Clause 58 - Disclosing information to adopted adult

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 10 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Amendment proposed [this day]: No. 235, in page 33, line 23, at end add—

'(7) On attaining the age of 18 an adopted adult shall be formally notified by the

appropriate adoption agency that he was adopted.'.—[Tim Loughton.]

Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

Good afternoon, Mrs. Roe, and a happy new year to you. I trust that you have had a restful recess, and that you are ready to throw yourself into the remaining stages of the Bill—there is light at the end of the tunnel at last. Before you arrived this afternoon, we were discussing the intricacies of the Slater family from EastEnders''. I was about to launch into the subject of incest, on which the Minister touched unwittingly when she took us down a strange lane, but we will come back to it later.

The amendment provides that people should have the right to be told that they were adopted when they reach the age of 18, if they have not already been given that information. The amendment is fairly harmless, but the principle it reflects is an important one, and it seems to have opened up several issues. Earlier, the Minister changed from using the word difficult'' to talking about some sympathy'', and I hope that she has had time over lunch to acquaint herself fully with the implications of the amendment. That is only a few hours less than than we were given to consider some Government amendments before the recess, and she has the benefit of having at her disposal a fleet of officials who are experts on the subject.

The Minister's point, which was taken up by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), is not really compensatory. She said that guidance has been issued stating that everyone is entitled to a copy of their birth certificate at 18. That is fine and we all agree with it, but that entitlement is not the same as an entitlement to the information necessary to know that one needs to see one's birth certificate. It is all very well to say that anyone can ask

for his birth certificate at the age of 18, but if a person has no reason to doubt his birth parents, he has no cause to seek his birth certificate at that time.

How will the Government publicise the entitlement? If the Minister holds it up as an example of access to information, it should be widely publicised. I assume that the publicity will not take the same form as that for winter fuel payments, for example, whereby pensioners will be bombarded with information on how to claim it, if they are so entitled. What do the Government propose to do to publicise the fact that anyone may be entitled to see his birth certificate at the age of 18?

The Minister may want to consider further the point that I made shortly before we adjourned for lunch. Private families who have never had any involvement with the legal process or been part of any adoption process, whose children are blood related to the parents with whom they live, are clearly different from families who have adopted children and that relationship has been legitimised by the state through the legal system.

I agree with the Minister that we do not want the state to stick its nose into private families' business. Perhaps that is a Burkean principle, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) claims. It would certainly be contrary to many human rights treaties to which we have alluded. However, we are not talking about the state doing that; we are discussing a situation that the state has manufactured—for want of a better word—through the adoption process. The state has a duty of care to ensure that the manufactured relationship is maintained in everyone's best interests. I dispute the Minister's assertion that we are talking about the state sticking its nose in where it has no business. We are talking about the state monitoring something that it has created by the legal recourses of the adoption process.

The Minister said that she thought that the amendment might place onerous duties on adoption agencies. That is rubbish, nonsense, and a red herring.

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

Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the practical implications of the amendment are difficult, whatever its principle might be? To contact a young person when he reaches the age of 18, the adoption agency would have to know where he lives, so adoptive parents would be required to notify the adoption agency every time they move. It would be a little strange to expect them to do something so out of the ordinary.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I do not agree. If adoption agencies are to perform their role in the adoption process, ensuring that it works and ensuring that the relevant adoption support services are available for as long as they are required, and if we expect adoption agencies to keep full records that will enable adopted people who seek their parentage—or, in some cases, birth parents who seek previously adopted children; the Bill still has many shortcomings on that issue—to do so successfully, it is not a tall order to require them to keep records on when people will reach 18 and to have an idea of where those people are. Furthermore, at the

age of 14, 15, 16 or 17, a person may have problems in his adoptive family and have recourse to a social services department outside the area in which he was originally adopted. If so, it would be helpful if that department were to have recourse to the original social services department, which could cast more light on that family's problems.

I do not see what all the fuss is about, especially given the register system. If the hon. Lady would prefer, some means could be used to enact the principle other than the adoption agencies mentioned in the not entirely adequate, but not ghastly, amendment. It is not so onerous a burden whatever body—perhaps an adoption agency—is used, so the fuss is unnecessary. To be told that one is adopted if one has not been told already is a fundamental right.

We might return to the incest angle in debate on other parts of the Bill; new clauses might be required. If a person who has turned 18 and become an adult still has no knowledge of the fact that he or she is adopted, there is a possibility—a slim one, although not as slim as one might think—that he or she will strike up a relationship with a young woman or man of similar age living in the area, and for the two of them to turn out to be brother and sister. That is not entirely fanciful. The Committee has received communications from certain people who expressed such fears as mothers. There was one person in particular whose son had been adopted and whose daughter had just turned 18 and was starting to go out with boys of a similar age. The family had not moved away from their original area, and there was a strong chance that the son was still in the area. It is difficult enough getting the information, if it can be acquired, about where a sibling is now residing, but young adults being left to their own devices after they turn 18, not knowing that they are adopted and so being unable to keep at the back of their mind that somebody might just be related to them, opens up all sorts of ghastly possibilities of their unwittingly committing acts that are still offences under the Sexual Offences Act 1956.

That is an important aspect and yet another reason why it is essential—and a fundamental right—that people who have not been told before they reach the age of 18 that they were adopted should automatically be told when they reach that age. Of course, the imparting of that information should be accompanied by all the necessary considerations and counselling.

The amendment is not probing; it reflects an important principle. The Government's response has been interesting—the Minister has asked for more time to consider the matter, and I hope that she will. On that basis, I will be happy to withdraw the amendment. I hope that the Minister is serious about her undertaking to consider the matter properly, and that she will either make proposals of her own, perhaps on Report, or give solid reasons why our suggestion would not work, perhaps by citing ramifications that have not emerged in our debates. If she repeats her undertakings—the phrases she used ranged from difficult'', to some sympathy'', to consider further'',

to a bit of a problem''—I will be happy to withdraw the amendment. None the less, we have had a useful discussion and opened up important new issues relating to some of the Bill's fundamental principles.

