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Mr. Brazier: I shall focus mostly on Government amendments Nos. 61 and 298, although I want to press the Minister for a moment on the point that I made in an intervention in relation to Government amendments Nos. 59, 60 and 27.

Terminology is of some significance. To many adoptive parents, it seems sad to hear the genetic parents of the children concerned, many of whom have been most unnatural in their treatment of their children, referred to as "natural parents", as if adopting were somehow unnatural. Why cannot the much more usual terminology of "birth parents" be used, or a more technical term such as "genetic parents"? That is not clear to me.

Sandra Gidley (Romsey): I have some sympathy with the use of the term "birth parents". Would the hon. Gentleman agree, however, that the term "genetic parents" can cause problems, as genetics do not always bear out—in probably 20 per cent. of cases, I understand—what a child believes to be truly his or her parentage?

Mr. Brazier: The hon. Lady is taking us into a terminological minefield. Perhaps she and I can agree on the most commonly used phrase: "birth parents". We do not want to spend too much time on the terminology, but the fact is that many adoptive parents resent the idea that it should be suggested in law that their relationship with the children concerned—the adoption of whom has often involved them making huge sacrifices—is somehow unnatural.

In relation to Government amendment No. 61, it is worth making a few background points on clause 81. The United Kingdom still has a bolt-on inter-country service, both currently and even after the introduction of this Bill, rather than, as is the case in many other signatories to the convention, a system that is specially designed to deal with overseas adoptions. The amendment takes a small step in the right direction of putting Britain into the mainstream of convention-signing countries that receive children for adoption. Adopters will now have to notify their local authority about their new child's arrival. That should mean that the local authority is then obliged to make welfare visits: alas, these are all too frequently not done because of the pressures on social services staff.

The provision will help a little with the difficulty that adopters have in trying to get recognition of the probity of inter-country adoption within their local authorities, but,

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sadly, it probably does not go far enough, and certainly not as far as was envisaged by the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999. There is, indeed, a question. The 1999 Act envisaged that any adoption of a child into the UK should be treated as though it were an agency adoption. That ensures that local authorities oversee the assessment of adopters and review the child's progress once the child comes into the UK, and that the rest of the protective measures apply. Given that this Government amendment is, effectively, less strong than the 1999 provisions, what happens to those provisions? They have not yet been put into operation, so are they simply to disappear?

The Minister referred to the importance of helping overseas adopters, as we do other adopters. They battle with paperwork and practicalities here and in the sending country almost alone. There is no specialist agency of any kind to help them here. When the British adoptive family have returned to the UK with the child, they have hitherto received very little assistance from most local authorities. Sometimes, there has been monitoring of the early days of the adoption, but, mostly, work pressures in local authorities have prevented even that.

It is worth noting that very few overseas adoptions have broken down over the years. The one group that has been thoroughly researched is the 500 or so children who came from Romania in 1991 and 1992. About 20 of those 500 adoptions have broken down—that is only 4 per cent., which is an extraordinarily low figure and much lower than the rate for domestic adoptions. It is particularly remarkable, given the horrendous conditions—we all saw the pictures on television—from which the children came.

Jonathan Shaw (Chatham and Aylesford): Can the hon. Gentleman tell the House the average age of the children who came from Romania? Children from the UK who are adopted tend to be older and, therefore, have more problems.

Mr. Brazier: I cannot give the hon. Gentleman a direct answer, but I believe that the children from Romania came from across the age spectrum. They were certainly not all babies, which seems to be the point behind his question.

Before I move away from the subject of Romania, it is worth putting on record the anger that many adopters feel about the activities of Baroness Nicholson. She was sent to Romania by the European Parliament to consider the position there, and in her report on adoption in Romania she makes an attack that appears to be corroborated by very little evidence. The suggestion that children were being sold from Romania so frightened the authorities there that overseas adoption from that country to this country has stopped completely, thus denying many children the opportunity of a loving family to adopt them.

