Further information

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 20 Tachwedd 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

If you require further information please contact Dorothy Blatcher on 020 7664 3338 or email Dorothy.Blatcher@lga.gov.uk

Felicity Collier, Chief Executive, British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering; Deborah Cullen, Legal Group Secretary, British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering; Moira Gibb, Director of Social Services, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; Meg Staples, Adoption Manager, Nottinghamshire county council; Councillor Maureen Rutter, Chair of the Local Government Association, Children Task Group and Mr. Andrew Christie, Assistant Director, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, called in and examined.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield 11:45, 20 Tachwedd 2001

I welcome all the witnesses to the Committee.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

Can I ask in what way the provisions in the Bill relating to placement orders and parental consent need to be amended?

Deborah Cullen (British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering):

It seems to be me who has got the short straw on this one. Basically, as far as placement orders are concerned, we are pleased with the way the Bill has changed from the one that was presented in March, in that it has now provided that a placement order cannot be made unless the child is already subject to a care order, or the threshold conditions for a care order are met. We think that that is certainly a big improvement.

The provisions about placement and placement orders are extremely complicated. Even with the help of the flowchart and the explanatory notes, one needs a cold towel around the head to work it all out. One of the difficulties is that it is not clear how the provisions about placement, and to some extent the placement order provisions, dovetail with the Children Act 1989. If I can give one example, under the Children Act, a local authority has a duty under section 20 to provide accommodation for a child whose welfare requires it, and whose parent is prevented from looking after the child themselves. That may be for a whole variety of reasons; it may be very short term or it may be longer term.

Under the Bill, if a parent actually wishes to have their child adopted, clause 18 provides that if the parents consent to adoption, the local authority is authorised to place the child for adoption, and it is not exactly clear how that ties in with the provision about the accommodation of a child under the Children Act. In particular, restrictions are then placed on the ability of the parent to change his or her mind and remove the child from the accommodation in which the local authority placed them, even if the child has not yet been placed for adoption.

For example, if a single mother were to approach the local authority and say that she wished her child to be adopted, and it was satisfied that she really meant that and it should go ahead, it is very likely that, in the short term, the authority would place the child with a foster carer while it made arrangements for the adoption. If she subsequently changed her mind, even before the child had been placed, the Bill provides that she cannot immediately get the child back. She can notify the local authority of her change of mind, and the authority then has as long as 14 days to return the child. If she takes the child without its authority, she could be guilty of a criminal offence.

That seems a very draconian contrast with the provisions in the Children Act concerning the accommodation of the child. Under the provisions, if the parent decides that he or she wished to withdraw the child from accommodation, they have the right to do so. If the local authority considers that that is against the interests of the child and the child would be at risk, it has, of course, the option of applying for an emergency protection order. There seems no reason under the framework of this Bill, why that should not be the recourse that the authority would have if it thought that the child would be at risk of returning.

You also asked about consent to adoption and consent to placement orders on the grounds that to dispense with consent—

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

Briefly, Ms. Cullen. We know that you are a lawyer.

Deborah Cullen:

I am sorry. We set out fairly clearly in our written evidence why we think that the Bill does not make sufficient distinction between those cases in which a parent agrees to adoption and those in which the parent does not agree. In effect, the test would be the same in either case. The court is certainly required to take account of the wishes and views of the parent, but there is nothing special about what the court has to do if it is actually going to override the parent's disagreement to adoption.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour/Co-operative, Sheffield, Heeley

Specifically on that point, I understand that BAAF favoured the form of words suggested by the adoption law review team, which was about adoption being ``so significantly better'' for a child than any other option. Were you not reassured—I assume you were in the room, although I am not sure—by what the Department of Health said about clause 1(4), which sets out the whole range of issues that must be taken into account?

Deborah Cullen:

In a way that is reassuring, and I have had similar conversations with the Department of Health already on the subject. In practical terms, I think that the number of cases that would go one way rather than another if a different form of words were used is probably very small. But if you actually put in the Bill that a parent's consent is required for adoption unless it can be dispensed with, and then do not make any distinction between cases in which the parent consents and those in which he or she does not, I am not absolutely sure that that is an appropriate approach. In practical terms, it will probably not make a huge amount of difference.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour/Co-operative, Sheffield, Heeley

On that point, is there not a danger that lawyers could spend a lot of time arguing over what ``significantly'' means?

Deborah Cullen:

I think that they could spend a lot of time arguing anyway.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

Can we talk about support services and, in particular, address questions to the representatives of the Association of Directors of Social Services and of the Local Government Association? Obviously, a lot more responsibilities and activities will be placed on local authorities; we have heard about assessments being a requirement, followed up by support services. What are your thoughts on the resourcing requirements of those? Will assessments delay the putting into effect of the support services that are deemed to be required later? If someone is in need of help, they are in need of help now; they are not in need of booking an appointment for an assessment that will tell somebody that they are in need of help, and perhaps getting that help a few months later. Practically, what will be the impact of this, and how prepared are you for it?

Moira Gibb (Director of Social Services, Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea):

It seems to me absolutely vital that the Bill, when it becomes an Act, is supported with proper resources. The history of adoption legislation is not one that would give us great cause to have that faith. It will be extremely difficult if the expectations of those involved in adoption are raised, only to be dashed because they have received only an assessment and a service is not made available. The fact that they have come forward for an assessment means that they believe that they have a need for help, but obviously, local authorities and their children's services are struggling at the moment, and it will be impossible. Unless the Government make resources available to support the legislation, it seems to me that they will end up fighting very hard against the clear trend of more children being looked after for longer periods and in more costly ways, in terms of the increase in the number of care orders.

What we will be able to provide will depend totally on the resources that are made available. The sense in the field, I have to say, is that the resources that have been announced are not new resources, because we knew about them already. Therefore, people already feel that there is sleight of hand in the approach to this. We feel very strongly that it is really wrong to expect an improvement in the service unless the resources are made available. It is vital that adoption remains part of children's services as a whole and not simply a service on its own. It is clear that we need to improve children's services planning in order to improve adoption services. We cannot steal money out of one bit of social services to resource the adoption service; it will not make sense for children if we keep doing that.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I think the Minister is listening.