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

Welcome back Mrs. Roe.

I am happy to repeat the undertaking that I gave only three or four hours ago to consider the amendment in detail and to come back either with proposals or with further thoughts about the difficulties surrounding the issue. Our debate been conducted in a spirit of exploring ideas, which is appropriate to a Special Standing Committee. I hope that I do not sound irritated when I say that it is interesting that some people choose to treat my willingness to consider the various surrounding issues as a vehicle for criticism.

I shall not be oversensitive. I repeat my undertaking that the Government will consider the matter in more detail. There are issues and difficulties in terms of both principle and practicality, but I shall, as I said this morning, ensure that before Report and Third Reading, members of the Committee are clear about our views and intentions.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I should be relieved that I have not been accused of being mischievous, bad tempered, or even churlish. I am grateful for the Minister's comments. It was not clear from this morning's debate whether she would respond on this matter, but she has now made it absolutely clear that she will. There is no further need to pursue it, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to consider the following: Government amendments Nos. 217 and 232.

Government new clause 7—Disclosing protected information about adults.

Government new clause 8—Disclosing protected information about children.

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

We now—[Interruption.] I am glad that hon. Members have returned refreshed, keen and enthusiastic after their break. We come now to a significant debate on clause 58 stand part and related Government amendments and new clauses.

Clause 58 provides for the disclosure of information held by adoption agencies and courts to the adopted person when he reaches the age of 18. Previously, it gave the adopted adult a new right to receive from his adoption agency the same information as his adoptive parents received at the time of the adoption order. Amendment No. 205 provides the adopted adult with a new right to receive from his adoption agency prescribed information that is given to his adoptive parents under new clause 6. It is intended that he will receive the same information as his adoptive parents.

As now amended, the clause gives the adopted adult the right to receive from his adoption agency information, such as his birth name if he does not already know it, which is necessary for him to obtain a copy of his birth certificate from the Registrar-General. That is the key change, which demonstrates that we have listened and responded to concerns about restricting adopted persons' access to their birth certificates. As I said this morning, an adoption agency that wants to withhold the information that the adopted adult needs to obtain a copy of his birth certificate must now apply to the High Court for an order, and the court will grant such an order only if it is satisfied that the circumstances are exceptional.

The clause also gives the adopted adult the right to request from the court a copy of a prescribed document or prescribed order that relates to his adoption, provided it does not contain protected information about another person. As amended, it removes the restriction on access to information that would enable the adopted adult to obtain a copy of his birth certificate, so it fits into the overall structure of the provisions on access to specific forms of information. On clause 55, we discussed the release of information that was not protected; on new clauses 7 and 8, we shall discuss the Government's proposals for access to other identifying information, whether it relates to an adult or to a child.

Amendment No. 217 would amend clause 61, which provides for a group of powers through regulation. We intend to use those powers to balance the rights of individuals and to regulate the operation of the new duties that the provisions place on adoption agencies and the Registrar-General. The amendment provides for regulations that would allow the payment of a fee for the disclosure of information under clause 58 and in the prescribed circumstances under new clauses 7 and 8. It therefore ensures that the provisions in clause 61 on the payment of fees also relate to the new clauses.

Amendment No. 232 makes a consequential change, and is based on changes to clause 133 under new clauses 7 and 8. This minor consequential change provides for the commencement of the Bill. It provides for new clause 7, Disclosing protected information about adults'', and new clause 8, Disclosing protected information about children'', to be commenced by the appropriate Minister for England, the Secretary of State, and for Wales, the National Assembly. That is consistent with the fact that all the clauses in this group—clauses 53 to 62—are to be commenced by the appropriate Minister. The amendment makes the necessary consequential changes to the clause.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk 2:45, 10 Ionawr 2002

I am slightly confused. Will the Minister tell me why the words that amendment No. 232 would insert are in brackets?

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

I suspect that it has something to do with whether we have already debated and agreed the provision, or something like that—[Laughter.] Apparently, it has to do with the fact that they are the titles that will be given to new clauses 7 and 8, which I

was just about to come to before I was interrupted by the hon. Gentleman with that crucial point. I hope that he is reassured by my answer.

New clause 7 provides for the process that an adoption agency must undertake when an application is made for the disclosure of protected information about an adult. As I explained in my letter to the Committee, in the light of our change of approach to the birth records provisions, which we discussed at length, we have reconsidered the provisions for the disclosure of other protected information by adoption agencies to ensure that its disclosure is handled sensitively and in a way that ensures that the views of those who are identified therein are taken into account.

We tabled other amendments to give the agency discretion to take into account all the circumstances of the case, including the welfare of the adopted person and any views expressed by the person who would be identified by the disclosure. We will therefore propose that clause 59 should not stand part of the Bill and that subsections (5) and (6) of clause 58 should be omitted, as we set out in amendments Nos. 208 and 207.

New clause 7(1) provides that the new provisions will apply where

a person applies to the appropriate adoption agency for protected information''

none of the information is about a person who is a child at the time of the application.''

Subsection (2) provides that

The agency is not required to proceed with the application unless it considers it appropriate to do so.''

We envisage that it will be possible for that decision to be referred to the independent review mechanism that we have previously discussed. When an agency considers it appropriate to proceed with an application, it will be obliged by subsection (3) to—

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Romsey

May we go back to subsection (2)? I am slightly worried because agencies may take different approaches. How are we to ensure that there is consistency and that information is not withheld unless that is essential?

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

One of the ways in which we will ensure consistency is by setting out, as we do in new clauses 7 and 8, the conditions for the process of disclosure of information, and by using regulations to prescribe the considerations that adoption agencies might bear in mind at various stages of the process. What is important at the second stage, set out in new clause 7(2), is that the agency has discretion to decide not to continue with the process of identifying consent of the person about whom information is going to be provided where, for example, it is clear that that is an inappropriate approach, or it is vexatious or something like that. As I have suggested, the ability to refer that to an independent review will be another safeguard, ensuring that that decision is not made inappropriately by the agency.

