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Mr. Brazier: Although I endorse almost everything that the hon. Gentleman has just said, two facts remain. First, there is a huge difference in outcomes between even neighbouring authorities with similar resource shortages. Secondly, and as the hon. Gentleman has made some quite party political remarks, coming from Kent, I feel particularly strongly about the shortages of resources for social services. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, those shortages have become very much worse.
The ghastly Kilshaw case will have reminded everyone that adoption is a service for children who need permanent places rather than for adults to meet their particular needs. We have had much discussion about cultural circumstances, language, religion and all the rest of it, but I think that the Government have got the balance about right. I really hope that the appeals of well-intentioned people who have had a raw deal from their adoption agencyof course such cases existwill not be drowned out, and huge amounts of scarce resources wasted, by vexatious litigants who should not be allowed anywhere near children.
My real concern is that some people do not pass through a net that would otherwise stop them because there was a feeling that huge effort that could otherwise be expended in meeting children's needs had to be spent in attending tribunals and a lengthy appeals process. As I said, however, I think that the Government are striking a reasonable balance on the issue.
This is an excellent Bill but it is far from perfect. We have to have further support for adoption support services and funding. Extra funding is being provided to the service, but it is a service that has been denied the proper support that it has needed for many years.
I was pleased to get a response from the Secretary of State on the importance of hearing the voices of children and young people, particularly when they are at an age to express themselves, throughout the adoptive process. As with all legislation, the Bill needs to be firmly grounded in children's rights. Children of a sufficient age and understanding need to be able to give clear consent to adoption or to any other placement option.
I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge (Ms Shipley) is right about the importance of allowing unmarried couples to adopt. I do not understand why in this society and these days a couple has to be married to adopt. I do not see why in principle couples living together should not be able to adopt, nor do I see why there should be a prohibition on single-sex couples being able to put themselves forward for assessment. No adult has a right to adopt, but I do not see why any group of adults should be ruled out of the equation initially.
The issue of access to birth records is crucial. People should have a right to have access to their own birth certificates. The process was controversial when it was first introduced in the Children Act 1975, but I believe that it has worked reasonably well, allowing people to gain information perhaps even against the wishes of the birth parents. The system seems to be working and I agree with the principle, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
No hon. Member has yet made the point that, most important of all, as currently formulated, the Bill misses an opportunity to deal with an aspect of child care that urgently requires reform: private fostering. We should not require the Laming inquiry into the appalling death of Victoria Climbie to tell us that we must have much more effective means of registering and inspecting arrangements for private fostering backed up by the full force of law. Thousands of children are rendered vulnerable every day that the grossly unsatisfactory status of private fostering is allowed to prevail. I believe that it is imperative that the Government use the opportunity afforded by the Bill to introduce the necessary provisions.
Mr. Richard Bacon (South Norfolk): It is with a sense of responsibility and honour that I make my maiden speech in this House. I represent the constituency of South Norfolk, and it is only right to begin by paying tribute to my predecessor, John MacGregor, now Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market. Lord MacGregor had a distinguished career. He served the people of South Norfolk for 27 years as their Member of Parliament. For 15 years of those years he was in government, and nine of those were spent as a Cabinet member. He served as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Agriculture Minister, Secretary of State for Education, Secretary of State for Transport and Leader of the House.
As many hon. Members will be aware, Lord MacGregor is also a talented magician, and not any old magician but a member of the inner Magic Circle with gold stars. That sounds a bit like the magicians' equivalent of being a member of the Privy Counciland I venture to suggest that as a member of the inner Magic Circle he was probably vouchsafed more secrets than are most Privy Councillors in the present Cabinet.
John used his talents as a magician to good effect in raising money for charity, notably when he beheaded the editor of the Eastern Daily Press, Mr. Peter Franzen, with a guillotine. He also once performed a similar service by beheading Mr. James Naughtie and Mr. John Humphrys of the BBC Radio 4 "Today" programmealthough the House may be interested to know that on that occasion he used a chainsaw.
That prompted a number of colleagues to say that they were rather surprised that, having got those two in such a vulnerable position, John had not simply finished them off. To one or two hon. Members, that may sound somewhat extreme, but I cannot help reflecting that if John Humphrys knew that each time he asked a question he stood a chance of having his head severed from his body if he interrupted before the answer was complete, the quality of the "Today" programme would improve out of all recognition.