Do you think that there should be a statutory duty to provide an assessment? Do you think that there are circumstances under which you should refuse an assessment? If there is to be an assessment, should there be some time limit on when it should be brought in and, if necessary, followed by the support services?

Moira Gibb:

It seems to be right that we should have a duty to provide an assessment. Obviously, we are talking about individuals who are parenting children on behalf of the state—on behalf of the rest of us—so if they need help in doing that, it is right that that help is available. It has to be a gateway to services, and we do not want to have an expensive, defensive assessment system that is merely designed to upset and disappoint.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

In terms of consistency of approach among authorities around the country, is there an enormous gap between good practice and not-so-good practice? What is happening to disseminate best practice to those authorities that are under-performing; indeed, how does one judge that they are under-performing? As a rider to that, on Second Reading we talked about raising the levels in terms of the numbers of adoptions. That begs the question whether there will be targets for local authorities. If so, how will they respond to having targets, or raw numbers, imposed on them?

Moira Gibb:

There are a number of points in that. It is very clear that there is varying practice in adoption work, as in all aspects of social services, but what we are seeing is a general trend of improvement. I think that the adoption taskforce was greatly welcomed by my colleagues in terms of the approach that it took towards spreading good practice and in recognising that even in the less well performing authorities there was good practice that could be shared with others.

Again, it is very important that targets do not drive the wrong kind of behaviour. We are all only human and we all want to be part of a well performing service, so we do not want short cuts that simply meet our targets but do not serve the interests of children. Therefore, it is very important that targets in this area are clear and understood and not created simply to meet an ambitious national target; they must be relevant to children locally. It is just as worrying that there are variations in other practices, as in relation to placement for adoption. We need help nationally to support the improvements and to spread best practice.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

Finally, is there any trend of poorer performance? Does it relate to more deprived areas, such as inner-city areas, where the statistics tend not to be so impressive, or is that not a leader at all and you judge performance on completely different factors?

Moira Gibb:

The Children Act report acknowledged recently that the better-resourced departments were likely to be better performing, although the joint reviews have consistently attempted to disprove this theory. While it is not true that well-resourced authorities are always better performers, that correlation is now established. Authorities that are stretched in other areas are going to find it very difficult to put into practice the development that is required to bring about improvements.

Photo of Liz Blackman Liz Blackman Llafur, Erewash

I was going to ask a question, but the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham has just asked it.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

Can we move on to disclosure of information? Sticking with you, Ms Gibb, you probably heard us discuss this point in the earlier session. Your organisation clearly supports the Bill's provisions in respect of disclosure of information. You are probably aware of the criticism of that position; how do you defend your corner?

Moira Gibb:

I am going to retreat from my corner—[Interruption].

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

I was asking Ms Gibb. I shall come to you in a moment, Miss Collier. I know that you were up very early this morning.

Moira Gibb:

I am not going to defend our corner; I wish to retreat from it and to say that we have had further information that we would like to consider. We recognise the very strong concerns that exist. Obviously, we recognise the small number of individual cases that give rise to concern, but we acknowledge the point that others have made to us about the very strong message about the rights of children and the needs of children coming first in adoption, which is very much part of our approach. If you wanted to accuse us of being confused, we would probably acknowledge that, but the matter is so significant and important that we would want to withdraw that part of our evidence and say that our position is undetermined.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

I welcome your frankness. You are reconsidering the initial position; that is helpful.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd 12:00, 20 Tachwedd 2001

I welcome that, too. In the evidence given this morning, we were given the extreme example of a case of an individual who was abused in childhood and then sought out their birth parent with murderous intent. It seems completely illogical that an individual who had been abused but had not been adopted would presumably have the right to know who their abuser was, but someone who had been adopted would not have the right to know. Where is the logic and justice in that? I was going to put that question to you in light of your evidence, but since you are withdrawing it, you have rather removed the need. Should not the fundamental human right of people to know as much as possible about their origins should outweigh all other considerations? Should not other mechanisms deal with threats to the physical safety of parents?

Moira Gibb:

Again, clearly, we are talking about a service to children and meeting children's needs, which should always be at the forefront of our thinking. Adoption as a service is only achieved by adults who are prepared to come forward and do it, so therefore people have obviously listened. I am not defending our previous position. I am just explaining again that there is a view that says if you do not make it safe and secure for adults to come forward to undertake this difficult task and reassure them, it will make it less likely that we will be successful in our targets. I recognise the fundamental point at the core of this.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd

Just to finish the point, I appreciate that clause 1(2) is at the heart of the Bill and that the paramount consideration should be the child's welfare throughout his life. I know that, in that initial sense, that refers only to the adoption decision, but is it not logical that the continuum of adoption beyond childhood should also be a consideration?

Moira Gibb:

Yes.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

Miss Collier, would you like to come in on that point?

Felicity Collier (Chief Executive, British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering):

I do, because, as I am sure you are aware, we feel very strongly about withdrawing a fundamental right to which adopted adults have known that they have had access—to their birth certificates and, therefore, their identity—since 1976. It is very important because one cannot put one's name on the adoption contact register to trace one's brothers and sisters, whom one is aware exist, unless one has access to one's original name. That is valued so greatly by so many adopted adults that we think that to lightly withdraw it would cause enormous distress.

We know that this is expected to be a future rather than a retrospective measure, but we would say that there is significant and emerging research evidence about one of the points that Mr. Paton made in relation to the wishes of birth parents. Indeed, there is evidence that I know you will hear from an academic researcher tomorrow—John Triseliotis—who is happy for me to refer to it. The evidence says that of a sample of birth parents who were contacted by their adopted adult children, no less than 94 per cent. were either positive or very positive about the fact that that had happened. Although about 20 per cent. of birth parents initially express some concerns and nervousness—clearly, there are issues for them in relation to this—the overwhelming view is that this is something that has been with them probably throughout their lives. The feelings around relinquishing your child, or losing your child through contested court hearings, are so fundamental, that such parents often harbour a wish to be discovered at some point.

