Clause 126 - Rules of procedure

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:45 pm ar 17 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Romsey 2:45, 17 Ionawr 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 243, in page 70, line 24, after '(4)', insert 'and the child'.

This is yet another probing amendment. I wish to highlight the voice of the child. I seek clarification on how the rules of procedure can ensure the full and proper representation of children in placement and adoption proceedings. I admit to a certain surprise that the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) did not pre-empt me on this, because he and outside agencies have often raised concerns about the voice of the child in the Bill.

Despite the declared aim to put the child at the centre of the Bill, this legislation does not ensure that the abuse of children is given the fullest possible weight. That is especially important given that adoption is an irrevocable process. Clause 1(4)(a) provides that the court or the adoption agency must have regard to a child's ascertainable wishes and feelings. It is right that they should be considered—according to the child's age and understanding—but, despite the intention, it is disappointing that the child's voice is not given more prominence. It is essential that children's wishes and feelings are given the fullest possible weight, bearing in mind the previously mentioned parameters. The Bill should, therefore, set out a clear mechanism to ensure that their views are fully and properly represented to the court in all cases.

That should happen independently of the adoption agency, the applicants and the birth parents, if that proves necessary.

Article 6 of the European convention on human rights and article 12 of the UN convention on the rights of the child are relevant to the rights and representation of children. Article 12 states:

''State Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child . . . For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.''

The explanatory notes state that

''the child shall automatically be a party to proceedings in placement order cases, and shall be able to apply to the court for leave to be made a party to adoption proceedings.''

Many people believe that consultation on the rules is necessary at the earliest opportunity, and it would be helpful if the Minister could give a little more detail about their proposed content, the timetable for consultation and—this is probably beyond hope—whether the timetable will allow for consideration of the rules during the passage of the Bill.

Adoption should proceed on the basis of the adoption agency and the court making sufficient and thorough investigations. It is also important that a children's guardian is appointed to investigate the child's welfare in every adoption case, with an independent check being made of social work practice. If there were a problem with the proposed adoption in the child's view, the children's guardian would alert the court, as appropriate. Every child would have an independent voice through their guardian, but older children could also have an input into the proceedings.

I apologise that I could not be here to move an earlier amendment, but I had a commitment that I could not get out of.