Adoption and Children Bill

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Tim Loughton: I am listening closely to my hon. Friend, because the essence of the suggestion from Government Members is that religion, whether it entails the physical manifestation of circumcision or the spiritual ones of baptism, is in some way imposed on a person. Religious belief is something that one grows into thinks about and adopts of one's own volition. The implication of what has been said is that people go through life with the badge of baptism or circumcision and have no ability to decide for themselves what religion they care to adopt later in life.

Mr. Walter: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. His point was made differently from the way that I made mine but it was made effectively none the less. If children are entering a new environment with new adoptive parents, we should not make them carry a badge—a badge of religious persuasion—that may not be suitable as they go through life. In fact, being baptised into one part of the Christian faith does not necessarily preclude one from adopting the practices of another.

Mr. Brazier: Although there has been much discussion about religion, in practice, it is the ethnic element that most often results in children not being adopted. On Second Reading of the original Bill and in Select Committee that examined it, the Minister responsible for that Bill, the then hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (Mr. Hutton), made it absolutely clear that he did not want that issue to lead to delays. However, as my hon. Friend says, by including the provision as clause 1(5) instead of leaving it under clause 4, it has been put on a par with the ruling on delay in subsection (3) and is not subservient to it. Thus, we will continue to find what we and the courts have already found so often: that children cannot be placed because they are not from the appropriate ethnic background. Surely, that is the heart of my hon. Friend's argument.

Mr. Walter: I have the record of my hon. Friend's comments in the Select Committee in April open in front of me. I have no doubt that we will hear from him again as we debate the amendments.

I do not want to detain the Committee too much longer, but we are concerned about the interests of the child. The adoption of a younger child should not be delayed because of time spent investigating its supposed religious persuasion, cultural background, or linguistic ability, none of which may be relevant.

My hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury mentioned racial origin, which is a slightly more contentious area. That is a matter of judgment, and the courts and those who are involved in the adoption process are able to make such judgments. I see no reason why racial origin should preclude adoption. There are many mixed-race parents whose children bear the characteristics of both racial origins; that should not be a problem in our multiracial society. Obviously, those who are adopting will be cognisant of racial origin, and it may be something that the natural parents have feelings about, but I do not believe that any of the factors highlighted in subsection (5) should be regarded as an impediment to an adoption process that is in the best interests of the child.

Mr. Dawson: I have already said that the clause is well balanced and humane. It gives due weight to many factors that need to be considered in the process of adoption: it weighs those factors and maintains an appropriate balance.

I was sorry to hear the contribution of the hon. Member for North Dorset, which was insensitive to important issues. The philosophical idea of children as a blank sheet of paper on which one can write what one will does not accord with reality. Concepts of identity are extremely complex: very young children may not be aware of all the elements of their identity, but in time they will—perhaps as an identity to rail against rather than fully embrace. To deny that people have an identity based on their cultural, racial, linguistic or religious background is simply wrong.

Let us try to put ourselves in the place of some of these young children. The circumstances, sometimes tragic, that lead to a child's needing adoption can happen to anyone. If I, a young white child from an exclusively white mining and fishing community in the north-east of England, had needed adoptive parents 40-odd years ago, I might have found excellent parents in the West Indian Pentecostal community in the east end of London, or in the Sikh community in Glasgow—but I there would have been a curiosity. The legislation does not prescribe that certain factors should outweigh other needs in the process of adoption. In the overall balance, however, it is important to weigh certain factors and give them the standing that they require.

Mr. Shaw: Does my hon. Friend agree that assessing a child's needs for adoption in terms of religious, cultural, linguistic and racial background should be an integral part of the process, not a bolt-on or add-on? It is wrong to carry out the assessment and then take those factors into account; they should be considered in the round from the outset.

Mr. Dawson: Absolutely; that is a crucial part of the assessment of a child's needs and identity. I am sorry that Conservative Members are so keen to play on that aspect. These are crucial factors that must be weighed in the balance in any proper system of adoption and assessment of young children's needs.

Sandra Gidley: I hope that the amendment is not pressed to a Division, but if it is, I shall vote against it.

Previously, in some cases social workers had to find someone who was seven-eighths Afro-Caribbean. The clause, by providing a looser definition, rightly puts the onus on social workers to take ``due consideration'' of ethnic, religious or linguistic backgrounds. Will the Minister explain what exactly due consideration means? Guidelines will have to be produced for social workers—

        It being One o'clock, The Chairman adjourned the Committee without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

        Adjourned till this day at half-past Four o'clock.

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

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Prepared 27 November 2001