Basically, this is a right of adopted adults and we take the point made over here that there are many thousands of children on care orders who have been horrendously abused and neglected. Those children have the right to know their identity. Some of them may or may not seek out their birth parents with a feeling of revenge, but there is no evidence to suggest that that is a major problem. For adopted adults it will be a much smaller problem. We are talking about withdrawing a right to protect a tiny minority.

We support the fact that, as a general rule, access to birth records should be through adoption agencies and local authorities, rather than through the Registrar-General. That puts in a safety clause. If there are very difficult issues about the circumstances of a person's adoption, he or she can be offered counselling and support. However, we hope that you will reject this change.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

If, as you have rightly said, the only source of information should be through an adoption agency, what is your view about the fact that it would be possible to sidetrack that route to get direct access to a birth certificate without protection being available?

Felicity Collier:

It is not available currently because only adults who were adopted before 1976 have to receive counselling. The difference now is—I am trying to think laterally about this—if you approach an adoption agency rather than the Registrar-General, the adoption agency, in looking out for that birth certificate and information, will take the opportunity to flag up whether there were earlier concerns, and possibly take appropriate safeguards or alert the person. I am not quite sure how that will work. I wonder whether my colleague takes a view on that?

Deborah Cullen:

I would have thought that that could be built into the many regulations that there will be under those particular sections. We were told earlier that there was going to be consultation about what form of intermediary services would be offered, and that would obviously be an area where, if it were known that an adopted adult was seeking information, the agency could have a duty to make the initial contact with the birth relative—if it were able to find them—so it would not come as a shock to that person.

Felicity Collier:

Given the point made earlier about the changing nature of adoption—far more children who have had very troubled early beginnings are now adopted—it may be right to build in some safeguard for an intermediary service to be available. That would make sense.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

Right. So what you are saying is that you would not accept a situation in which the only access to identifying information about birth parents would be through an adoption agency. Would you still argue that there need to be other routes that are unmediated in the way in which you have just described?

Deborah Cullen:

I was anticipating your question and wrongly second-guessing you. The Bill provides for access to both more general information, which should be through the agency, and the birth certificate, which is now obtained from the Registrar-General. We see no objection to that; indeed, we see some positive benefits. We would not want to say that a person seeking that information has to be the compulsory recipient of counselling or should be prevented from choosing, if he or she so wishes, to make a direct approach to the birth parent. I do not think that it would be right to prohibit that, but the agency would obviously be in a position to take a proactive approach and say, ``We have the information. We suggest that you take the opportunity to talk this through, and if you want to make an approach to your birth parent, allow us to make the initial approach so that they have time to absorb the information and think about it.''

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

Could you never envisage a situation in which a birth parent might have the right not to be identified?

Deborah Cullen:

No, I think it goes the other way.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I did not ask the question the other way. Could you never envisage a situation in which a birth parent might have the right not to be identified?

Felicity Collier:

No, we could not. One issue that concerns me, and I do not know whether it is part of the Government's thinking, is that it could be thought—I think erroneously—that more failing and disadvantaged birth parents would relinquish their children for adoption if they felt that there was no opportunity to be found later in life. I do not think—I am not suggesting that that is necessarily the point that you are taking, but it is a possible interpretation—that that is a feasible situation. That would reproduce the fiction of 30 or 40 years ago, when one thought that by relinquishing one's child, it was as though that child had never existed. We do not think that that is helpful.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I agree, but could you never envisage a situation in which there might be a right for a birth parent? You think that there is an absolute right in every circumstance for a child or adopted adult to have identifying information about their birth parents.

Felicity Collier:

That is the current situation. Like all these situations, one may be able to imagine an individual case that would suggest extreme difficulty, but we do not think that good law is made on the basis of one individual case.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

I have been reading the submission of the Association of Directors of Social Services and I apologise to Ms Gibb if my referring to it proves slightly embarrassing under the circumstances. My question relates to the following sentence:

``However it is important to recognise that the majority of children now being placed for adoption come through the court arena, many of whom have been physically, emotionally or sexually abused or neglected, or a combination of all of these factors, which suggests that the potential for similar extreme examples is likely to increase in the future.''

Do members of the panel other than representatives of the British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering—it is perhaps not appropriate to ask this of them in the light of their earlier answer—think an increase in such cases will be a factor? If so, how do we deal with the small number of cases where that major problem is likely to arise?

Moira Gibb:

It is obviously true, as has been said, that adoption is a very different service from the one that I think the general public still carry around in their heads. It is a service to separated children and many, many more adoptions are subject to disputes. I think that what the Government are trying to achieve in this exercise and other work around the policy is to improve the planning for children so that the disadvantages that they face early in life are improved upon and their initial disadvantages are not compounded by poor care when they become looked after. What we are trying to achieve is early settlement and a permanent bond for them to be able to achieve. However, I think that it is fair to say that, because we are successful also in rehabilitating children with their families, the children that we do separate often come from very complex and difficult backgrounds.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

But you accept that that is an increasing problem.

Moira Gibb:

Yes, I do, but that is not to say that it would necessarily contribute, therefore, to the more extreme cases. Again, the whole principle of openness is just so much more accepted now, and it underlines all our thinking in relation to adoption, but that is a push in the opposite direction.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

Councillor Rutter, do you have a view on this area?

Maureen Rutter:

I was asked whether I think that such a situation is liable to increase because there appears to be some sort of evidence at the moment that it is increasing, and whether they will be likely to be coming from abusive situations or neglectful situations.

