Clause 96 - Proceedings to be in private

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:45 pm ar 4 Rhagfyr 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 12:45, 4 Rhagfyr 2001

If the hon. Gentleman is suggesting that The Mail on Sunday is making a fuss about nothing in respect of the case in Richmond, he is wrong. The problem, as I said in my speech in Harrogate just before the Secretary of State spoke, is that no one is interested in reading in the papers about the plane that landed safely; it is that sort of business. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that we hear far too much about the things that go wrong in social services departments, especially those involving children, such as the high-profile Victoria Climbie case and the John Smith case. Every day, hundreds and thousands of children are looked after successfully and lovingly because of social services departments, having been placed with exceedingly skilled and dedicated foster parents or in other forms of care by local authorities. Those are the vast majority of cases; if they were 100 per cent. of cases the Bill would be unnecessary, as it tackles the cases in which things go wrong. It is right to cite cases in which things have not gone wrong, to learn from an example and to ensure that there are measures according to which we can legislate against anything going wrong in future.

The amendment would ensure that when things go wrong, a heavy-handed local authority cannot use the courts to take out a gagging order. Even when a judge thinks that it is in the public interest that the shortcomings of a local authority or an adoption agency should be revealed, the proposal as drafted will prevent him from doing so. The amendment would tackle that and enhance the Bill, which seems exceedingly reasonable. We cannot understand why the Government want to take the opposite course and restrict the amount of information in the public domain.

Amendment No. 10 was tabled primarily by my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight, whose interest in the subject is well known. I was not trying to be derogatory about him earlier. He is involved in many other important parliamentary matters, but his record on education and children's issues is particularly well known. That is why he tabled the amendment, which would make the welfare of the child the ultimate consideration. In most cases, that means respecting the anonymity of the child.

The amendment would add a subsection so that all cases could be disclosed and discussed by the courts, unless there was a danger that a child's name might be revealed. Information about the location of a child would also be restricted, as would the name of his school or other organisation if it compromised the child's anonymity, which is the prime consideration. The amendment would therefore permit the reporting of proceedings, subject to wide restrictions—all predicated on promoting the welfare of the child.

As my hon. Friend said in discussing the amendment with me, some current restrictions are understandable, but they make it almost impossible for the layman to understand much about care and adoption proceedings. They place an unreasonable limit on freedom of information about an issue involving a clear public interest.

The thrust of both amendments is to assure disclosure of information in the public interest, subject to child anonymity. I challenge the Parliamentary Secretary, when she speaks to the amendments, to say why covering up information about the track record of certain adoption agencies furthers the public interest.