Clause 55 - Disclosure of other information

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 6:30 pm ar 18 Rhagfyr 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendment made: No. 200, in page 32, line 23, leave out 'or section 76 information'.—[Jacqui Smith]

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I beg to move amendment No. 189, in page 32, line 23, at end insert—

'Where an adoption agency which has carried out functions in respect of an adopted person is made aware of the death of that adopted person, it shall have a duty to make reasonable efforts to inform the natural parents of that adopted person of that person's death'.

This is very straightforward and I hope that it is not contentious. We have debated at length the disclosure of information to birth parents and will, I am sure, return to it. The amendment tackles a matter that arose during the evidence-gathering sitting by making an addition to clause 55 to the effect that if an adoption agency that has acted for an adopted person has been

''made aware of the death of that adopted person, it shall have a duty to make reasonable efforts to inform the natural parents of that adopted person of that person's death''.

Contentious issues arise as to what information should be made available to birth relatives and the hon. Member for Cardiff, West eloquently made a strong case. I agreed with much of what he said and disagreed with part of it, but his points were well made. The Minister acknowledged that the issue was sensitive and we are dealing with cases that go back many years. I hope that a better system will come from our deliberations, but the issues must be handled sensibly.

However, the point with which the amendment deals is perfectly reasonable and above contention and it was raised in the Committee's witness stages. Birth parents surely have a right to know whether a birth child whom they gave up for adoption is still alive. We can envisage various scenarios. A birth parent who gave a child up for adoption 20, 30 or 40 years ago may decide to seek contact at a late stage or at least to seek information about the child's well-being without making contact. A birth parent may have given up a child in difficult circumstances many years ago, not of their own volition, because they were under pressure. They may genuinely want to seek information about their child and it would be a cruel trick if they found out, after a good deal of effort and investigation, that the child had died some years previously and that all their work, hopes and expectations were completely in vain.

We can continue to debate what other information should be available to birth parents who are actively seeking a child who is still alive. At the very least, however—we are not talking about an absolute compulsion—adoption agencies should make all reasonable efforts to inform the birth parents that the adopted child has passed away. That is reasonable and humane and I doubt whether most members of the Committee would disagree with the thrust of the amendment. I hope that the Minister will be able, to coin a phrase, to adopt it, even if she has some criticism of the way in which it is phrased.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 6:45, 18 Rhagfyr 2001

I have some sympathy with the amendment, although there are problems with it. It would place a statutory duty on an adoption agency that had carried out any function in respect of an adopted person to make reasonable efforts to inform the birth parents where it was aware that that person had died. The reference to an adopted person in respect of whom the agency has carried out any

function would give the amendment a very broad scope. It could, for example, apply where an agency had placed a child for adoption or, in the case of a non-agency placement, notified of the intention to adopt.

As I said, I sympathise with the humane intentions behind the amendment. We all understand why it would be right for the birth family to know about the death of the adopted person, especially as we would want that distressing information to be passed on with care and consideration for their feelings. The national adoption standards state that where adoptive parents have agreed to inform the agency of the death of the adopted child, birth parents, or the next of kin will, if they wish, be informed by the adoption agency. I am pleased that the amendment does not go so far as to place a responsibility on to adoptive parents to inform the adoption agency if their adopted child should die. That would place a considerable pressure on adoptive parents at a very distressing time.

The amendment appears to be similar to schedule 2 to the Children Act 1989, which places an obligation on local authorities, when a child in their care dies, to notify, so far as reasonably practical, the child's parents and every person who has parental responsibility for them. In such a case the local authority would have direct responsibility for the care of that particular child. It is a slightly different situation with an adoption agency, which would not have that direct caring responsibility.

However, a similar duty might be placed on adoption agencies where they become aware of the death of the adopted person, under the powers in clause 9. As I suggested earlier, we would want to prescribe the way in which the agencies should carry this out, ensuring that they would not actively seek the information but would act only on information passed to them by the adoptive family. I am prepared to consider that and to consult adoption stakeholders about an appropriate way forward. I hope that with those assurances the hon. Gentleman will be prepared to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

That is good news. I thought that the Minister was toying with my emotions when, having said that she had some sympathy with the amendment, she then said that she some problems with it. That is how she always balances her retorts. She appears to want to give some power of veto to the adoptive parents on the availability of the information. I do not

agree that such a power should be given to them. It is a basic human kindness that such information should be made available. I am heartened, though, by the Minister's comments that she is prepared to reconsider the matter. On that basis, we can hopefully look forward to something on Report.

I appreciate that the amendment may be drawn too widely. I am sure that that is easily remedied in terms of which adoption agencies will be involved in the responsibility. The amendment imposes a responsibility, not an outright duty. We are trying not to make things too onerous for adoption agencies. On that basis, I hope that the Minister will produce a more reasonably worded version of the clause on Report. The principle is right and necessary. It is a basic right of all people involved in adoption. On the basis of the Minister's assurances, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 201, in page 32, line 29, leave out subsection (4).

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

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 202.

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

Amendment No. 201 removes subsection (4) of clause 55, which provides for information about a child to be disclosed to prospective adopters if it has been prescribed for that purpose. The subsection is to be removed as a consequence of a new clause we have introduced specifically to deal with the passing on of information to prospective adopters. It is no longer required, due to the provisions that new clause 6 includes in the Bill.

Amendment No. 202 is a minor consequential amendment to remove from clause 56 the reference to clause 55(4). If amendment No. 201 is agreed to, that subsection will be omitted from clause 55. With that clear explanation, I hope that hon. Members will feel able to support the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 55, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Jim Fitzpatrick.]

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to Seven o'clock till Thursday 10 January at half-past Nine o'clock.