It is true that this particular type of situation has increased. There is no doubt about that, but I do not think that we know why. I have asked whether we have research to show why, but there just does not seem to be any. On the face of it—

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

I am sorry to interrupt, but there is always a time constraint. I do not think that the Committee is looking for those answers, so the question is, if the situation is increasing, should we recognise that that may well be a factor in the disclosure of information in a small number of cases?

Maureen Rutter:

I do not think so, I have to say. At the end of the day, it is a fundamental and very important right for every person to know about their origins. With a different hat on—I have done a lot of work in counselling, as against councilloring—it seemed to me to be so important to every single person that I came across to know about their birth, their antecedents and so on. I honestly think that this is something that should not be taken away.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour/Co-operative, Sheffield, Heeley

Moving on to intercountry adoption, there seems to be general support for the tightening up that is envisaged in the Bill. However, I want to ask a specific question about agencies, particularly voluntary adoption agencies, that approve the adoption of people from other countries. Do you have a view on whether they should supervise subsequent placements, or would it be preferable for them to be supervised by the local authority in the area in which they live?

Deborah Cullen:

This is a topic on which the Government are currently consulting in respect of the proposed regulations and guidance in connection with implementing the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 and The Hague convention. With a different hat on, I am a trustee of a small voluntary adoption agency that has in the past undertaken intercountry adoption assessments, and something that exercises us very much is whether the agency would be in a position to supervise the follow-up when the child is actually placed with the prospective adopters, and how that would be financed.

It is a difficult issue. What appears to be proposed under the draft regulations is that it should remain, as it is now, a local authority responsibility. I can see the advantages of that. On the other hand, from the point of view of the prospective adopters themselves, I can see disadvantages because they will have got to know the agency and the assessing social worker during the period of assessment, and then suddenly they have to chop over to a new arrangement, so I think that there are disadvantages. Because that consultation has only just been issued, we have not actually had time to consult and form a view.

Moira Gibb:

Our view is that, anyway, local authorities are more and more commissioners of services and do not necessarily provide them directly. They wish to see variety, particularly in the area of adoption, in sharing and setting up consortiums and perhaps commissioning work from independent agencies. The important thing is that, whoever does it, the agency is set up to have the capacity to do that as well as any assessment.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

We come now to the issue of unmarried couples adopting.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

I should like to ask Felicity Collier about the survey that she has kindly enclosed in her submission.

I find myself in agreement with your last remarks that a few hard cases should not cause us to change a situation that has worked very well for 30 years. I am a little puzzled, however, as to what your polling material is supposed to suggest. Obviously, the general public might have views on the issue, but are you suggesting that because they feel that unmarried couples should have an equal entitlement to adopt to married ones, Parliament should somehow take the view that the welfare of the child is best served in that way?

Felicity Collier:

I thought that you might be interested in those findings. The actual headline that we announced in national adoption week was based on a survey conducted for us by MORI of 2,000 adults and their interests in adopting either previously or in the future. It found—this was very interesting—that 21 per cent. of adults in unmarried relationships and who declared that as one of their characteristics had either considered in the past, or would consider in the future, adopting a child, compared with 7 per cent. of married couples. We thought that that was really quite interesting and clearly demonstrated the social trend in people's current living arrangements and in the structure of society.

We also looked at what the general public's reaction was. I have spoken to many, many people, including many MPs in the House, on the issue. However much most of us support the institution of marriage as a way of providing stability, continuity and permanence to children, the reality is that many people also know, in their experience, people living in unmarried, close, stable relationships who would also offer very good care to children through adoption. That just demonstrates the public view, as does the early-day motion of the hon. Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn), which has currently been signed, as I understand it today, by 66 MPs.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

Could we stay on the survey for a moment, before getting on to another issue?

I read the article, and you had a good splash in the press on both points. Before you can say that it demonstrates anything, the crucial question is, was it sized for age? The age profile of unmarried couples is very different from that of married couples.

Felicity Collier:

I suppose that that is why I gave you the statistics, so that you could actually look at them, but I can tell you—[Interruption.]

The Chairman: Could we have one person speaking at a time, please?

Felicity Collier:

What I can tell you—this is the bit that I extracted because I thought that it was what you might ask me—is that, looking at the attitude of people of different ages to whether unmarried couples should adopt, 75 per cent. of 25 to 54-year-olds either believed or believed strongly that unmarried couples should adopt, or were neutral but did not disagree, compared with 59 per cent. of those aged 55-plus. So undoubtedly people over the age of 55 are rather less inclined to believe that unmarried couples should adopt. One could speculate that that would be because—

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

I am sorry, Felicity, but could I put the question again? I think that you may have misheard me. What I asked was whether, given the huge difference between the average age of unmarried couples and married couples, the question about whether couples were considering adoption was sized for age as was your poll on attitudes. Otherwise, the disparity that you suggested on willingness to adopt could be accounted for by age.

Felicity Collier:

I have the information. I could provide it for you separately.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

I would be interested to see it. It is not in the pack that you sent us, but if you have it, it would be nice if it could be circulated afterwards.

The argument put forward by the officials from the Department of Health concerned the fact that the parents have entered into a legal commitment to each other and that must be of benefit from the child's point of view. Does it not worry you at all that successive surveys have shown that there is a huge difference between the likelihood of the breakdown of an unmarried relationship where there is a child and that of a married relationship? The last Office for National Statistics survey in 1997 showed that there was an 81 per cent. chance of a married relationship still existing after 10 years and a 15 per cent. chance of an unmarried relationship still existing.

Felicity Collier:

As I have said to you on previous occasions, Julian, I do not consider that those surveys are in any way typical of people who would be assessed as suitable for adopting. I want to re-emphasise what was said in your earlier evidence. People are assessed as though they were a couple if one person is living with another person and their intention is to make a joint commitment to the child, even though currently only one can be the legal adopter. A sort of fiction has materialised. I see the ADSS representative nodding in relation to that.

What you then assess is both the longevity and the stability of their relationship and their commitment to each other. It would be very unusual, in our experience, for people who had not been in a cohabiting relationship for three years or so, or demonstrated a real understanding of the level of commitment both to each other and to the child, to be approved as suitable.

