Clause 120 - Scottish restriction on bringing children into United Kingdom

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:30 pm ar 11 Rhagfyr 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk 12:30, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 178, in page 67, line 24, leave out 'British Islands' and insert 'United Kingdom'.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Llafur, Stoke-on-Trent South

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 179, in page 67, line 26, leave out 'outside the British Islands' and insert 'abroad'.

No. 181, in page 67, line 43, leave out 'British Islands' and insert 'United Kingdom'.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

These amendments continue our earlier discussion. Through them, I propose to clarify once and for all what we mean by ''British Islands''. I mentioned briefly that I was not especially happy about the expression. As the Minister pointed out, the phrase has a definition under the Interpretation Act 1978, but events have moved on since then.

We have been keen to build close relationships with the Dail in the Republic of Ireland. Since 1978, a series of initiatives has tried to bring the two Parliaments closer together, including the Anglo-Irish treaty and other initiatives that have flowed from it, including the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body and the Good Friday or Belfast agreement. Many important initiatives have been made under which cross-border bodies have been set up, to try to break down the idea of the British isles.

The expression ''British Islands'' may evoke nostalgia among various people, especially Conservative Members, for the days when the Republic of Ireland was part of the UK and it was not necessary to talk about the British isles with any regard for people's sensitivities. However, the Republic of Ireland is concerned about the use of the phrase. As various members of the Committee who are on the inter-parliamentary body will know—I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is—the expression often leads to offence. The Irish find it patronising, archaic and in many ways inappropriate.

That is why whenever there is a bilateral meeting of any kind between the two countries, we talk about ''these islands'', which encompasses the islands around this country—the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey—and the islands around Ireland. Obviously, many issues of mutual concern affect all those islands. Once or twice, people have talked about the British isles in the inter-parliamentary body and it has led to considerable offence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy will recall.

I would like to see ''British Islands'' removed from the Bill. It is good to be nostalgic at times, but we must bear in mind the concerns of the Irish, our nearest neighbours in the west. The links between our two countries have improved substantially. Every initiative that has arisen from the Belfast agreement has led to the countries working together, and there are several more initiatives to ensure that we work more closely on social legislation. Hon. Members will be aware that Irish citizens in this country have the right to vote and the same rights of citizenship as us. We have a special relationship with Ireland, although it is a separate sovereign country. Since 1989, citizens of this country have had the rights to vote and claim benefit in Ireland. For example, they have the same rights as Irish citizens to claim subsidised bus passes. The Government made a concession a moment ago on the amendment tabled

by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset, which would have removed the word ''colony''. In the same way, it is important that they should remove the words ''British Islands''.

The Minister pointed out a moment ago that under the 1978 Act a legal definition is attached to the term ''British Islands''. That distinguishes it from the term ''United Kingdom'', which manifestly does not include the two Channel Islands, Jersey and Guernsey, or, indeed, the islands attached to Jersey—Alderney and Sark. It does not include the Isle of Man either. Therefore, I understand the term ''British Islands'' to mean, in a strict legal context, the United Kingdom and those islands. I asked the Minister on—I think—Thursday whether that was right, and she was not able to give me a clear answer. I think that she has since been briefed by her civil servants, who have updated her on the legal definition of the United Kingdom. The islands that I mentioned are not included in it; they have a separate legal status.

It is interesting, to return to a point that I made earlier about our close relationship with the Irish Republic and the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, to note that we have brought on to that body Members of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and of the Northern Ireland Assembly, a Member of the Tynwald of the Isle of Man, and Members of the Parliaments of Jersey and Guernsey. The result is truly an inter-parliamentary body, encompassing the Parliaments of all these islands' countries, including the one separate sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. That arrangement is now working well. I should like more inter-parliamentary bodies to be set up between the countries concerned, to deal, particularly, with social legislation, health and transport.

What does the situation that I have outlined mean for the clause? Simply, we must remove the words ''British Islands''. The amendment would replace them with the words ''United Kingdom'', but probably we should not do that. If the Minister's intention is to include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, that should be stated. We should, in that case, insert the words, ''United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, Jersey and its attached islands and Guernsey''. That would make it clear what was intended. It would also send a strong signal to our friends in the Irish Republic that we are not trying to patronise them or invoke nostalgia.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons) 12:45, 11 Rhagfyr 2001

My hon. Friend has not mentioned the role of the Isles of Scilly. Is that because they have a different status, as part of England, or will he come on to the subject of those islands?

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

That is a good point. The Isles of Scilly have a parish council, not a Parliament. As far as I am aware, although they have some devolved functions, their services, such as social services and education, are mostly provided by Cornwall county council.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

Some functions are wholly devolved, but the body concerned is really a parish council which, in one or two specific local matters including parks and cemeteries, has an element of sovereign power.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of the Isles of Scilly, I draw his attention to the sedentary intervention of the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan). I think that the answer to it is yes. The islands form part of a parliamentary constituency—South-East Cornwall, is it not?

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

Yes, they have a Member of Parliament. In fact, the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey do not have representation in this House because they have their own Parliaments. That is probably a mistake.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Llafur, Stoke-on-Trent South

Order. The hon. Gentleman is perfectly entitled and in order to advise the Committee of his interpretation of the terms ''British Islands'' and ''United Kingdom'', but I fear that we should not get into a discourse about whether one island looks after its parks and another its cemeteries. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will take that point and refer to the words on the amendment paper.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

We have digressed a little, but it is important to explain the background to the amendment, because unless one does, one could end up looking a little foolish. It is too bland an exercise simply to take the amendment as it is. I am keen for the Minister to accept the spirit of my amendment and the intention behind it, but not necessarily its current format. If it is her intention to include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man in the provision, she must find a better definition of ''British Islands''. She should perhaps insert ''the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey.''

