New clause 1 - Interviews with children

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:15 pm ar 17 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 4:15, 17 Ionawr 2002

Following the excellent contribution made by my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley, it is hardly worth my while standing up.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham spoke about records not being able to be disclosed without leave of the court. That is true; it and is designed to protect the privacy of the child and the other parties. The parties can, as my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley pointed out, apply to the court for permission to disclose and that is important, because information disclosed in court may affect other people who also have the right to have their privacy respected.

On the substantive point of the new clause, it is worth noting that audio and video recording are not routinely used or thought necessary by CAFCASS, local authorities or adoption agencies. The Government have not had representations about that from children's organisations or other stakeholders. The court may already consider applications by parties to the case for specific evidence, including video or audio evidence, to be lodged in the proceedings. The child's views may be taken into account in several ways in adoption and placement proceedings, including the presence of CAFCASS officers and solicitors to represent children's best interests.

If there is concern about the extent to which the evidence represents the views of the child, the court process provides the opportunity for statements to be challenged. All children are interviewed sensitively,

taking into account the circumstances of the individual case and the age and understanding of the child. I agree that we need to ask why children should be subjected to the additional pressure of having their views recorded, when, incidentally, that would not be required of adults. The clause would not apply equally to all children. It could not do so, practically, because some children might be too young to be interviewed.

While the use of recorded evidence is common in criminal proceedings—and my hon. Friend pointed out the reasons for that—there is no such requirement about giving evidence in family proceedings. Children of sufficient age and understanding can be made a party to the proceedings and speak directly to the court.

If the hon. Member for Isle of Wight is mainly concerned about how to represent the voice of the child in the proceedings, my response is that we have gone into that issue at length in Committee. Hon. Members may fear that he is making a misguided attempt to force on to children the recording of their views, and I hope that on his behalf the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham will feel able to withdraw the new clause.