Indeed, many people think that the assessment process is almost too intrusive on people's relationships. I think that that is a protection in these situations. The sort of atypical people who are fairly young, have fairly brief cohabiting relationships, may have a child and then have separated are not the sort of people who are being considered as joint adopters, and it is not helpful to draw a comparison between the two.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

Could we bring in Meg Staples, who is near the ground on this issue?

Meg Staples (Adoption Manager, Nottinghamshire County Council):

A number of couples whom we approve who are married have had a number of previous relationships, and in fact a number of previous marriages, but the same issues do not apply in terms of looking at them. We are being required to assess the stability of the current relationship, even though it might have been for only three years. Many of the couples who come forward who are not married have been together in a relationship that has lasted maybe 10 or 15 years and has been their single most significant relationship. They are required jointly to apply to adopt, but then they have to make a choice in the assessment about which one of them is actually going to become the adoptive parent.

So the assessment is incredibly stringent, and I think, as Felicity said, that some couples do find that the approach that we take has been more intrusive, because we are required to meet very high requirements in terms of whether or not the relationship is strong and stable and is going to endure for the child's lifetime.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

One final question, just to you, Meg Staples. Why should a couple who are willing jointly to enter into the legal obligations involved in their both adopting a child refuse the legal obligations of entering into a marriage, with all the consequences that that entails in terms of property inheritance and many other things? One does not have to take a religious view to get married. There is a perfectly good civil marriage system that has been around for a century or so. Why should people want to enter into a joint relationship of adoption, which would not be a legal commitment in that sense, with regard to a child who has had enough legal and other problems in past?

Meg Staples:

Some people do not value marriage in the same way as others. They do not see it as necessary to indicate their commitment to each other. They feel that they do not need that piece of paper or ritual. Some couples are not in a position to get married, so that is not an option, but they still wish to adopt and they still wish to become parents. I think it is important for the assessment to take account of why those individuals choose not to be married, and for us to be certain that those reasons are well founded. If they are, that relationship is more than likely to be stable and secure for a child's childhood.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

Could I come in on a practical point? In a previous session, I raised the issue of the welfare principle with regard to this issue. I want to ask Miss Staples and Mr. Christie—who have practical, hands-on, day-to-day experience of this area—whether they see a problem in matching up the underlying principles of the Bill, which we all support and welcome, with this particular area, which would not allow an unmarried couple to jointly adopt in these circumstances. Mr. Christie, do you want to come in on this point?

Mr. Andrew Christie (Assistant Director, London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham):

Yes, I do. I was reflecting on this from the point of view of the child. Am I not, as the child who is being adopted, being denied the opportunity to have two people who have the full responsibilities embodied in the making of the adoption order? I heard that there was some discussion, and obviously some lack of clarity, early on as to the current law or rule that would apply in the case of inheritance. To take that as an example, effectively the couple would be assessed as though they were going to act as parents. One of them may acquire, as I understand it, parental responsibility through the special guardianship order. If, through that, the opportunity to have access to inheritance rights were not conferred on the child, I would have thought that child to be potentially disadvantaged.

Meg Staples:

There are other issues. If the adoptive parent dies, the child is left in an incredibly vulnerable position because the surviving partner might have taken on parental responsibility, but does not have the status of adoptive parent. For the child, that is of fundamental significance. Earlier, I referred to adoption allowances. Adoption allowances are awarded to the applicant who is going to lodge the adoption application. If that person does die, there is an issue about adoption allowances in terms of the surviving partner of the relationship. We are making significant differences in stability and security for children if we do not allow unmarried couples to adopt jointly.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

My point was answered by Felicity Collier, but I make the general point that we are not talking about anybody's right to adopt. We are talking about people's right to be assessed as adoptive parents.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour/Co-operative, Sheffield, Heeley

On the issue of the availability of adopters, may I ask Meg Staples and Moira Gibb how important it is for people who wish to adopt to have had a range of life experiences that have not necessarily been smooth and straightforward?

Moira Gibb:

From my point of view, the principal reason for extending the scheme to unmarried couples is because we do not want to rule out any group, as we are very short of applicants for some of the children for whom we are responsible. That is a critical issue for us. We want people who have gone through life and experienced things that will help them to tackle some of the difficulties that they are going to face.

Meg Staples:

I think that people who have rich life experiences often take a higher degree of risk in terms of the children whom we are looking to place. Therefore, the pool of adopters who are likely to take the children who are waiting are in those groups that have had experiences that make them feel comfortable about taking on the extra dimension of looking after children.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour/Co-operative, Sheffield, Heeley

What are the important factors in promoting stability for children in placements?

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

The hon. Lady used to be a social worker.

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour/Co-operative, Sheffield, Heeley 12:30, 20 Tachwedd 2001

Perhaps I should say at this point that Meg Staples actually supervised my first assessment of my first home study. [Laughter.] This is very embarrassing.

Meg Staples:

We promote stability when children can make attachments to stable adults who are going to remain there for the period of their childhood, and who are going to be able to provide for those children in terms of their physical and emotional needs. Apart from what the adoptive parents provide, which is highly significant, there are other services that the local authority and other agencies should provide in assisting in that task. That is concerned with support with education and with health, as well as with support as the adopted child becomes an adult and seeks counselling. It is also about giving support along the way, as required, and timely support.

For many of these things, there cannot be a time delay. Children cannot wait; they need it when they need it. More and more of the children whom we are placing have highly complex needs. Those children will need extra services that are outside the remit of healing adoptive parents. Those parents can do an enormous amount, but more is needed.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

I presume, Miss Gibb, that you have not been involved in Ms Munn's career at any point.

Moira Gibb:

I have no responsibility there.