I have explained my intentions and, hopefully, convinced the Committee of the real sensitivities and concern in the Irish Republic at this crucial time when we are trying to build on the Good Friday agreement. The amendment is very much in line with what the Prime Minister is trying to achieve and I hope that the Minister will accept it.

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

The hon. Gentleman appears to be trying to use an amendment to a Bill on adoption and children to further good relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland and to change legal definitions relating to the United Kingdom and the British islands. Although I am sure that many members of the Committee would share his hope that relations between this country and the Republic of Ireland continue to develop, that important issue should not be mixed up with our aims in relation to adoption and children. The Bill is not the correct vehicle for making changes to definitions in law of the terms ''United Kingdom'' and ''British Islands''—definitions that were set out in the Interpretation Act 1978—although concerns about that may be expressed in the Committee. I am afraid that, for those reasons, it would not be appropriate to accept the hon. Gentleman's amendments.

I should like, however, briefly to give the hon. Gentleman some assurance on one of his points about the Government's aims with respect to clause 120. Clause 120 provides for restrictions for Scotland on bringing children into the UK, in the same way that clause 80 does for England and Wales. It amends section 50A of the Adoptions (Scotland) Act 1978 to impose restrictions on British residents bringing or causing someone else to bring a child habitually resident outside the British islands into the UK with the intention of adopting the child in the UK, unless the person complies with prescribed requirements and meets prescribed conditions.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Ceidwadwyr, North Dorset

I am interested in the Minister's remarks. Will she enlighten the Committee as to whether, as the Bill amends Scottish legislation, the Scottish Parliament will have the power to amend it to its original meaning?

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

I do not know the answer to that question, but I will find out for the hon. Gentleman. The Scottish Administration are undertaking a review of adoption law, but I think that they share our view that consistency among the different countries in the United Kingdom is important. The Scottish Parliament, as I understand it, would have the ability to change its own Act. With the agreement of Scotland, we are trying to ensure consistency.

Clause 120, alongside clause 80, ensures consistency. It also makes it a criminal offence for a British resident to bring, or cause someone else to bring, a child habitually resident outside the British islands who was adopted within the previous six months into the United Kingdom, unless the resident complies with prescribed requirements and meets prescribed conditions. A person will be liable on summary conviction to up to six months' imprisonment, or a fine not exceeding a statutory maximum of £5,000, or both. In event of the case being referred to the Crown court, he will be liable for up to 12 months' imprisonment or an unlimited fine, or both.

The clause covers residents of the British islands and defines external adoptions as those affected under the law of any country or territory outside the British islands. ''British Islands'' is defined as England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. That is consistent with the 1976 Act, which covers England and Wales, and the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978. The amendments, as the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk knows, would mean that the clause covered residents of the United Kingdom alone and defined external adoptions as those affected under the law of any country or territory outside the United Kingdom. The United Kingdom is defined as England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. That would introduce restrictions on bringing children from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man into the United Kingdom and would make an adoption order made in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man an external adoption order.

The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man have almost identical legislation to that of the United Kingdom and use the same assessment and adoption procedures. Adoption orders made in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are recognised in the United Kingdom and adoption orders made in the United Kingdom are recognised in the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, which are recognised publicly as part of the British isles. For those reasons, it would be unacceptable to introduce added restrictions on bringing children into the United Kingdom from the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man and to treat adoption orders made in those countries as external adoptions.

The amendments would also mean that the clause would cover bringing into the United Kingdom for the purposes of adoption a child ''habitually resident abroad'' rather than ''outside the British Islands''. There is no legal definition of ''abroad'', which would make the clause too vague to implement satisfactorily.

The hon. Gentleman has had the opportunity to express his concerns about United Kingdom relations with the Republic of Ireland and about the interpretations and definitions in the Bill. However, I do not consider those issues appropriate to consider in relation to the Bill, and hope for those reasons that he will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

I am grateful for that cogent explanation. I have two final questions.

First, does the Minister know how many children are adopted into the United Kingdom from the Isle of Man and Channel Islands and how many from the United Kingdom into the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands? It would be interesting to hear that figure, if she has it to hand.

Secondly, the Minister did not address my suggestion, which would answer my concern that we must include in the definition the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man while avoiding the term ''British Islands''. She rightly said that we were not considering a Bill on adoption and children to improve relations with the Irish Republic, but does she not feel that we

could easily sort this out by using the words ''United Kingdom and the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man''?

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Llafur, Stoke-on-Trent South

Order. I must refer the hon. Gentleman to the words of the amendment, which does not contain the additions that he suggests.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

Indeed, I accept that, but until the Minister gives us a logical reason for rejecting the amendment, we are entitled to suggest that there might be some merit in what I propose. Will she comment on my two brief points?

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

I do not know the exact numbers of children, and understand that only a handful are involved, but I am not sure what point the hon. Gentleman seeks to make by determining the numbers. It is important that there is an ability to recognise adoption orders between the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man and the United Kingdom and vice versa. That is what we attempt to safeguard by rejecting the hon. Gentleman's amendment.

Secondly, I made it clear in my response that this is not the place to consider definitions. If the hon. Gentleman wants to raise that point, he must do so elsewhere.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

On a point of order, Mr. Stevenson. It is a little difficult to focus on areas such as the Channel Islands or the Scilly Isles

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Llafur, Stoke-on-Trent South

Order. I apologise to the hon. Gentleman. I am advised that I must put the question.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [28 June] and the Order of the Committee [27 November], to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Clauses 120 and 123 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Adjourned at one minute past One o'clock till this day at half-past Four o'clock.