The next step is that when an agency considers it appropriate to proceed with the application, subsection (3) obliges it to

take all reasonable steps to obtain the views of any person the information is about as to the disclosure of information about him.''

Subsection (4) gives the agency a

discretion to disclose the information if it considers it appropriate to do so.''

That is important because it enables the agency, in the light of particular circumstances or information, or despite the fact that somebody has consented to the disclosure of that information, to use its discretion as to whether disclosure would be appropriate in a given case. Subsection (5) provides that in making a decision under subsection (4) as to whether it is appropriate to disclose the information,

the agency must consider the welfare of the adopted person'' and any views obtained under subsection (3) of a person whom the information is about, any matters that might be prescribed in regulations, and

all the other circumstances of the case''.

Under subsection (6) we ensure that the clause does not apply to a request for information under clause 58(2) where, for example, a request is made by an adopted adult for either the information needed to enable him to obtain a certified copy of his birth record, or the information given by an agency to his adopters under new clause 6. Applications by an adopted person for the disclosure of all other protected information fall within the scope of the new clause.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd

I want to be clear about this. Is it the Minister's view that new clause 7 could be used by birth relatives to attempt to obtain information about an adopted adult, but that that would apply only to adoptions that take place after the Bill is enacted?

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

I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. That is the position with respect to all the access to information provisions that relate to the position subsequent to the enactment of the Bill.

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

I think that we have touched on the matter before. First, it is appropriate when people undertake an adoption that they are clear about the basis—especially in relation to access to information—on which they make that undertaking. They should be clear about what they are entering into. It is appropriate to draw a clear line between past and future adoptions, so that birth and adoptive parents and adopted people can be aware of their rights to access information, people have been informed and adoption agencies have had time to adjust their practices to their new responsibilities. When people enter into a difficult arrangement that is surrounded by emotion, is it not reasonable that they should do so with some certainty about the implications of future access to information about them?

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd 3:00, 10 Ionawr 2002

Does my hon. Friend accept that that principle was abandoned 27 years or so ago? Before 1975, adopted people were never given access to identifying information about themselves, but in 1975 the whole basis for adoption and access to information was changed. There is no principle at stake here that was not changed a long time ago.

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

I was not around then—I was around, but in school, not in Parliament. My understanding is that the discussions that took place then were about the same difficulties that I have identified. Certain provisions were made—we may discuss one of them later. People who had entered into an adoption based on certain information were concerned that that basis would be changed, which is why it was thought necessary to offer people counselling before giving them access to their birth records. It is right that we should make provision for the future. People should be certain about the provisions because they will cover the lifelong nature of their adoption.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

Whatever the Minister's impressions of what may or may not have been the problems at the time of the previous Act, and however much we try to make things better, the number of adoptions is now hitting 3,000 a year, which may increase, but at their peak in the 1960s, there were, albeit in different circumstances, 20,000 a year. Will she not acknowledge that not making the provisions retrospective will mean that many thousands, if not tens of thousands, of adopted people will lose out in the new arrangements? Those people have been waiting for a change in the law for many years, and they greatly outnumber those who have been adopted since 1976 and those likely to be adopted in the next few years. Those are the people who will feel excluded if the Minister does not alter the terms.

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

I have made it clear in principle why it may be inappropriate, during an adoption, to change the basis of legislation on which the people concerned undertook it. Retrospective legislation is difficult in various ways. It would certainly be difficult to introduce the new provisions and apply them retrospectively without causing considerable distress. Many birth parents, adoptive parents and adopted people would have to be informed of their rights under the new scheme. That is not necessarily an argument against doing so, but must be considered. The task would be complex and costly, and complicated by the fact that given the poor quality of past record-keeping many individuals would be difficult to trace. For some, it would be a disruptive intrusion years after they had been adopted.

As we said during this morning's sitting—the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) expressed some sympathy for this view—some people may not even know that they had been adopted. I understand that the present situation is unsatisfactory for many, but the risk is that rejecting the certainty over the position prior to the enactment of this Bill will bring significant problems and cause

great distress to people who believed that they understood the access to information basis of their adoption.

New clause 8 lays down the position with respect to the disclosure of information about a child, including, but not only, an adopted child. The Government thought it appropriate that the qualifications, hurdles or considerations given to the disclosure of protected information about a child should be different from those for an adult. When the request for information concerns an adopted child, the agency will be obliged to seek the views of the adoptive parents on a request for identifying information. In coming to any decision, the adopted child's welfare would be the paramount consideration.

Subsection (2) of new clause 8 provides that the agency is not obliged to proceed with an application for disclosure of information unless it considers it appropriate to do so. Subsection (6) provides that, in deciding whether to proceed with the application, the welfare of the adopted child must be paramount when any of the information involved relates to a person who at the time of the application is an adopted child. In the case of any other child, the agency must have particular regard to his welfare.

Under subsection (3), if the agency decides to proceed with the application, when the information relates to a child

the agency must take all reasonable steps to obtain...the views of any parent or guardian of the child'' as to the disclosure of the information. The agency must also obtain

the views of the child, if the agency considers it appropriate to do so having regard to his age and understanding''.

In other words, when a child is competent and the agency considers it appropriate, the child's consent should be sought.

When the agency decides to proceed with the application, under subsection (4), when the information relates to a person who has attained 18 years at the time of the application,

the agency must take all reasonable steps to obtain his views as to the disclosure of the information.''

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

This is a technical point. Subsection (1) of the new clause states:

This section applies where...any of the information is about a person who is a child''.

Subsection (4) then refers to someone attaining the age of 18 years. Is that compatible?

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

Subsection (4) is necessary because, if information related to both an adult and a child, the provisions in the new clause would be appropriate. In relation to the gaining of consent from the adult, the provisions are what we want.

Subsection (5) gives the agency a discretion to

disclose the information if it considers it appropriate to do so.''

