Clause 61 - Other provision to be made by regulations

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:30 pm ar 10 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 4:30, 10 Ionawr 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 212, in page 34, leave out lines 31 to 33.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendments Nos. 213 to 216.

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

The clause provides for a group of powers through regulations that we intend to use to balance the rights of individuals, and to regulate the operation of the new duties for adoption agencies and the Registrar-General. As the Committee has discussed, the Government have changed the original approach that we set out in the Bill in relation to access to birth certificates and any other protected information. The changes are provided for in new clause 7(3) and new clause 8(3) and (4). Clause 61(2)(a) and (b), which provided for regulations to prescribe the circumstances in which a person may object to the disclosure of information about himself, and how he may do so, are therefore no longer needed. They are taken out by amendment No. 212.

Amendment No. 213 is a consequential amendment to clause 61(2)(c) that omits reference to the manner in which objections to disclosure are to be recorded. Amendment No. 214 omits subsections (2)(d) and (e), which provide for regulations to prescribe under paragraph (d) the circumstances in which objections are to be treated as effective and, under paragraph (e), the circumstances in which a person may be treated as having objected to the disclosure of any information.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

I have a technical point. Amendment No. 216 leaves out paragraph (b), which is fair enough. However, amendment No. 212 leaves out lines 31 to 33. Would it not have been easier to have left out paragraphs (a) and (b)?

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

I assure the hon. Gentleman that, when the Government table amendments, we have in mind not ease but ensuring that we deliver our policy commitments. I assure him that the amendments do so.

Amendment No. 215 is a consequential amendment that replaces object'' in subsection (3)(a) with give their views as''. The effect is that regulations may require adoption agencies to give prescribed persons prescribed information about their rights, or opportunities to give their views on the disclosure of information under clauses 53 to 62, rather than to object to the disclosure of information under those clauses. Those amendments are consequential on the policy changes that have removed the ability for objections to be made in certain circumstances to the giving of information for access to a birth certificate. They follow on from the decisions that the Committee made earlier.

Amendment No. 216 is also consequential and omits subsection (3)(b), which provides that

Regulations may require adoption agencies to make enquiries in prescribed circumstances to ascertain whether a person objects to the disclosure of information about him''.

Once again, as we have removed the statutory ability to make such objection, that particular paragraph is no longer needed.

Those are the reasons for the amendments and I hope that the Committee will support them.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

All that was as plain as mud. I want more clarification. Amendments Nos. 212, 213, 214 and 216 appear to be slashing away at the Bill for the reasons that the Minister outlined. However, I am not clear what the difference is between object'' and give their views as''. Does that amount to a watering down, so that an objection will not be seen as such? Does it amount to a declassification of objections, along the lines of there is no power of veto'', which we discussed earlier? What is the point of changing object'' to give their views as''?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

I should like to address the same point. In an earlier discussion the Minister said that objections to the disclosure of information would relate to new clause 7 and new clause 8, and could be taken to a clause 12 panel. That being the case, what is objectionable about the use of object''?

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

I am sure that hon. Members will remember that the problem with access to information was that in the case of birth records it was possible for birth parents to object to information being made available to enable people to access their birth records. As we have discussed today, the changes that the Government have subsequently made mean that new clauses 7 and 8 now spell out that such disclosure cannot be objected to. The adopted person has a right to the information required to access their birth record. Only in exceptional circumstances would the adoption agency refer the matter to the High Court.

Previously, the references to object'' in the clause related only to access to birth records. All hon. Members have agreed that we should change the provisions on that, and the Government have done so. The effect of that change is to remove the need for the regulations to require clarification of the nature of the objection. It does not undermine the points that I made in response to the earlier debate about how consent will be sought, what the safeguards are around

that consent, or the nature of the discretion, such as it is, surrounding decisions following the granting of such consent. The system for all identifying information apart from birth records is now based on the idea of seeking consent. It is therefore no longer appropriate to have parts relating to a capacity to object'', because that no longer appears in the rest of the legislation.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 213, in page 34, line 34, leave out from 'which' to end of line.

No. 214, in page 34, leave out lines 36 to 38.

No. 215, in page 34, line 43, leave out 'object' and insert 'give their views as'.

No. 216, in page 34, line 45, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 217, in page 35, line 14, after '58', insert

'[Disclosing protected information about adults] or [Disclosing protected information about children]'.

No. 209, in page 35, line 15, leave out 'or 59'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

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

I beg to move amendment No. 210, in page 35, line 16, leave out from 'person' to 'by' in line 17 and insert

'who (but for his adoption) would be related to him'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 229.

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

The amendments improve the drafting around the definition of relative'' in clause 61, and, consequentially, in clause 78. The word is defined in a circular manner in the Bill. It is defined as

any person (other than an adoptive relative) who is related to the adopted person by blood (including half-blood) or marriage.''

The amendments clarify that definition.

Amendment No. 210 changes subsection (6), which provides for regulations for the payment of fees to the adoption agency by anybody other than the adopted person in respect of any information disclosed to him about a birth relative. The access to information provisions place new duties on adoption agencies, and it is important that they provide that service at no cost to the adopted person when he is seeking information about a birth relative.

There will be an obligation on agencies to take all reasonable steps to seek the views of the person who would be identified. That will require them to engage in research work, to contact individuals, to use the information that they have, and—possibly—to gather more information, if their current records do not enable them to trace that individual. Adoption agencies will also have the discretion to charge a fee to a person, other than an adopted person, who is seeking protected information about a birth relative, to cover only their costs in acting on an application for such information.

Amendment No. 229 clarifies the definition of relative'' for the purposes of clause 77. It is intended to assist the Registrar-General in the determination of the criteria used to decide whether to make an entry on part 2 of the adoption contact register. As I have spelled out to the Committee, the Registrar-General is

precluded from making an entry on part 2 of the register unless the person is over 18 years of age and the Registrar-General is satisfied that that person is the relative of an adopted person. In determining whether an applicant is a relative of an adopted person, the Registrar-General is bound by the definition in the clause. The amended definition makes it clear that the applicant must be related to the adopted person by blood—including half-blood—or marriage.

The intention behind the amendments is to ensure—both in relation to clause 61 and the regulations around fees, and in relation to clause 77 and the situation with respect to the Registrar-General defining a relative for the purposes of the adoption contact register—that the definition of relative is clearly drafted, and that there is no confusion.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk 4:45, 10 Ionawr 2002

I listened carefully to the Minister. However, I feel strongly that nothing could be clearer than

adopted person by blood (including half-blood) or marriage'', whereas what we are substituting is

who (but for his adoption) would be related to him''.

It seems in some ways slightly insulting to say but for his adoption''. Such people are related, regardless of the adoption. Obviously he or she is related to the adoptive siblings. When a family adopts a child, the adopted child becomes related to the birth children of the adoptive parents, but he will always be related to his true—or birth—siblings. The provision complicates matters and is slightly insulting.

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

I do not have much more to add to my previous comments. We believe that the proposed drafting is clearer than the previous drafting. The suggestion that it is insulting is silly, dare I say it. On that basis, I am sure that hon. Members will support the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 61, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.