I think that it is very important to note that the Children Act report pointed out that half the children in stable placements were insecurely attached. It is very important that we do not simply see an adoptive family—or a foster family, for that matter—as the answer to children's problems. As Meg says, the services are absolutely vital. We do not understand enough about how to create that attachment, but we need to ensure that we learn from what does work and pass that on.

Felicity Collier:

It is also very important to prepare children for placement properly, and to have the social work expertise and multi-disciplinary resources to help children move on from a very troubled past. Also, we should not push out too far the barriers for the sorts of children whom adopters who are proved suitable for adopting are interested in adopting. Adopters who make excellent adoptive parents to very young children may find very difficult the challenge of older children with more distressing pasts. Where you push the barriers and persuade people to take children outside their original choice, there is some evidence that those placements can fail.

Also, there should be a realistic understanding of, and information on, the past of that child; their birth families, the baggage that they bring with them, their need to know, and contact issues. I sometimes think that adoptive parents have to be saints to be able to cope with all those issues, and we owe them our enormous respect and gratitude.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd

I wish to return to the rights of non-married couples to adopt, and to the points made by you, Mr. Chairman, by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) and by Andrew Christie. We should consider—and not just in respect of inheritance—that where an unmarried couple are not allowed to adopt and, sadly, their relationship breaks up, the child is denied the right to express a preference as to which parent to stay with. Is that not a further denial of the right of the adopted child?

Andrew Christie:

I would agree. A question was asked about the risks in terms of the stability of relationships that are not underpinned by the marriage contract. The reality is that when we undertake any assessment of prospective adopters, married or otherwise, we have to give consideration to the potential for such things happening. God forbid—it is obviously something that we seek to minimise—but we must have in mind the potential consequences in circumstances where, married or otherwise, the two parents are no longer able to live together.

Felicity Collier:

Could I just add one point about the commitment of the extended family on both sides? We want both sets of grandparents—the families of both parents or of both pseudo-adoptive parents—to accept the child as a member of their family. These children need a network of family members around them to promote their security.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

I want to bring us back to the issue of private fostering. First, I have a question for BAAF. At the beginning of Terry Philpott's report there is a dedication to Victoria Climbie, of whose tragic case we are all doubtless aware. It states:

``This tragic case may yet provoke a change in the law to offer greater protection to all those children who find themselves similarly cared for.''

Is it not true that the problem was not just that Victoria was privately fostered, but that, as the inquiry revealed, the services failed? Is not to attribute the problem to private fostering alone to play on the emotions of the issue?

Felicity Collier:

I want to make it really clear that this was not cheap sensationalism. It was a very thought-out and considered response. We are not saying, and have never said, that proper approval and registration of private foster carers would have saved Victoria Climbie's life. We know that it was not apparent until after her death that she was not the daughter of the woman caring for her, who was convicted of her murder. That will probably emerge from the inquiry.

She was being cared for by a distant relative, however, who within the Children Act 1989 would not have been counted as a relative, so, ipso facto, she was privately fostered. I might add that the woman was a virtual stranger to Victoria.

Why we make such comparisons is because the reasons the Climbies gave to the Laming inquiry for making such private arrangements are very typical of birth parents who have their children privately fostered. They believed that their child would have a better life, education and opportunities in the future. They believed that the carer—the great aunt—was suitable because she was well educated, had travelled and been overseas, and had money and credit cards. That may sound incredibly naive, but it demonstrates why so many west African birth parents genuinely believe, from the bottom of their hearts, that they are giving their children a better chance.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

So what Victoria's parents could have done, had there been a registration scheme, was ring up the local authority and say, ``Are these people okay? We've never heard of them and they could be paedophiles for all we know.'' How would a registration scheme work?

Felicity Collier:

The issue of registration is that people with the same motivation of wanting their children cared for—so that the children can have such opportunities—would then know that there was a register available from which they could choose somebody. Admittedly, it is more difficult when they live in other countries. At the moment, they have to go into the marketplace and identify people through word of mouth, through people who we know are brokers or through strangers. In the past, there have even been adverts in shop windows and Nursery World. If I want my child childminded, I ask the local authority for a register of approved and suitable people, and then choose one. All we want is for birth parents who make that choice to have the opportunity of knowing that someone has been checked out—they cannot do it themselves.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

You are a British organisation so you cover all countries in the UK. I understand that in Scotland, under the parallel Bill to the Care Standards Act 2000, the Scottish Parliament made provisions to register private foster carers.

Felicity Collier:

Yes, it did.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

Can you tell the Committee how that is working? Is it social services or the national—

Felicity Collier:

I need to be clear. Scotland is not currently setting up a register. What is happening is that the National Care Standards Commission has to inspect private fostering arrangements and local authorities' supervision of those arrangements. That is a significant improvement on what we currently have in England.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

Parliament provides social services departments with the enormous task of implementing various legislation. If this legislation were passed, do you, Mr. Christie, see the measure requiring social services departments to set up a register as insurmountable?

Andrew Christie:

No, I do not. Fairly recently, the chief inspector sent us a letter, which set out expectations in respect of private fostering. They were, to keep a record—we are about to be inspected, so I am sure that that will be looked at—and to promote publicity. We undertook those responsibilities and, frankly, the response was disappointing. We publicised it through health visitors to school, and so on.

My view is that, in addition to having a requirement to register, there has to be some kind of notion of enforcement and penalty, which would apply if one did not do that. That still would not mean that everybody would come forward, but I think that it would increase the likelihood that people would, which minimises risk. That is essentially our responsibility.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

Is that your view, or that of the ADSS?

Andrew Christie:

It is my personal view as well.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

Do you believe that, if there were penalties there, you would have had a much bigger response than you got to the advertisements?

Andrew Christie:

I think that it is quite possible. Sad to relate, we have an opportunity coming up, with the publication of the Climbie inquiry, for these matters to be more in the public mind. That may be an opportunity that we should consider taking advantage of.