That discretion must be exercised with regard to subsections (6) and (7).

The new clause relates not only to adopted children but to other children, so it is necessary to lay down the basis on which the interests of an adopted child and a

child who was not adopted would need to be considered if they were both covered by the same disclosure of information.

Subsection (7) further provides that, in deciding whether to disclose any information, the agency must consider the welfare of the adopted person. When the child is not adopted, paramountcy will apply. That is a similar point to the one on which I responded to the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly).

Under subsection (8), the clause

does not apply to a request for information under section 58(2)'', which concerns a request made by an adopted adult for the information needed to enable him to obtain a certified copy of his birth record or the information given by an agency to his adopters under new clause 6.

New clauses 7 and 8 outline the different processes for disclosing protected information about adults and children and ensure consistency in deciding the appropriateness of such disclosures. That is an improvement, as there has been concern about the lack of consistency resulting from the lack of direction that adoption agencies have been given about the way in which they disclose information. The new clauses also enable consideration to be given to the wishes of people about whom information is to be disclosed. The distinction between the new clauses recognises that some issues are particular to the disclosure of information about a child.

With that explanation, I hope that the Committee will feel able to support the provisions.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I wish to explore the new clauses further. I am not labouring the point for the sake of it, but it is difficult to follow the Minister. She talks about the effect of the new clauses on clause 58(2) information, but the provisions have been chopped around so much that I do not know what clause 58(2) information entails, and it is difficult to know what is intended.

A continuity of approach among different agencies is important. Some adoption agencies go out of their way to provide intermediary services, to be as helpful as possible and to provide as much information as they can to enable birth parents and adopted children to re-establish links. However, others—the services may be provided by local authorities or charities—do not. There is an enormous disparity in the level of service, and we must make considerable improvements.

The Minister said that agencies had a large degree of discretion not to take matters further when a very inappropriate or vexatious approach was made, but what does that mean? On what basis are vexatious approaches made? We have been told that people who have not been adopted have approached adoption agencies to get information, but what examples are there of that and what are the implications?

I did not understand the Minister when she talked about a birth parent making an approach to an agency. The agency would take soundings from the adopted adult, who might make it clear that they did not want to be contacted, but would that be an absolute veto? By saying no, does the adopted adult

put an end to any further searches, or could a birth parent still be given information even though the adopted adult had exercised some sort of veto?

There is still a great degree of greyness about what happened at the time of the previous Act, to which the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy alluded. In the Minister's detailed understanding—I am not talking just about what happened when she and I were at school—was there really some form of legal arrangement whereby anybody adopted before the enactment of that Act was cut out of any of these processes? Everything that I have read suggests a different story. What is the legal basis for not extending that degree of coverage retrospectively to older adoptions, rather than just getting it right in the future, which I am pleased that we are doing?

My key point is that we are considering a substantial number of individuals who were adopted over the past 50 years. Far fewer people have been adopted since the 1976 Act than those who are affected and have lived for many years without being able to make such contact. For many, doing so will be a traumatic experience, and we need to strike a balance, whether by a system of veto or something else. I have mixed views. I have not been convinced by the Minister why such people should be completely left out of the new processes.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd 3:15, 10 Ionawr 2002

I agree that the hon. Gentleman has mixed up views. I am afraid that I appear to have convinced the wrong Front Bencher on some of the issues. For information, I understand that the Labour MP Phillip Whitehead, in giving testimony about his own experiences of adoption, persuaded the House to make the provisions retrospective.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I said not that my views were mixed up but that they were mixed; nor do I think that I am the wrong Front Bencher. Indeed, it would have been good earlier if the hon. Gentleman and some of his colleagues had had more influence over their Front Benchers and sorted out some of the discrepancies and confusion.

When I asked the simple question why, the Minister cited three reasons for not extending the provisions. She said first that it would be too costly. I challenge her to explain why that would be so, as there is of course a fee involved. Many, if not most, birth parents who launch a search are prepared to pay a fee. For those who cannot, there are adoption agencies that are charities. They have, or are prepared to make available, a charitable facility to cover that cost.

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

The hon. Gentleman has chosen to use the issue of cost as the first of the matters that I raised. I think that I said that it would be costly but that I did not consider that to be the most significant issue.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I referred to three reasons. I should be interested to know which is the most significant and which are minor considerations that, if overcome by some of the suggestions that I have made, would no longer be barriers. If cost is not a big bar, that is fine.

The Minister said secondly that people might be difficult to trace because of the way in which records were kept in the past. If the information is no longer available because the records of certain agencies have not been as good as they might have been, that is the end of the matter. However, in the many cases for which there are records, there is not a problem. Nobody is asking for something that no longer exists. It is a different matter if all proper efforts are made to get hold of the information but people are thwarted by lack of disclosure.

The third point—perhaps the Minister thinks that it is the most important, and if so I have a degree of sympathy with her, which is why I said that there should be some balance and why it is crucial that there be a proper, balanced intermediate service provider, making careful judgments—was that such provision might be a disruptive intrusion into people's lives many years after adoption. That might be a legitimate consideration. I am trying to establish what the Minister's objections really are. How thoroughly have the Government looked into the issues? How does she rate them on a scale ranging from completely insurmountable to might be surmountable with discussion and other arrangements?

From our correspondence and discussions with people involved in adoption, we know that many have waited years for a system that makes it easier, or possible where it is now impossible, for them to gain information that may re-establish a link between an adopted child and a birth parent. As the evidence produced by Professor Triseliotis and others showed, in the vast majority of cases that opportunity proves extremely welcome.

Of course it is right that the paramountcy principle of the interest of the child is the focal point of the Bill. However, many people are involved in adoption other than the adopted children, as there are many birth parents and siblings as well. Again, it may be necessary to revisit these issues on Report or table some new clauses, as the Bill has gaps related to the ability of siblings to make contact. At the moment, there is a distinct lack of intermediary services whereby siblings could meet, and I cannot see how that will be greatly improved by some of the provisions in the Bill. We await the outcome of the consultation process on that as well. Those are my concerns.

