New clause 4 - Extension of the Convention to

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

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

'(1) Her Majesty may by Order in Council provide for giving effect to the Convention in Northern Ireland.

(2) An Order in Council under subsection (1) in respect of Northern Ireland may, in particular, make any provision corresponding to provision which in relation to any part of Great Britain is made by the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 or may be made by regulations under section 1 of that Act.'.—[Mr. Walter.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Ceidwadwyr, North Dorset

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

This new clause may be technical, but it is important. It relates to our earlier deliberations about intercountry adoptions and our references to the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999, which the House rightly passed to implement the Hague convention. I was delighted when the Minister told us that the United Kingdom plans to ratify the Hague convention in the summer. With that in mind, and as a matter of public policy, I feel that I should draw the

Committee's attention to the final clause of the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999. Clause 18(4) states:

''Subject to subsection (5), this Act extends to Great Britain only.''

Earlier in our deliberations, we agreed to provisions enabling the Government to extend, by Order in Council, the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 to any of the British overseas territories. We shall, eventually, have implemented the Hague convention in Great Britain and the British overseas territories but not in Northern Ireland.

The Government might pray in support of their position the fact that the summary of the explanatory notes to the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 states:

''Northern Ireland intends to introduce legislation at a later date to give effect to the Convention''.

It is my understanding that Northern Ireland has not yet done that. I know that the Northern Ireland Assembly, when it has been in session, has had other things on its mind. I congratulated the Minister on the decision that the United Kingdom would ratify the convention, but I hesitate over that now, because I do not believe that it would be possible for us to ratify it if one part of the United Kingdom had not implemented the legislation to put the convention into effect.

The matter is particularly important because Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that has a land frontier with a foreign country. That probably makes it the part of the United Kingdom most vulnerable to abuse of the Hague convention. That is not to suggest that the Republic of Ireland is not also a signatory to the Hague convention, although I understand that it has not yet ratified it. None the less, it is a point of vulnerability.

I hope that the Committee will react favourably when I say that the act does not cover the United Kingdom—England and Wales and Scotland have passed the necessary legislation but Northern Ireland has not—the Act should be extended by Order in Council not only to British overseas territories but to Northern Ireland.

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

The hon. Gentleman has explained what he hopes to achieve through the new clause and I have no disagreement with the objective. However, I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the new clause is not necessary. It would enable an Order in Council to be made to give effect to the Hague convention in Northern Ireland. However, that is not necessary, because the Northern Ireland Assembly passed legislation in 2001 enabling it to make provision for Hague convention adoptions. The Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act (Northern Ireland) 2001 received Royal Assent in July 2001 and the Assembly can now make the necessary regulations, which will, in turn, enable the United Kingdom to ratify the convention later this year.

I think that when the hon. Gentleman referred to explanatory notes he was alluding to those for the 1999 Act, because, of course, when they were published Northern Ireland had not introduced its Bill. The Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999

provides a statutory basis for the regulation of intercountry adoption so that children living abroad are afforded maximum protection in adoption processes. The 1999 Act and the Adoption (Intercountry Aspect) (Northern Ireland) Act 2001 enable the United Kingdom to ratify the Hague convention on protection of children and co-operation in respect of intercountry adoption, and introduce sanctions against those who bring children into the UK without following proper procedures. With that assurance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the new clause.

Photo of Robert Walter Robert Walter Ceidwadwyr, North Dorset 4:30, 17 Ionawr 2002

I thank the Minister for correcting me. Obviously, I had been acting on information that was out of date, and I am reassured that Northern Ireland has passed the necessary legislation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.