Moira Gibb:

We support the development of a register, and see this as an important gap in current protection. Obviously, we would always want to add that any new service has to be resourced, because it will fall disproportionately on a number of authorities where there has been a practice of private fostering.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

Has the ADSS had any discussion with the Department of Health since 1993 that you are aware of? Lord Laming was the chief inspector at that time. Has there been any further discussion about the possibility of a registration scheme, how it would work and who should do it?

Moira Gibb:

I would have to check with my colleagues who lead on children and families, but I could not say that we had had discussions specifically on that point.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I think that there is a general consensus that this is a problem that needs addressing. Where there may not be consensus is on what will make a practical difference. Referring back to our earlier evidence, a fundamental question is, why, in your experience, do people not notify about private fostering arrangements, despite the extra attempts that have been made to raise awareness? What can we do differently, in terms of registration, that would make people more likely to notify? There is a problem if we do not know where people are, and part of the argument is whether people are willing to register. What must happen to make people more willing to notify and then to comply with the registration scheme?

We have talked about enforcement and penalty. Presumably, one reason why people do not notify is that, in an unregulated system, they are rightly concerned about what will happen if they come to the authorities' attention. Is there a risk that if we regulated the system and enforced it in the way that you mentioned, it might make people less willing to come forward? How would we overcome that?

Andrew Christie:

Frankly, people come forward so infrequently, that the risk of deterring any of those is minuscule. The parallel is in the approach that is adopted to childminding. That is the closest that I can think of in terms of where there is that requirement. I think that there is quite an understanding in the community as a whole that if someone is going to childmind, they are expected to meet certain standards. People probably do not really understand the system until they actually seek to do it, but there is an expectation that they will go through a certain process.

Probably, the reality is that there are two aspects to raising awareness and understanding. One is about publicity and information and, particularly, working in partnership with some key community groups. I am thinking of some of the parallels in our work with unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, where working in partnership with community groups representing, for example, communities from the horn of Africa, elicits a lot of information. We are well aware that the information then gets around the community, and people become better involved. That is one aspect.

If, at the same time—it is a fairly blunt idea—there were a few examples of an attached penalty, which people became aware of, that would be an additional incentive. I do not think that the whole thing would be closed down, but it would increase the likelihood of children being monitored.

Only yesterday I was dealing with a case that had come to the adoption panel. It was a private fostering placement in similar circumstances to those of Victoria Climbie. A parent had placed the children with a very distant relative. The parent was last heard of in the Congo but is now thought to be in Angola. There had been no supervision or regulation until the case came to our attention because both children had suffered serious physical abuse.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 12:45, 20 Tachwedd 2001

A woman came to see me in my constituency surgery the other day. As a good member of the community, she had taken in her son's 15-year-old friend, whose parents had said, ``Out you go.'' If a registration scheme and enforcement such as you describe had already been introduced, do you think she should have registered in advance, and that she should have been punished for not registering in advance of taking that person in?

Andrew Christie:

That situation is quite common and in local authorities we often work with families to try to achieve such solutions as an alternative to a child of 15 becoming looked after, which is not necessarily in their best interest. I take the point—if we came across something like that, would we want to get into the position of enforcement and so on? However, I would want us to consider providing support, advice and guidance to such families, particularly those in which younger children are placed. This raises complex issues of whether we want an age definition in such circumstances and I would have to think about that added complexity. I am thinking predominantly about cases in which much younger children are placed for long periods by parents who have no contact with those children, who have had no opportunity to express an informed view. I bet that the 15-year-old that you are talking about had an informed view of what should or should not happen and would not have been with that friend if he or she had not wanted to be there.

Moira Gibb:

I do not think we have any intention of reaching out and trying to bureaucratise ordinary relationships, and the time limits would have allowed that to happen anyway. If it was going to continue as a serious placement, it might be helpful for the family taking in the child to think it through in advance. In a sense, the register and the approach that we are suggesting demonstrates the seriousness of our intention to protect some of our most vulnerable children.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

May I make a point from the edge on the 80-20 principle of how to achieve something for least effort? My local police have been running a campaign for a long time and are pressing the Home Office on the issue of children sent to placements for a few weeks on school exchanges--we have a lot of that in east Kent. A voluntary scheme has been set up in east Kent to which I believe every school now subscribes. Of the first 12 providers on which police checks were made, six turned out to have convictions for serious criminal offences, or were found to be well known to social services as unsuitable for handling children. It seems that, at least in matters that are dealt with commercially, a sort of ``heads-up'' checking that picks up the worst cases fairly quickly is possible.

Felicity Collier:

We know that there are many different situations, and the three that you described are three different situations in relation to private fostering. The matter is complicated, but I do not think that that is a reason for doing nothing, and we understood that the Department was developing a code of practice on language schools and so on. I shall be interested to see more evidence of what you found out, Julian, but we are worried and we think that teenagers and young people coming from overseas are particularly vulnerable. Families that seek them out may have unsuitable intentions because that is the only way they are going to have access to young people. We could have a very simple scheme of registration for people who want to care for children in those circumstances.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

Is it not the case that the average disgruntled 15-year-old can sometimes place themselves with the most appalling people? They can also place themselves with unlikely people whom further assessment can reveal to be providing a decent and sensible placement after all, thus allaying all sorts of anxieties.

Moira Gibb:

There are lots of situations that are far from ideal in which children make choices for themselves, but I think we are worried not so much about 15-year-olds as about much younger children.

Photo of Andrew Love Andrew Love Labour/Co-operative, Edmonton

Can I come back to Mr. Christie? I may be misinterpreting, but the impression that I get from your answers is that you think that the difference between the current notification scheme and a registration scheme, in terms of people taking it up, is that it would have to have a sanction attached. Are you saying that to be successful, the registration scheme has to have a sanction?

Andrew Christie:

Is it not generally the experience that to make these things effective, there has to be some sanction attached?

