Adoption and Children Bill

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The Chairman: Do you think that it will be possible to satisfy individuals in circumstances in which, as we heard earlier on, it might not be possible to tell them why they are being turned down because of confidentiality?

Meg Staples: In those cases, clearly the issue is that people will not have the right to third party information that has been given. That will not be available to them. Part of the process of encouraging adopters to apply is that they understand the rules right at the beginning, and that there is some information that we will not be able to share with them, but that that which we can share should be part of their assessment and inform the final decision.

The Chairman: Looking at what is proposed in the Bill, do you think that, in practical terms, people will be given more information than has been the case up till now?

Meg Staples: Speaking only for my authority, we try to give people as much information as possible anyway. That is part of the honest approach with prospective adopters that is encouraged in the standards. It is difficult for me to comment for all authorities.

Moira Gibb: I think that it is important that we do not create the sense that everyone has the right to adopt. Again, adoption is a service for children. Our experience tells us that it is very difficult for people to hear the information that is presented. Perhaps we need to be much more inventive about how we give the information. We will never be able to convey some information, and people will remain unhappy.

Again, there is a question about how much resource we supply to adopters. It is terribly important that we give the impression that we will be fair, honest and open, but many adopters find, as was suggested earlier, the kind of inquiries that we make to be quite intrusive and they are not prepared for that. We have to be better at explaining why we make such intrusive inquiries.

The Chairman: I have one or two colleagues indicating that they want to ask questions. Could they please do so briefly?

Mr. Brazier: Mr. Paton made an interesting and welcome announcement, if I heard him right, when he referred to a memorandum on this issue. The main memorandum that has been circulated does not refer to it. Could that be circulated for tomorrow's meeting, when, hopefully, he will again be on standby?

James Paton: Can I clarify that? The reference that I made was to the fact that, under the new access to information provisions, where an agency decides to overrule the consent or objection, there should be access to an independent review under clause 12. That is covered in the annex to the memorandum that we sent to the Committee.

Mr. Djanogly: I was going to make a similar point. This is, again, a question for Mr. Paton. Is clause 12 the only appeals procedure clause in the Bill?

James Paton: Clause 12 contains the provisions that would allow us to establish the independent review mechanism that we have been discussing, so, yes.

Mr. Djanogly: What sort of things will be subject to appeal under clause 12?

James Paton: In terms of what constitutes a qualifying determination under clause 12, the Government have said that two things will be covered, and both are in the explanatory notes. One is where a prospective adopter has indicated that they are being turned down and are unsatisfied with the reasons. The other is where an agency decides to overrule a consent or objection to the release of information, which is the point that I have just clarified. The provisions are for those two purposes, but they are flexible.

Mr. Djanogly: Could the provisions be extended? For example, they do not currently cover support.

James Paton: They have the potential to be extended, but that is not the Government's intention at this point.

Mr. Dawson: We heard from Mr. Paton that the question of children giving consent to adoption was in the review of the 1996 Bill and that a lot of feeling was expressed against it. I would like to test Felicity's feelings on that.

Felicity Collier: The reason that there were some issues in relation to what was in the original Bill was that, through our consultation, we formed the view that children over 12 should have the right to veto their adoption and express their wishes and feeling. However, if they were required to consent to their adoption, the impact on a child of legally severing themselves from their birth parents, for whom they might still have much understanding and concern, may be so great that it would be inappropriate. On the other hand, the consultation exercise that we conducted for the Department of Health on adoption standards suggested that children and young people felt that they should have a right to say when they do not want an adoption to go ahead, or feel that these are not the right adopters for them. They have real concerns about having their voices heard.

The Chairman: I thank witnesses for their evidence. Under Standing Order No. 91, governing the practice of Special Standing Committees, I must bring this sitting to a close.

It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee.

Adjourned till Wednesday 21 November at Ten o'clock.

The following Members attended the Committee:
Hincliffe, Mr. David (Chairman)
Bellingham, Mr.
Blackman, Liz
Brazier, Mr.
Brennan, Kevin
Dawson, Mr.
Djanogly, Mr.
Fitzpatrick, Jim
Gidley, Sandra
Llwyd, Mr.
Loughton, Tim
Love, Mr.
Munn, Ms
Shaw, Mr.
Smith, Angela
Smith Jacqui
Walter, Mr.
Winterton, Mrs. Rosie

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Prepared 20 November 2001