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Mrs. Humble: Will the hon. Lady acknowledge that, in many local authorities, it is already good practice for adoptive parents to work through a life story with the child whom they have adopted? Throughout the growing-up process, adopted children are told about their birth family and given appropriate information at an appropriate age so that, by the time they are adults and leave the adoptive family, for whatever reason, they already know all the background information on their birth family.
Mrs. Spelman: There is a world of difference between good practice and what happens in reality. For the unfortunate children in authorities that do not pursue that kind of good practice, access to information should be improved in the way the Bill envisages, but we should also go further and ensure that children in England and Wales have the same opportunity as children in Scotland to obtain that information statutorily from the age of 16.
On information, I would like to ask the Government to consider a duty of candour. Many adopters' experience has been that, although information is given, it is often inaccurate and out of date, and important information is often withheld. My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) mentioned the importance of adoptive parents knowing key background information
Appeals are perhaps the most serious casualty of the haste with which the Bill has been prepared. Clause 9 provides for a review procedure. The explanatory notes--which, incidentally, were not available until six days after the Bill was published--state that
Currently, complainants complain to the people about whom they are complaining, which is nonsense. The Bill's review procedure seems to consider only a complaint from a prospective adopter, but what about the other side of the equation--the birth family and the child? Without trying to make work unduly and without creating new layers of bureaucracy, why not give the task to the newly established Children's Commissioner for Wales or the children's rights director for England and create a proper ombudsman system for adoption? We have independent watchdogs for health, for electricity, for gas and for water. Why not for children?
Here we are, at the 11th hour of new Labour's first Administration. As an afterthought, a substantial Bill on adoption law reform has been introduced with, it seems, no time left to debate it during this Session. Children see right through adults' priorities. They know what we regard as important by the way that we allocate our time. Through a child's eyes, the Government have an odd set of priorities, having chosen to legislate on foxhunting ahead of the needs of children in care and the families that are willing to give them a permanent home. It is cynical to produce a 100-clause adoption Bill a day or so, or perhaps a week, before the Prime Minister goes to the country.
We accept that legislation falls and there will have to be sacrificial lambs, but why children's legislation? The Government could have amended the Care Standards Act 2000 last July, as we suggested, but they dismissed that chance. They omitted adoption from the Queen's Speech in December and were then embarrassed by my private Member's Bill and by the Prime Minister's slip of the tongue into rushing out legislation just before the election. However, their priorities have been recorded for posterity and they can never expunge the stain of putting foxes before children.
Mr. David Hinchliffe (Wakefield): I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Opposition Members who know a good deal about adoption will make telling contributions, but the previous speech was not such a contribution and, as I said in an intervention, it has cheapened the debate. I am sorry that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) chose to play politics with an issue of such fundamental importance to vast numbers of vulnerable people in our society. I make that point because--
Mr. Hinchliffe: I shall refer to that, but had that Government taken the issue seriously, we would have had in statute long ago legislation that worked for those young people who need adoption. I honestly feel that it takes brass neck to make the point that the hon. Member for Meriden made.
The previous Conservative Government deserve commendation for the Children Act 1989 and I had the great good fortune to serve on the Standing Committee that considered it. The hon. Lady criticised my hon. Friend the Minister for introducing a Bill that needs to be fine tuned, but she should consider what happened to the 1989 Act in Committee. The Minister who steered the Bill through the House, David Mellor, the then Member for Putney, listened to a range of points raised by Labour and Conservative Members and amended the Bill accordingly. Where there is a broad consensus on issues of this nature, that is exactly how the House should work. That is the House at its very best, and I hope that that will happen in this case.
I made my Opposition Front Bench debut on the previous Government's 1992 adoption law review. They were in power until 1997, but they did not get as far as this Government have got in their first four years. I am not making a political point but simply responding to what I thought was a pretty cheap shot from the hon. Lady. In preparing my remarks, I read my 1992 speech. I described the adoption law review as
I pay tribute to the previous Government for introducing in the Children Act the key legislative principle of the best interests of the child. That has proved to be fundamental. Perhaps the most important element in the Bill is the Government's establishment of that same welfare principle as the central aspect of adoption legislation. I very much welcome that.
I chuntered when the hon. Member for Meriden spoke because I was thinking of the 20 years that I spent in local authority social work before being elected. When I listened to some of her criticisms, the word "naive" came to mind. She portrays the issue as so very black and white, but she has not had the experience, as I had on numerous occasions, of dealing with the shades of grey that one must face up to in considering the human issues raised by the adoption process.
I spent a considerable amount of my time in local authority social work on approvals of potential adopters. I took that job very seriously--it is extremely difficult--although I suspect that I was not adequately trained. Perhaps we can return to training, which is an important issue. Although my hon. Friend the Minister did not mention it, I welcome the fact that the Government have considered it and the White Paper certainly says that it will be an important element of the adoption reforms.
I was also involved in arranging adoption placements, another skilled and difficult process that is not black and white. It always involves shades of grey. I worked as a guardian ad litem--an independent referee--on other authorities' placements of children for adoption. On behalf of the courts, I considered whether those placements were appropriate and in the best interests of the child.
One of my most valuable experiences outside my involvement in professional social work was sitting on a different authority's adoption panel as a local councillor, considering how that authority dealt with adoption placements. I believe that it did so skilfully and in such a way that many local children were placed in appropriate situations and given a chance in life that they would not otherwise have had.
It has been a great privilege to chair the Health Committee in this Parliament and consider adoption and child care issues from a number of perspectives. Our inquiry into looked-after children reinforced the importance of adoption as part of the process of ensuring that youngsters who end up in local authority care are given a chance in life in an ordinary family setting.
I must also refer to our report, which Opposition Members may not have read, on British child migrants who were taken out of the care system and sent abroad. It is worth reflecting on because it contains a number of lessons that we drew from the experience up to 1967 of many thousands of British youngsters who were sent from our care system--in what was supposedly their best interest--to all sorts of highly questionable placements in other parts of the world. When I hear the hon. Member for Meriden talk about increasing the role of voluntary