Adoption and Children Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Llwyd: It is probably too early to look at any research—

Pam Hodgkins: I imagine that there will very soon be emerging research but I do not think we have it yet.

Mr. Dawson: I would like to ask both Fostering Network and NORCAP whether, had the Government not made these proposals on access to information, they would have made these suggestions.

Pam Hodgkins: No. Our suggestions are very different and I think we have included them in our evidence.

Mr. Dawson: Are you trying to ameliorate a piece of proposed legislation?

Pam Hodgkins: I am absolutely horrified by it, as are people within the organisation. We just cannot see—we have had 25 years of something working extremely well and we thought we were moving forward from that point. It never in our darkest nightmare occurred to us that we would move back.

Mr. Dawson: So there is no evidence and no reason whatever to change the situation that has prevailed since 1975?

Pam Hodgkins: No.

Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I, too, was slightly disturbed when I read the Fostering Network's submission and I am delighted that its representatives have backtracked on it. I am still concerned about the line that they appear to be taking to meet what is in the Bill. I have two questions: the first concerns the sheer practicality of the procedure whereby the parent of a child approaching 18 is still in the loop with the agency. Bearing it in mind that typically 14 or 15 years will have elapsed since the adoption, that person will be able to answer the question or to make the election. Secondly, if that person elects to have no contact with the child, the child will nevertheless have access to the records. Perhaps not at the age of 18 but certainly by the age of 25 or 26, such children will have the resources to seek out their natural parents. There is no way to prevent them from doing that. Would it not be better to be open, up-front and transparent from the beginning, and to enshrine that in law?

Sue Gourvish: I think that is such a draconian proposal. The new proposals in the Bill about contact have been introduced so rapidly, and we feel such a sense of surprise that this has happened, that is actually quite hard to marshal oneself in relation to the proposals. It is very draconian that, directly after the granting of an adoption order, somebody should be able to require privacy for themselves in a way that stands all the way through until the time at which the child asks for that information, and there is perhaps no way of confirming it. And then the other proposals about independent reviews come in, where you are not entirely sure what will happen.

My proposal was a way of ameliorating what seemed to us to be the draconian proposals currently in the Bill. I underline again that we do not believe that the situation as enshrined in the 1975 legislation should be changed at all.

Mr. Walter: So you would not want change? You propose a compromise?

Sue Gourvish: Yes, I emphasise that.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): I am sorry to ask a question so soon after coming in, but we are in the right area, and I did give you prior notice, Mr. Hinchliffe, of the reason for my absence.

The Chairman: He has been with the Prime Minister.

Kevin Brennan: What is the view of the witnesses on the proposal made this morning by one of our expert witnesses that birth parents should have the right to contact their adopted children in adulthood? What is their view of the alternative proposal that birth parents should have the right for their desire to contact their adopted children in adulthood directly to be signalled through an intermediary to that adopted adult?

The Chairman: Can I bring in Mr. Tapsfield on that, because he has not yet commented on that.

Robert Tapsfield: We are very clear that we would like to see both parents have the right for their wish to have contact passed to a child who has been adopted and is now an adult. That is not the same—it is certainly different—from having the right to contact. Certainly, our experience from many birth parents and relatives who contact us is that they are extremely concerned and distressed that they have no way of getting that information to their adopted son or daughter. We would support that completely.

Kevin Brennan: Is that the view of the other witnesses?

Philly Morrall: We agree with that. I would also like to make the point that issue about the lack of information to get your original birth certificate would be a major problem for adopters as well. It is all tied up in the same thing. If you were trying to bring up your son or daughter, knowing all the time that their birth parent was not prepared to be identified, you would have a hell of a lot more of a difficult job helping them grow and develop with an understanding of who they really were if you knew there was never going to be a chance to get to their original birth certificate. It is a very, very retrograde step.