Maureen Rutter:

I was wondering why, to my knowledge, the LGA has not been asked if it has any ideas about how this measure could be brought about and done successfully. We are all very concerned about the whole issue, and we would definitely like something done about it, but we have not had a chance to really look at it, think about it and work it out between us. It seems to me to be an ideal subject for those of us in the children task group to look at in some depth. We could ask authorities to give their opinions and come back with a possible scheme that might at least give some cause for optimism that it could work. We are all banging about ideas now—whether this or that would work, and so on—and I do not think that we will solve the problem here in the next five minutes. This is a very good place to start, but frankly the work has not been done.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

Some work has been done. If you are saying that the LGA has not considered the matter, that may be indicative of the fact that your member authorities are not that concerned about it. I am rather surprised about that, because this has been a big issue for a long time, certainly in Parliament.

Felicity Collier:

I was going to reassure you, Maureen, that we do have a private fostering special interest group of 26 people and we certainly have ADSS representatives—indeed, Andrew is our representative—and these recommendations have been developed with consultation. We have taken as practical examples some extremely good local authorities—South Gloucestershire is one—where there are very good support schemes, but we understand that how something would work requires greater consultation.

I am delighted to have been invited to meet with the chief inspector to discuss the report and we would want to take this forward, but we want Parliament to recognise that it has the opportunity through this Bill to ensure that there is not a longer delay. For example, we are concerned about waiting for the recommendations that we believe will probably flow from the Laming inquiry on a whole range of issues, including this one, but not until next summer. There is now an opportunity to make a reasonable amendment to the Bill that will allow for the registration of private foster carers, and that is what everybody is calling for. We are now working with the two main African welfare associations, which have met with us and are supporting this also.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

We have to conclude the sitting by 1 o'clock and I am conscious that there are several areas that we have not covered. One of those is the appeals mechanism, which we have not touched on during this second part of the sitting. The witnesses presumably heard the earlier discussion about the current proposals, and of course, in a previous Parliament, we had some concerns about how they would work. I would be interested to hear the views of Meg Staples, from a practical point of view.

Meg Staples:

Clearly, prospective adopters should have a right of appeal. There is some concern about them going to an independent committee if they do not have a positive recommendation on their form F. There is concern as to what the ramifications of that would be if there were financial penalties on local authorities in terms of funding the independent committee. What I think is of fundamental importance is that prospective adopters have the right of appeal. If they are finally turned down, I think that an independent review mechanism is the way forward.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

Do you think that it will be possible to satisfy individuals in circumstances in which, as we heard earlier on, it might not be possible to tell them why they are being turned down because of confidentiality?

Meg Staples:

In those cases, clearly the issue is that people will not have the right to third party information that has been given. That will not be available to them. Part of the process of encouraging adopters to apply is that they understand the rules right at the beginning, and that there is some information that we will not be able to share with them, but that that which we can share should be part of their assessment and inform the final decision.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

Looking at what is proposed in the Bill, do you think that, in practical terms, people will be given more information than has been the case up till now?

Meg Staples:

Speaking only for my authority, we try to give people as much information as possible anyway. That is part of the honest approach with prospective adopters that is encouraged in the standards. It is difficult for me to comment for all authorities.

Moira Gibb:

I think that it is important that we do not create the sense that everyone has the right to adopt. Again, adoption is a service for children. Our experience tells us that it is very difficult for people to hear the information that is presented. Perhaps we need to be much more inventive about how we give the information. We will never be able to convey some information, and people will remain unhappy.

Again, there is a question about how much resource we supply to adopters. It is terribly important that we give the impression that we will be fair, honest and open, but many adopters find, as was suggested earlier, the kind of inquiries that we make to be quite intrusive and they are not prepared for that. We have to be better at explaining why we make such intrusive inquiries.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

I have one or two colleagues indicating that they want to ask questions. Could they please do so briefly?

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

Mr. Paton made an interesting and welcome announcement, if I heard him right, when he referred to a memorandum on this issue. The main memorandum that has been circulated does not refer to it. Could that be circulated for tomorrow's meeting, when, hopefully, he will again be on standby?

James Paton:

Can I clarify that? The reference that I made was to the fact that, under the new access to information provisions, where an agency decides to overrule the consent or objection, there should be access to an independent review under clause 12. That is covered in the annex to the memorandum that we sent to the Committee.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

I was going to make a similar point. This is, again, a question for Mr. Paton. Is clause 12 the only appeals procedure clause in the Bill?

James Paton:

Clause 12 contains the provisions that would allow us to establish the independent review mechanism that we have been discussing, so, yes.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

What sort of things will be subject to appeal under clause 12?

James Paton:

In terms of what constitutes a qualifying determination under clause 12, the Government have said that two things will be covered, and both are in the explanatory notes. One is where a prospective adopter has indicated that they are being turned down and are unsatisfied with the reasons. The other is where an agency decides to overrule a consent or objection to the release of information, which is the point that I have just clarified. The provisions are for those two purposes, but they are flexible.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

Could the provisions be extended? For example, they do not currently cover support.

James Paton: They have the potential to be extended, but that is not the Government's intention at this point.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

We heard from Mr. Paton that the question of children giving consent to adoption was in the review of the 1996 Bill and that a lot of feeling was expressed against it. I would like to test Felicity's feelings on that.

Felicity Collier:

The reason that there were some issues in relation to what was in the original Bill was that, through our consultation, we formed the view that children over 12 should have the right to veto their adoption and express their wishes and feeling. However, if they were required to consent to their adoption, the impact on a child of legally severing themselves from their birth parents, for whom they might still have much understanding and concern, may be so great that it would be inappropriate. On the other hand, the consultation exercise that we conducted for the Department of Health on adoption standards suggested that children and young people felt that they should have a right to say when they do not want an adoption to go ahead, or feel that these are not the right adopters for them. They have real concerns about having their voices heard.

Photo of Mr David Hinchliffe Mr David Hinchliffe Llafur, Wakefield

I thank witnesses for their evidence. Under Standing Order No. 91, governing the practice of Special Standing Committees, I must bring this sitting to a close.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee.

Adjourned till Wednesday 21 November at Ten o'clock.