What sort of constituency is South Norfolk? It is very rural, with an attractive and gently undulating landscape. In the north it borders the ancient city of Norwich, where many of my constituents work, and in the south are the beautiful market towns of Harleston and Diss, and the River Waveney, which borders the county of Suffolk. In the east is the town of Loddon, an architectural gem, and in the west is Wymondham, the largest settlement in the constituency, which has a magnificent abbey dating from the 12th century and the Market Cross where markets have taken place since the 13th century. To this day, the Market Cross is used for the Wymondham farmers' market, which has recently been rejuvenated following the foot and mouth crisis, and provides an excellent opportunity for local farmers to sell their meat and other produce at a much better price than they would get from the supermarkets.
In the far west of the constituency is Hingham, without question one of the most beautiful villages in Norfolk, where one Samuel Lincoln lived until 1637, when he emigrated to the new world, settled in Hingham, Massachusetts, and became the direct lineal ancestor of perhaps the greatest of all the American presidents, Abraham Lincoln.
Local services and the infrastructure in the constituency are improving, but there is some way to go. The dualling of the A11 creeps forward slowly. Norwich is now the only major city in the United Kingdom without a direct motorway link. The residents of Long Stratton cry out desperately for a bypass.
As I speak, the new Norfolk constabulary building is being completed in Wymondham, and will provide a welcome home for the constabulary, who have been dispersed among 10 or 11 different administrative buildings. They will now be in one, which will, I am pleased to say, save the taxpayer money. That will not, however, alter the problems of police recruitment and retention, which are caused by the fact that police officers spend so much of their time filling in forms and so relatively little out on the beat.
The new Norfolk and Norwich hospital, which has just been opened, is just outside my constituency, in that of the Minister without Portfolio, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke). Many of my constituents use that hospital, and many of them work there.
I endorse the comments of the chairman of the police authority, Mr. Jim Wilson, who wrote to the chief executive of the Highways Agency yesterday to express the serious concerns of the emergency servicesnot only the police but the ambulance serviceabout the lack of a suitable link road to the hospital. That issue has been running for many years; the problem was both predictable and predicted. I shall certainly add my weight to the cause of sorting it out soon, and finally getting the Highways Agency to take it seriously.
There are excellent schools in my constituency, one of which is Wymondham high school. I had the pleasure of visiting that school last week to present the prizes at the awards ceremony, and I hope that it will be third time lucky for its third bid for specialist performing arts status.
I could not possibly talk about my constituency without mentioning agriculture, which locally is very significant. Although it employs only 6.7 per cent. of the labour force, that is still three times the national average. Of course, agriculture has suffered hugely. We were lucky enough not to suffer from foot and mouth directly, but we have suffered many of the indirect effects. We did suffer directly from classical swine fever, and there has been a huge reduction in agricultural employment in the constituency.
In the east of England, 3,600 jobs were lost in the agricultural sector in the year to last May, and more than 1,100 of those jobs were in Norfolk. The average farmer now earns only £5,200 a yearand I must add, in case anyone thinks that cereal farmers are somehow exempt, that the situation is even worse for them; they are now facing one of the greatest crises for two generations. I have joined many of my right hon. and hon. Friends in pressing the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to apply for the agrimonetary compensation that is available from the European Union so long as she applies by 31 October.
The local economy is much more diverse than the focus on agriculture would suggest. There is a wide variety of other activities, from services to manufacturing and electronics. Anyone who has ever moved house has probably used a box made by Bux Corrugated, a well run factory in my constituency, which I had the pleasure of touring with the managing director the other day. The firm has family-friendly policies; indeed, it employs different generations of the same family. Anyone who has ever had a car with an airbag has probably unknowingly bought products from Hamlin Electronics, which provides the sensors that cause an airbag to explode if necessary.
Lotus, the car manufacturer, is one of the largest employers in the constituency. Its plant is quite near where I live, and I am looking forward to visiting it shortly and testing out its wares on the fast trackjust to ensure that they are safe for my constituents, of course.
A paper in the journal Adoption and Fostering on initial agency responses to black prospective adopters makes it clear that people are often put off and lost at the initial inquiry stage because of negative initial contact with a variety of agencies. They may be lost not only to the agency to which they first applied but to adoption and fostering in general.
'Black families are willing to come forward but it's a question of how local authorities welcome them, how the process is explained and how individuals and families are supported through it.'"