We welcome the changes that lead on from the change of heart on access to information that we have debated. We will not oppose the clause but, before we can go along with the extent of what the Government suggest, we need to know for sure—as do, more importantly, many thousands of people who have been waiting a long time—why the terms of the Bill cannot be extended retrospectively rather than merely applying to the future. It would be fine if the Government could provide a watertight case for that, having reconsidered what happened in the mid-70s

and proven that there was some legal agreement at the time, but up to now such a case has not been made clear. I will need more convincing. The Minister should be far clearer than she has been, not only for my sake, but more importantly for that of the many people who have been involved in the process.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd

I hope that I have not bored hon. Members by banging on about this subject in Committee and on Second Reading, but I would like to pursue it again a little further, in the spirit of exploration that the Minister described.

I was interested to hear the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham—perhaps—change position slightly on the issue. Any movement down the road has been passionately opposed from the Conservative Back Benches by the hon. Member for Huntingdon, who talked about the past deal or agreement in the triangle of adoption, which he suggested it would be wrong to destabilise. I respect his sincerity in suggesting that, but it is interesting how those views have changed a little as we have discussed the Bill.

New clause 7 is welcome, but it ought to apply retrospectively. I welcome it because it probably is not always helpful to talk about rights, as the Minister rightly said this morning. The new clause provides an opportunity.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that much of the difference between him and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham could be met in the middle if new clause 7 were retrospective but new clause 8 were not? One affects adults only, and the other affects children.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd

It is not my intention to argue that new clause 8 should be retrospective. I am trying to make a special case for new clause 7. I do so because it provides opportunities rather than rights. I want to persuade the Minister that that is what we are trying to do rather than enshrining rights in legislation.

When the Bill becomes law, the clause will apply to no one. It will have an effect only once adoptions take place after that time. If we are to provide opportunities, we should do so in the spirit of providing equal opportunities. Birth relatives have been my particular concern throughout the Bill and should be given equal opportunities to access services and get hold of information.

I emphasise the needs of women whose children were adopted prior to 1975. There was a different cultural setting then, and adoptions were often what we would regard as coerced, with babies almost taken off those women. There were great pressures on women who had babies when they were unmarried to give up their babies for adoption. Those women are a special group because they have been left with a hole in their lives and with a great longing to know what happened to their children. They are now very elderly, and time is running out for them. They would be aided by making new clause 7 retrospective.

The Minister said that the question of whether adoptions at that time were made on an agreed basis perhaps raised a point of principle, which it would be wrong to breach. However, I do not think that we can talk of a principle, because events in the mid-70s blew the issue wide open for ever. The Government's moves in the mid-1970s retrospectively to change the basis on which adoptions could be considered in England and Wales influenced Commonwealth countries such as Canada, New Zealand and Australia to follow a similar path and to take matters a step further than I suggest. Those countries could provide us with empirical evidence because they have taken the path that I suggest, and without significant problems. That said, I understand the Minister's concern about the impact of such measures on adopted adults.

It is, of course, possible that misery will be visited on an adopted adult if the new clause is accepted—I think that that was the Minister's point. However, that is a possible consequence of anything that we do. Burke was mentioned this morning, and I could perhaps mention Jeremy Bentham. Should we not concentrate on the greatest happiness for the greatest number? The utility that we would create by making the new clause retrospective and giving birth parents from an earlier era the opportunity to seek information would far outweigh what all the evidence suggests would be the very small number of cases in which approaches would be unwelcome and where even the knowledge that someone was seeking information might be unwelcome. The happiness—for want of a better expression—that such an approach would create for those birth parents would far outweigh the problems. I am not making that statement blindly; the evidence suggests that it is true. I shall not repeat the statistics that I gave the Committee before Christmas, but they show overwhelmingly that a retrospective provision would be welcome.

I appreciate the Minister's point that such a provision would be complicated and costly, although she did not say that cost would be the main problem. The provision may well be complicated, but it may not be as costly as she believes. The fear might be that there will be a flood of applications for information if we were to make the clause retrospective. That would, however, prove my point entirely and show that there was a powerful demand on the part of those affected. We would deny them the opportunity to exercise that demand if we did not make the clause retrospective. This is one of those opportunities that come along once in a generation. We should take it now, because it will be the last opportunity for the generation of people who have suffered this cruel and unusual punishment. To do so would be one way towards righting a historical injustice, particularly against women.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. He will not be offended if I say that it is slightly unfortunate that he referred to Australia and New Zealand, because the academic evidence that we received confirmed what a number of us already knew about those countries. Sadly, in an otherwise very good social system, adoption has tended to fail

miserably in Australia, and the New Zealand system is modelled on the Australian one. There are very few adoptions there because of too much openness. None the less, the hon. Gentleman has made a powerful point.

I should like to make two small, detailed points, which could open the way to making new clause 7 retrospective without causing some of the problems hinted at by the Minister. First, I emphasise the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham that it should be made abundantly clear that there is no duty where there is no information. We cannot start imposing extra duties on people to struggle to find records that no longer exist. The phraseology must be reasonable. Small, struggling voluntary organisations responsible for adoption must not feel that a huge extra burden has been placed on them.

Secondly, I am sure that it is in order for me to refer to a useful conversation that I had at lunch time with some of the parties who take an interest in the Bill. Although I feel that there may be scope for extending new clause 7 retrospectively, I have received a representation from the other side of the argument, from a very articulate adopter, who said that he was sometimes made to feel that it was somehow wicked if his children did not try to make contact with their birth parents. If the measure is to be extended retrospectively, it is important that the regulations make it clear that the consultation of those whom the information concerns, which is set out in a very good subsection of new clause 7, should be carefully conducted and that nobody should be made to feel that it is their duty to contact anybody just because they happen to be a birth relative.