The fact that such a high proportion of overseas adoptions succeed is a towering achievement and testimony to the intense commitment of overseas adopters. Surely help should be available to them. It is well known that early intervention with a problem is usually productive and often saves the relationship. The amendment should help a little, because social workers will have a duty to monitor families just as they do with domestic adoptions. I hope that the barrage of quality protects indicators—it seems to get larger every year—

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will be followed up and delivered despite the extreme overstretch that many local authorities, including mine, have experienced.

Government amendment No. 298 will amend clause 84 and it is clearly designed to deal with cases such as that involving the Kilshaws. As the Minister said, it will close the current loophole that allowed the Kilshaws to get round having a local authority pre-adoption vetting. They used a private home study that went directly to a US-based agency, which then allowed the adoption. A number of such adoptions have taken place each year. I am not attacking the Kilshaws under parliamentary privilege—enough has already been said about that case—but there is a danger that those with genuinely sinister motives, such as paedophiles, might take advantage of the loophole. Therefore, it is right to close it and to bring the rules for UK adoptions from the US into line with those for other countries. However, in the Kilshaw case, it must be pointed out that the American and British laws together finally delivered a satisfactory result.

The Kilshaw case resulted in much animus against American adoption agencies. However, although the state of adoption law in some American states is not very good, it is better in many states than it is in this country. Furthermore, many couples in this country make up for the complete absence of proper independent advice in this country about overseas adoption by approaching an American agency. Very often, American agencies can assist British couples in adopting children from countries outside America and Britain.

Taken as a whole, the amendments make a number of sensible changes to improve the administration of overseas adoption. We are minded to support them, but we still feel that there should be a little more carrot—a little more positive assistance for people who bring children into this country, often from the most appalling conditions, and give them a loving home.

4 pm

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham): When the Minister sums up the debate, will she tell us her assessment of the Bill's likely effect on the volume of inter-country adoption? Will there be significantly more of it or significantly less, or will the level remain about the same?

I have no professional interest in adoption, whether overseas or domestic, and I have no personal experience of it. However, I have dealt with the casework of constituents who have attempted overseas adoption, and they have found the procedures in this country amazingly negative and labyrinthine. First, they go to the local council's social services department, where they find that social workers are unremittingly hostile because they seem to feel that there is something not quite correct about adopting children from another culture. They fear, often completely wrongly, that they may be stolen or that there may be profit involved. Cases may go, on appeal, to the Department of Health. I was involved in one such case, and found that there was hostility there too. If the case gets through that hurdle, it has to go through immigration control, where such adoptions are viewed very negatively, as a loophole in immigration regulations.

There is not only anecdotal evidence of that approach; there is evidence of it in the number of such adoptions. We seem to have one of the most restrictive regimes for inter-country adoptions in the western world. I understand

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that there are about 300 applications a year, fewer than the number of inter-country adoptions in small countries such as Norway and about a tenth of the number in France. There may be technical reasons for that, but in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I assume that it is the result of our extremely restrictive philosophy.

Most of the Minister's introduction was about strengthening restrictions and tightening controls. She said nothing to imply that there was anything worth while about inter-country adoption. However, in many cases it may be a very desirable activity. There are people who are genuinely humanitarian and who wish to give children a home, and if one of the partners has a link overseas, inter-country adoption may be a perfectly natural thing to do. I would hope that the Minister would be a little more positive about the spirit behind such adoptions.

I sense that my sentiments are echoed by many of the countries with which we deal. For example, India and Colombia, which have developed sophisticated domestic monitoring systems to prevent abuse and profiteering, have found this country absolutely impossible to deal with because our philosophy is so negative. South American countries such as Peru have followed the same route. This country is clearly sending out the message that it does not want inter-country adoption, so it makes it as difficult as possible for parents to pursue that course. I hope that the Minister will make her approach clear.

I listened to some of the debates that took place last week. The philosophy behind much of the Government's thinking, on unmarried couples for example, is that it is better to have an imperfect relationship than to leave a child in an orphanage, and surely that is even more the case here. There are many children in dire circumstances who would benefit from adoption. If the right procedures and proper protections are in place, why cannot overseas adoption be not merely tolerated but actively encouraged?

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