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11.22 am

Mr. Barry Gardiner (Brent, North): I never thought that I would stand up in the Chamber and say that the hon. Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) reminds me of the Sundance Kid, but all that has changed this morning. You, Madam Deputy Speaker, will remember that Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid were employed by a Mexican miner to protect his shipment of gold, which was going up the hill, not down it, as he had to point out to them.

Mr. Charles Wardle (Bexhill and Battle): Was he not a Colombian miner?

Mr. Gardiner: As the hon. Gentleman is far more expert than me not only on cinematography but on Latin America, I am happy to accept his correction.

The key fact is that, when interviewed for that job, the Sundance Kid was told to shoot at a coin that the Colombian mine owner threw on to the ground. Sundance felt very uncomfortable about that. He got out his gun, aimed and fired. He got pretty close to the coin, sitting there on the ground, but he missed. That was probably the first time in his life that he had missed anything with a bullet. Then he said, "Now can I move?" The Colombian said, "Yes, you can do what you like." So he moved, drew his gun, fired at the coin as it flew through the air and hit it several times before it landed. That is the point of the story: the hon. Member for Meriden is unique in choosing to go for a moving target rather than a standing one.

The hon. Lady's measure is a Bill to

The question is, which law on adoption? Is it that which is in force or that which may result from the Government's introduction of a Bill whose Second Reading we debated on Monday? Their proposal is a Bill to

It may pass through the House and become law. Why has she chosen a moving target? I find it absolutely inexplicable. Usually, if one disagrees with a Bill, one ensures that one makes a speech on Second Reading and tables amendments in Committee. That is the normal procedure in the House.

Mr. Swayne: The hon. Gentleman should be aware that when my hon. Friend the Member for Meriden (Mrs. Spelman) entered the ballot, the Government had not announced in the Queen's Speech any intention to introduce an adoption Bill. She offered the Government the chance to use her Bill, but they did not take that up. Indeed, they published their own Bill very late in the day. My hon. Friend has introduced a useful measure and I hope that he agrees, like other Labour Members, that it complements the Government's Bill.

Mr. Gardiner: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. However, he must know that the Prime Minister announced that he would personally lead a review of adoption policy in February 2000--not this year. He commissioned the Cabinet Office performance and innovation unit to assess the evidence and prepare a report making recommendations for Government policy. The Cabinet Office report, entitled "Prime Minister's Review: Adoption", was published for consultation in

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July 2000. A White Paper entitled "Adoption: a new approach" was published in December 2000. It included a commitment to introduce new adoption legislation in 2001. That is the Bill that we discussed earlier this week.

Mrs. Spelman: There is an important distinction here and the point about 2001 was made very clearly when we withdrew our new clause during debate on the Care Standards Act 2000. The hon. Gentleman is ignoring the fact that the election was likely to be announced, and had it been called for 5 April the Government Bill would never have received a Second Reading.

Mr. Gardiner: I listen to what the hon. Lady says and my purpose is not to be obstructive and destructive, but the positive work of engaging with the Government and, to use a word uttered many times by Opposition Members, weaving the changes proposed in her Bill into the Government's legislation would be far better done in the Standing Committee considering the Government Bill. I have made my point.

Every Member of the House would agree that amendment of the adoption law is long overdue. The Adoption and Children Bill introduced to Parliament by the Government on 15 March is substantially the most important such measure for some time and it will thoroughly reform adoption law in England and Wales. It represents the most radical overhaul in about 20 years and follows the adoption White Paper published in December 2000.

The new legislation will play an essential part in underpinning the programme that we set out in the White Paper to encourage greater use of adoption and to deliver our target of a 40 per cent. increase in the number of adoptions from care by 2004-05. It will transform adoption services and put the interests of children at the centre of the adoption process.

On Monday, the whole House was shocked to hear the statistics that the Minister of State, my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), proclaimed to the House:

As my hon. Friend went on to say:

That is why it is right for this House, in its deliberations earlier this week and in future on the Government Bill, and in its deliberations today, to pay particular attention to that issue.

As quite a regular at our Friday morning debates, I must say in passing that I was overwhelmed to see how full the House was this morning. I know that normally Fridays are sacrosanct for many hon. Members, who like to spend them in their constituencies--[Interruption.] I am sure that they are taking surgeries and doing other very important work.

The fact that our Chamber is fuller today than it normally is on a Friday must be a testimony to the hon. Member for Meriden and her Bill, and her capacity to engender support for it among her colleagues, many of

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whom are supporting her this morning. I would hate to think that it had anything to do with the second Bill on the Order Paper--the Secret Societies (Registration of Membership) Bill, which would

such as the freemasons.

I can, of course, register that--

Mr. David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden): Is the hon. Gentleman a freemason?

Mr. Gardiner: No. I can register that I have no such connection with any secret society.

I hope that it is not because of any desire to obstruct the Bill to be introduced by the hon. Member for Bexhill and Battle (Mr. Wardle) later this morning that we see such a large body of Members on the Opposition Benches. I hope that, like the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier), who is not in his place at the moment, but has been attending closely to the debate most of the morning, those hon. Members all have a long-standing commitment to child welfare in this country. I know that that is an interest that the hon. Gentleman, like the hon. Member for Meriden, has pursued on many occasions.

Mrs. Spelman: I wrote to all 659 Members to encourage them to attend the debates when I originally decided to introduce the Bill. When the Government Bill was introduced, many Members wrote back to me, and more than 40 people said yes, but the hon. Gentleman was not one of them, so he did not receive my billet doux earlier this week containing the draft Bill and an explanatory note. Had he done so, he would have seen that I redoubled my efforts with those who said that they would be able to attend, but unfortunately, he did not receive the briefing.

Mr. Gardiner: The hon. Lady's efforts have clearly not gone unrewarded, and she is well supported.

By modernising and overhauling the adoption law, the Adoption and Children Bill will play a vital role in the drive to transform the adoption service and get many more looked-after children adopted. The Bill will support the White Paper programme in five key ways.

The Bill puts the needs of the child at the centre of the adoption process by aligning the Adoption and Children Bill with the Children Act 1959 in making the child's welfare of paramount concern in all decisions concerning adoption. It will encourage more people to adopt looked-after children, by ensuring that the support that they need will be available, and local authorities will have a clear-cut duty to provide an adoption support service and a new right to an assessment for new adoptive families, as promised in the White Paper.

In clause 1, the hon. Lady seeks, as she puts it, to make the allowances follow the child, to ensure that the cost of taking care of the child when adopted should be able to cross local authority boundaries. The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley)--I apologise to him for having caught only the latter part of his speech, because I was temporarily out of the Chamber when he began it--referred to the disparity between what happens when a new child is received into a natural family and when a child is received into an adoptive family.

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As the parent of four children, I echo that sentiment. I well remember taking my first child home, being presented with him on the hospital steps by the sister, and thinking, "Well, is that it?" There was no induction procedure, whether for three days or any other length of time. Natural parents have got to get on with it. [Interruption.] Yes, there is often a crisis at weekends in my house--but there is no hotline for social services to send someone to sort it out.

The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden said that we must begin to treat adoptive parents more like natural parents and say, "They are parents now; let them get on with it." That applies equally when considering what the hon. Lady suggests in clause 1--

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