With those two caveats, there is a lot to be said for new clause 7. In particular, it applies only to adults, so, in making it retrospective, there is no question of the measure affecting families with children.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre 3:30, 10 Ionawr 2002

I approve of new clause 7. It is carefully drafted and takes a balanced approach to a sensitive subject. It makes it plain that a careful approach is required. First, a person has to apply to an appropriate agency for protected information. The agency is not required to proceed with the application unless it considers it appropriate to do so, but if it does proceed with the application, it must take all reasonable steps'' to obtain the views of any person about whom information is sought; the agency then has another opportunity to review whether it is appropriate to disclose that information. The new clause also makes it clear that the agency must consider above all the welfare of the adopted person, and any other views. It is a well-drafted provision.

I had assumed that siblings of people who had been adopted would also be able to seek information under the provisions.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

In thoroughly agreeing with what the hon. Gentleman has said—the new clause is one of the best parts of the Bill—I would like to say that it shows that we can get really important and sensitive detail in the Bill, rather than leaving it to regulation.

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

The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point.

I am concerned that the clause applies only to adoptions made under the Bill. A graphic illustration of that fact is that on the day the Bill is enacted and for years afterwards not a single person will be able to benefit, because they will be ineligible to apply for information under the Bill. We are talking only about adoptions made after enactment, and the new clause refers only to adults, so chances are that it could be tens of years, or even longer, before many of those involved in adoptions made under the legislation will be eligible. That is especially true in the light of the appropriate trend towards open adoptions, whereby the number of people who will need to seek information will diminish markedly.

Conversely, while this excellent piece of legislation is not being used by anyone, standing on the sidelines will be a large group of people who would like to use it, or even need to use it, but cannot take advantage of it. The other glaring anomaly is that a number of people in that group would be able to benefit from the enlightened approach of some adoption agencies in some parts of the country: they would be able to gain information, but that would be tremendously unfair given that people will be reliant on the good practice that is embodied in the Bill.

The evidence given to the Committee by Professor Triseliotis and others is that people will generally benefit from the Bill's provisions. If problems arise, however, the Bill is explicitly weighted in the interests of those who have been adopted. There is little chance that anyone seeking information will be able to obtain it against the wishes of the person who has been adopted.

I am disappointed in the clause, because it may not be used to its fullest extent. I stand to be corrected, but it is not even retrospective. It should represent a new opportunity for a particular group of people who have been through a particular process—often in the dim and distant past. Although I support the provision, I hope that my hon. Friend will reflect over the next weeks whether to offer people who are currently denied it access to use the Bill. That would be very much in their human interests and would continue the role adopted by the Government of righting historic wrongs in the care system.

Nothing is perfect. We cannot solve everything for everybody, even if we want to. The information will not exist in many cases; in others, acquiring it will be complex and difficult—perhaps too difficult. However, there are people who could benefit tremendously from the Bill. We can do some real good through the new clause by extending it to embrace the group of people who are, as it stands, to be excluded.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

On several occasions I have given my views about aspects of the Bill being retrospective, including those parts that deal with access to information. I shall not rehearse those arguments again, other than to make one point which came to mind after we last discussed the issue. It relates to statistics, which have often been mentioned. Statistics can only have been collected from people whose records have been accessed and with whom contact has been made. By definition, a 70-year-old who has not been approached by a birth parent and who does not know that he was adopted cannot be included in such statistics. Therefore, to say after they have been approached that people would automatically have had a certain view before they were approached is a non sequitur. That is not necessarily so. Once somebody has been approached, it is more than likely—and wholly understandable—that they will want to make the best of their situation and put the best aspect on it.

The hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made an important point about the scope of delegation in adoption agencies—that is, how they make the decisions regarding access to information. Presumably, agencies delegate decisions in different ways: councils may have a committee policy to determine to whom decisions should be delegated, while non-council adoption agencies may have a policy forum that discusses who will make decisions for them. I wonder whether there has been any standardisation in the past and whether Governments have taken an interest in how decisions are made. It is an issue worth exploring, if that has not yet been done, in terms of guidelines and good practice.

I have two other concerns. The first just requires clarification. The Minister said that the clause 12 mechanism—the right of appeal, which will be important in terms of the application of these provisions—will apply to new clause 7. I will be grateful if she confirms that it will apply also to the provisions of new clause 8, which I do not think she mentioned.

Finally, if the answer of an adoption agency was Yes, you can have information,'' but one of the people who had been consulted said, No, I don't want that information to be given,'' and the adoption agency took the decision that, in the circumstances, the information should be released, as things stand the individual would have no way to appeal or to stop that decision before the adoption agency released the information, and once the information had been released, an appeal against its release would be meaningless. Will the Minister provide some clarification on that? If a negative view were expressed and the adoption agency were minded to consent to the release of the information, might there be a case for adjudication by the panel?

Photo of Meg Munn Meg Munn Labour/Co-operative, Sheffield, Heeley 3:45, 10 Ionawr 2002

I support much of what has been said about the clause by hon. Members on both sides of the Committee, although I have some sympathy with the Minister's view that birth parents may approach an

agency and the agency may approach an adopted adult at a bad time for that adult, thus causing some disruption and distress. However, we know that the decision by adopted adults to seek out their birth parents is often taken after several years' consideration: for example, people who were adopted in the 60s and early 70s often start to think more about their birth parents when they have their own children. They choose to make the search at the right time for them, but clearly one of the dangers of the provision being retrospective is that the approach may not be made at a good time.

Having said that, the knowledge that birth parents or siblings are seeking contact and want to pass on information may in itself be important information for the adopted person in reaching a decision about seeking out his or her origins. The fear of rejection by a birth parent is often extremely off-putting to an adopted adult who is deciding whether to search. An adoptive father with whom I placed some children and who had been adopted himself dithered for many years about whether to start a search for fear that his birth mother would not want anything to do with him.

