services.

Kevin Brennan: I apologise for intervening again on my hon. Friend because I know that she has taken many interventions. I also apologise for not paying tribute to the statement that she made about intermediary services before Christmas. However, if such services become available to birth parents in the case of adoptions that took place before the enactment of the Bill, will those birth parents be able to seek identifying information from the Registrar-General through a current agency and an intermediary service provided by regulation?

Jacqui Smith: I think that I might be coming on to cover that point in relation to the improvements that the Bill will make to the adoption contact register. That register enables an adopted person to register on one list and a birth parent or relative to register on another list and facilitates the linking of the two. Clauses 77 and 78 will extend the existing service so that an adopted person's registration on part 1 may signify either a desire for contact with any relatives, contact with specified relatives or no contact. A birth relative's registration on part 2 may signify a desire for contact, or for no contact, with a specified adopted person. Interestingly, people sometimes state explicitly that they want to register the fact that they do not want to have any contact at all. That further important service will take account of some of the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn).

I have made my point on my concern about retrospective legislation. We are discussing a sensitive issue and I believe that the Government have gone a significant way down the track of recognising that sensitivity through what we have said about intermediary services and the improvements to the adoption contact register. We recognise the needs of birth parents to be supported in any approaches that

Column Number: 778

they make, while accepting that it is not possible to have a right for birth parents and a right for adopted adults. At some point, a choice must be made about whose rights are paramount.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham raised a point about siblings. I can assure him that siblings will be covered, post Bill, by the provisions in new clauses 7 and 8 and, pre Bill, by the intermediary services and adoption support provisions and I think also—I shall correct this if I am wrong—by the adoption contact register.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon asked whether the right of referral to independent review covered the provisions of new clause 8. The answer is yes.

We have had a wide-ranging discussion. There is a consensus that the Government's new clauses and clause 58 provide a much more coherent structure for the provision of access to information. That fulfils our pledge in the adoption White Paper, and, on that basis, I hope that they will receive the Committee's support.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 58, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 59

Disclosing protected etc. information in other circumstances

Question proposed, that the clause stand part of the Bill.

4.15 pm

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham tried to throw me off my stride by not moving an amendment, but he failed.

The clause should not stand part of the Bill because, as I explained earlier, where the protected information concerns an adult, we intend to go through the process in new clause 7 and where it concerns a child, we shall go through the process in new clause 8.

Mr. Bellingham: I want to check that new clauses 7 and 8 will end up as clauses 59 and 60.

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman is really getting to the heart of the issues this afternoon. The answer is that I do not know—it will depend where the new clauses fit into the Bill. I assure him that he will get to see the amended Bill before Report stage, when it will become clear what numbers the various new clauses have. I am sorry that I cannot provide that information now.

Question put and negatived.

Clause 59 disagreed to.

Clause 60


Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Tim Loughton: Before we move on, I would be grateful if the Minister could fill in some of the detail. Given the issues that we have just discussed,

Column Number: 779

counselling will obviously be important, but how will it be provided? Subsections (1) and (2) start with the words Regulations may require'', subsection (3) begins with the phrase The regulations may authorise'' and subsection (4) begins with the words The regulations may require''. We therefore do not know what will happen. Perhaps she could take the opportunity to tell us.

Mr. Bellingham: I should like more information on the clause. Who will pay for counselling? Will local authorities be provided with extra money? Equally importantly, who will ensure that counselling is carried out to the necessary high standards? Will there be outside inspections or outside control? Will certain standards be laid down? As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, the regulations may authorise or require, but it is important to know what independent monitoring there will be. Perhaps the Minister could give us some idea of her intentions.

Mr. Djanogly: My questions are very much along the lines of those raised by my hon. Friends. Are we satisfied that existing counselling services will be adequate for the purposes of the Bill? Is it an area that the Government feel needs to be looked at again? Are they conducting a review into the standards of counselling? In terms of funding, is this an area in which they have identified that new moneys are needed?

I see in the explanatory notes that

    Where the counselling is to be provided outside the United Kingdom, the adoption agency may require the person who is to receive the counselling to pay a prescribed fee.''

Does that imply that counsellors would have to travel abroad to give counselling services, or are arrangements to be put in place with foreign counselling services? I shall be interested to hear the Minister's views on how that will work in practice.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 10 January 2002