Pam Hodgkins: Going back to the question arising from evidence heard this morning, NORCAP would actually support the opportunity for birth relatives to be entitled to receive information, because we believe that birth parents would handle that information as responsibly as adopted adults have over the past 25 years. There is substantial evidence that shows that is the case, because a lot of birth parents actually do have identifying information and they do handle it extremely responsibly.

We are aware that there may be concerns, particularly about the history of some recently adopted children—why for some people that may seem like a step too far. We do think that, at the very least, the right to an intermediary service is of paramount importance in this piece of legislation. If it is not included in this piece of legislation, then you can be reasonably confident that you will not face that problem again, because the bulk of birth parents who relinquished babies for adoption in the 1950s and 1960s will be dead before you come to look at this legislation again. They will not be around to bother you, but they are people who have waited. They have waited 30 or more years in many cases, and they need provisions now. We really did anticipate that there would be statutory provision in this piece of legislation, and the fact that there is not causes us and them enormous distress.

4.30 pm

Mr. Jonathan Djanogly (Huntingdon): You say, very importantly, that we are talking about a time in history, essentially from 1926 to 1976. When the adoptions were made, the deal clearly was that people would not have information. Between 1926 and 1976, there was no question that people would be given information.

Pam Hodgkins: Actually, can I point out that that in fact is a myth, because up until 1950 everyone whose child was adopted knew who adopted that child? There were no serial numbers on either side.

Mr. Djanogly: Yes, but the presumption was anonymity.

Pam Hodgkins: No. There was a presumption that there would not be contact or communication. That is what I am saying. The history has shown us that that was respected.

Mr. Djanogly: The system changed from 1976, quite rightly. In effect, you are saying that people who entered into adoption at a certain time—they did so under a certain set of rules, including the rights of adopted parents—and who would have adopted on a certain basis should be overlooked.

Pam Hodgkins: Not overlooked—taken into proper account, but just as in 1975 when the right was given to adopted people, because it was seen as the appropriate thing to do because of the society—

Mr. Djanogly: It is the right of social workers.

Pam Hodgkins: It was not social workers. It was birth parents who had to accommodate the fact that what they had perhaps presumed to be the situation was being changed. They accommodated that—they, in fact, in large numbers welcomed it. Now we are saying that adopted people and their families should make a similar accommodation. There could be all sorts of safeguards built into a provision about providing information. You could put age limits on it, you could put time scales on it, and you could make it subject to the other person having not requested that the information is not released. Any of those would be a step forward, but whilst you leave it on the basis that only if the person comes forward and asks for it will it be released, we are not getting anywhere.

Mr. Djanogly: With respect, you have made a series of important qualifications that were not mentioned beforehand, and I am pleased that you have.

Pam Hodgkins: They are in our evidence.

Mr. Djanogly: I want to go back to the point that you made earlier about the adopted children receiving information. You talked about a compromise. Would the system not cater for everyone's feelings as it would allow parents the right to hold their anonymity, for whatever reason? Should we not respect that right? Are you saying that, ideally, that right should not exist?

Pam Hodgkins: No, I would not support that level of compromise. The compromise NORCAP proposed was not a release—

4.34 pm

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

4.49 pm

On resuming—

The Chairman: Before we start again, I draw attention to the fact that there will be several more Divisions in the House. I suggest that we adjourn for each Division, but that hon. Members return as soon as possible so that we can resume when we are quorate. I hope that that is acceptable.

Mr. Llwyd: I should like to take Miss Hodgkins back to what she said about the draconian nature of the law pre and post-1976. A consensus is building—we have not heard many dissenting voices—on the question of a child's right to know its parents' identity. I want to play devil's advocate for a second. The British Columbia model was mentioned. In essence, what is the difference between the draconian measure, with the message, ``You cannot'', and the British Columbia model, with the message, ``You can, but you cannot contact''?

Pam Hodgkins: There is a tremendous difference, to do with simply knowing who you are. You have a name, and with that name comes a degree of history. You can appreciate that in British Columbia you could perhaps identify from your name the area where your forebears originated. The same is true in the UK. Just not to have a name means you are faceless.

Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 21 November 2001