For many adopted adults, knowing that people want to contact them—that the circumstances in which they were adopted were not ideal and they were not rejected as babies—can be extremely important in enabling them to take steps to begin a search earlier. Time runs out for some people. There is nothing more heartbreaking for a person seeking contact than to find that his birth parent died perhaps only six months or a year before and that had he taken the step sooner, he might have had some positive contact with his parent.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd

Does my hon. Friend agree that it can be beneficial if contact is initiated by birth relatives? Research shows that three quarters of non-searching adopted adults do not feel comfortable about asking their adoptive parents about their birth families, so it can be helpful if contact is initiated by the birth family.

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

I certainly accept the conclusions of the research to which my hon. Friend refers. That is especially relevant to earlier cases, in which adoptive parents were given the child and told to get on with it and act if the child were their own. They may have done that for years with all good intent, but it can result in adopted children finding it very difficult to search for their birth parents.

In conclusion, although there are some dangers and difficulties involved in people being contacted at a time that is not appropriate for them, if the process is carried out with the sensitivity embodied in the clause, I feel on balance that the provision should apply to all adults who have been adopted and that it would be a beneficial way in which to proceed.

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

I rise to add my support to those who have spoken in favour of all adults being able to receive information on their birth parents. Of course there are inherent risks, eloquently stated by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), but we should grasp the principle and ask ourselves whether we agree that

information should flow and that adults should be able to make choices. Yes, there are risks, but the arguments are overriding: the flow of information should be allowed so that adults can make decisions on whether they want to hear from their birth parents. People should be able to make those decisions for themselves.

We have often discussed at what age children should be consulted. The hon. Member for Huntingdon said that children aged two or three should be consulted on whether they want to be adopted. If he agrees with that principle, surely he agrees that 18-year-olds should be able to decide whether they want to hear from their birth parents. Of course, there are complexities, but we should not put the matter in the tray marked too difficult''.

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

We have an interesting discussion. I am glad that the general consensus is to recognise the benefits of new clauses 7 and 8. Rather than reiterate those benefits, I shall respond to some of the issues raised in the debate.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham was concerned that the new clauses might lead to greater disparity between adoption agencies' approaches. In fact, what the new clauses aim to do—and will succeed in doing, when they are enacted—is provide a much clearer and more structured process than currently exists. That will enhance consistency and provide better and more appropriate safeguards. One intention is to ensure that agencies follow best practice and are as consistent as possible. Agencies will need advice: I do not want to disappoint the hon. Member for Canterbury but, despite the Bill's excellent content, we shall underpin the provisions with regulations and guidance.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

I know that the Minister enjoys a tease. My point is that one wants to have the cardinal points in the Bill itself, leaving the detail to regulations.

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

I shall not respond to his initial comment, but I take the hon. Gentleman's point.

I have a further point to make about discrepancy and disparity. The responses to the adoption White Paper and the problems identified around access to information were related to the fact that current law and regulations give minimal guidance on that important issue, which has led to patchy provision and to some adoption agencies following best practice while others do not. New clauses 7 and 8 will make much clearer what best practice should be, which will get rid of the current disparities.

Hon. Members also raised issues about adoption agencies' discretion in their decisions on whether to proceed, as I spelled out when I described the process under new clauses 7 and 8. The adopted person will not have a veto, although his views and welfare are important. The agency would decide whether it was appropriate to disclose, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, the adopted person's welfare and any other prescribed services. There is no absolute veto.

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

I accept everything that my hon. Friend says about the adopted person having no absolute right of veto, but surely she agrees that it would be extraordinary if an agency went against the wishes of the adopted person and gave information about him to someone else.

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

My hon. Friend is right that such circumstances would be extraordinary. However, we have not touched the subject of discretion when it is not possible to contact the person to obtain consent or otherwise. Discretion would clearly have to be exercised in such cases. There could be circumstances in which it was considerably in the best interests of the adopted person for information to be passed on about him, despite the fact that he had not consented. I am thinking of information in relation to certain medical issues.

What is important about the new clauses is that they make significant provision for the consent, wishes and interests of people about whom information is disclosed to be at the centre of the decision. Nevertheless, in some situations it may be important that the adoption agency exercises some discretion.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does not the provision offer an opportunity simply to give an absolute veto in retrospective cases? Would that not be a sensible compromise?

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

I shall deal with the retrospective issue. My argument relates to the fact that, for a veto to be given, an approach must have been made in a way unlike those detailed at the moment.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon asked whether, if a person objected to the disclosure of information but the agency considered it appropriate to disclose it, there would be a fait accompli against which there was no appeal, or whether there would still be the right to a review by an independent panel. There would be such a right. When a party objects to the agency's intention to disclose and the agency then decides to do so, the objecting party would have to be informed by the agency of their right to an independent review.

Much of the debate on the new clauses has been about the extent to which new clause 7 should be retrospective. I have covered some of the legal disadvantages of retrospective legislation. Many of the arguments made, including those of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and, although not in the same words, my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West, have been based on the suggestion that birth relatives were in some way being left out of any opportunity to access information about their adopted children. My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) said that there would be no benefit for years to come.

I consider it unsatisfactory to make legislation retrospective so that it would affect people who entered into an arrangement under a different understanding of the legal position. I draw a distinction between that and what it might nevertheless be possible to do for those who were adopted before the enactment of the Bill. I understand the points that have been made about people's strong

desire for more help in getting information about an adopted adult or child and their need to be able to make contact. Perhaps I should outline for the Committee—reiterating part of the discussion that took place before Christmas—how the Bill already enables assistance to be given for making contact and tracing. I hope that I will be able to reassure some hon. Members.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 4:00, 10 Ionawr 2002

I am glad that the Minister is going to do that. However, what was the agreement into which people entered in the past? What were its legal ramifications, if it existed? How many people were affected by it and can we class separately those who entered into an agreement and those who did not or had different treatment? I want to get to the bottom of what happened in the mid-70s because it is such a grey area and I do not think that the Minister has got to the bottom of it herself.

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

Perhaps I misled the hon. Gentleman in talking about an agreement. I am not talking about a formal agreement. It is reasonable that, when a person undertakes adoption under a certain legislative position, they have some certainty that that position will continue. Making the legislation retrospective would take away the certainty of the legislative basis for their actions enjoyed by people who entered into adoption before the enacting of the Bill.

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

Surely the people who entered into adoption in the past were birth parents who, if the new clause were made retrospective, would be the very people who would be able to decide whether to make use of it? If not, then they were adoptive parents whose adopted children have long since become adult. I do not understand the Minister's objection.

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

Yes, that would be so, but although adopted adults would not have made a conscious decision to enter into an agreement, there are such adults—I spoke about them before Christmas—who do not want to be contacted by their birth parents. People are very passionate about that and about the fact that they do not even want intermediary services or to be contacted to be asked whether or not they consent. In the future, such objections will not be open to adults who were adopted after the Bill had been enacted, but taking from people adopted before that point what they considered to be a legal certainty by making the new clause retrospective would be difficult and problematic, even, quite frankly, wrong. That is the problem with making legislation retrospective. Notwithstanding that, I intend to go on to talk about the very many ways in which we can facilitate contact for those people who want it and who were adopted prior to the enactment of the Bill.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

May I rephrase the second point of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre? I agree with everything that the Minister said about retrospection, but the parties to the contract were two sets of adults. The contract dealt with a child or in some cases a baby. We are now dealing with a new adult who was not

party to that contract. We could give those who do not want any contact an absolute veto by slightly modifying the retrospective angle of new clause 7, but I cannot see how the principle of non-retrospection could apply to a new adult who was not privy to the original contract, which was made to protect the children in an adoptive relationship, and the adoptive parents and their children. We are talking about new adults who were not part of the original contract; provided that they have a veto, I cannot see the Minister's objection to retrospection.

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

I have already responded to the point on the veto; contact will be necessary for the veto to be exercised. It would be useful if I continue—some hon. Members might then think more positively about what the Bill would enable us to do.

Mr. Brazier rose—

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

I have tried four times to continue, but I shall give way once more.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister is generous indeed. A brief mention of a constituency case might illustrate the difference that the Minister has touched upon. A constituent of mine with a terrible medical difficulty fell into exactly the category that the Minister has outlined. My constituent was absolutely passionate that she wanted to have nothing to do with her birth parents; she did not want to know who they were. As her Member of Parliament, I had to organise a third-party search to establish a medical fact for her without such contact taking place. If we turn that round the other way, we would have a constituent who falls exactly into the Minister's category. Were an adoption agency to approach that constituent and say We are anxious that you receive some medical information from your birth parents, even though we know that you want nothing to do with them. Would you like us to pass on this file to you?'' surely there could be no objection. She can still refuse to see the file.

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

I am not sure that that adds much to our discussion. I shall now make progress.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

The arguments against retrospection are not persuasive. If there were an agreement or contract between those two sets of adults, under the main public policy thrust of the Bill, which is the welcome paramountcy of the interests of the child, the interests of the child would dictate that that information should be disclosed, surely it should override any agreement entered into—

Mr. Shaw rose—

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

I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw) is continuing to point out that no one has argued that new clause 8, as it relates to children, should be retrospective. The argument is about adults.

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

I now come to what it is possible to do without retrospection, and to deal with some of the concerns raised by hon. Members. We have already discussed the intermediary services, which are at the heart of some of the points raised today. The adoption support provisions of the Bill, which are an improvement over the March version of the Bill, include a provision to offer adoption support services to a wider group of people than adopted people and their families. As I said before Christmas, the Bill has made possible the future consideration, as part of the framework of adoption support, of the extent to which intermediary services should be made available. It will be possible for those intermediary services to be made available to people adopted prior to enactment of this Bill. We have also argued that we would like to see agencies take a positive and compassionate view of approaches made by birth relatives who wish to trace people from whom they were separated. I believe that I referred to that before Christmas. To ensure some consistency in the process, we produced guidance on the provision of intermediary services, so there is opportunity, subject to the framework and to consultation, for consideration of intermediary services.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd

I apologise for intervening again on my hon. Friend because I know that she has taken many interventions. I also apologise for not paying tribute to the statement that she made about intermediary services before Christmas. However, if such services become available to birth parents in the case of adoptions that took place before the enactment of the Bill, will those birth parents be able to seek identifying information from the Registrar-General through a current agency and an intermediary service provided by regulation?

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

I think that I might be coming on to cover that point in relation to the improvements that the Bill will make to the adoption contact register. That register enables an adopted person to register on one list and a birth parent or relative to register on another list and facilitates the linking of the two. Clauses 77 and 78 will extend the existing service so that an adopted person's registration on part 1 may signify either a desire for contact with any relatives, contact with specified relatives or no contact. A birth relative's registration on part 2 may signify a desire for contact, or for no contact, with a specified adopted person. Interestingly, people sometimes state explicitly that they want to register the fact that they do not want to have any contact at all. That further important service will take account of some of the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn).

I have made my point on my concern about retrospective legislation. We are discussing a sensitive issue and I believe that the Government have gone a significant way down the track of recognising that sensitivity through what we have said about intermediary services and the improvements to the adoption contact register. We recognise the needs of birth parents to be supported in any approaches that

they make, while accepting that it is not possible to have a right for birth parents and a right for adopted adults. At some point, a choice must be made about whose rights are paramount.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham raised a point about siblings. I can assure him that siblings will be covered, post Bill, by the provisions in new clauses 7 and 8 and, pre Bill, by the intermediary services and adoption support provisions and I think also—I shall correct this if I am wrong—by the adoption contact register.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon asked whether the right of referral to independent review covered the provisions of new clause 8. The answer is yes.

We have had a wide-ranging discussion. There is a consensus that the Government's new clauses and clause 58 provide a much more coherent structure for the provision of access to information. That fulfils our pledge in the adoption White Paper, and, on that basis, I hope that they will receive the Committee's support.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 58, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.