Adoption and Children Bill

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Tim Loughton: That does not answer the point that paramountcy is identified in subsection (2), as we have made clear, but with conditions attached to it. Somebody has to make a discretionary judgment about how far, and to what extent, the considerations in subsection (5) should come into play. The way in which the clause has been phrased and constructed does not make it clear how much emphasis should be placed on subsection (5). We can argue about that as much as we like, but it will be the professional lawyers, in court, who will have a field day because of that sort of lack of clarification.

4.45 pm

Mr. Dawson: Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that what he is seeking is impossible to achieve, and that we are dealing with an extremely complex subject about the individual needs of children in special circumstances? Is not the weighing of the balance within the framework of legislation the complicated task of social work?

Tim Loughton: I agree. The entire Bill, and, in particular, the legal clauses that address the systems of adoption, are exceedingly complex. The Committee must thrash the matter out to make it as clear and explicit as possible. That is why we have argued, to no avail, that the Committee requires more time than has been made available. The fact that we are still talking about clause 1, in the second of 20 sittings, suggests that there are some fundamental principles that need to be clarified. I hope that the Minister will be able to provide clarification.

The evidence of Dr. Peter Hayes of the university of Sunderland was submitted to all Committee members. He devoted an entire page to pointing out the problems with subsection (5). He confirmed what I have said by stating:

    ``It repeats the mistake of the Children Act in giving sanction to the ideological agenda of those child care professionals who are obsessed with ethnicity.''

That is the way in which Dr. Hayes expressed that point. He went on:

    `` `Due consideration' with its connotations of judicious balance may sound like a fine compromise . . . But enshrined in law, these same words will be interpreted to mean `paramount consideration' by some social workers''

or child lawyers in court. He then writes:

    ``If this paragraph becomes law . . . past experience and logic suggest that it will have the following results''.

He is querying, as am I, the paramountcy relation, with regard to subsection (5). The implications of that, as Dr. Hayes describes them—I agree with a fair amount of what he says—are as follows:

    ``It will delay the placement of all children, but especially minority children, by needlessly subdividing and restricting the parent pool . . . It will prevent placements. Restrictive policies will mean that some children cannot be placed at all . . . It will disrupt placements. Children in transracial foster placements will be unreasonably removed when the foster parents seek to adopt the children in their care . . . It will justify ignoring the wishes of some minority children . . . It will bolster informal local authority policies of deterring parents who wish to undertake an intercountry adoption . . . It will contribute to the (often correct) perception of potential adoptive parents that to pass an adoption assessment they will have to jump through hoops, mouth things they do not believe. This deters parents from coming forward . . . It will justify the unnecessary rejection of potential adoptive parents and existing foster parents deemed to respond `inappropriately' to questions on ethnicity.''

Added to all that, the research does not suggest that ethnic—or similar—matching produces better results; there is a substantial body of research that suggests the opposite conclusion. Barbara Tizzard has conducted extensive research on transracially adopted children that shows that mixed-race children adopted by white families—this point applies to other permutations—were the most intellectually gifted of the adopted children, with reading attainment generally above average, while their problem scores did not differ from those of white children.

The work of Barbara Ballis Lowe is also important. In an article that was published a couple of years ago, she said that the available outcome data shows that, by and large, children in transracial or transethnic placements do as well with respect to indicators as do children in same-race placements.

I return to my reference to what has happened in the United States. The Multi-Ethnic Placement Act 1994—which was amended in 1996 by the Inter-Ethnic Adoption Provisions enacted by the United States Congress—aims to lessen obstacles to transracial and overseas adoption, with respect to agencies receiving federal assistance, by deleting race, ethnicity or national origin as criteria determining the best interests of a child available for fostering and adoption placements. Those measures are the opposite of those in the Bill, which, from the records of child courts, have not proved a great success since the Children Act 1989.

One of the Minister's own colleagues, the right hon. Member for Brent, South (Mr. Boateng), said that when he took part in the debates on the Children Act 1989, he argued that it should be amended to facilitate rather than to exclude transracial or transethnic adoption as an acceptable means of placing abandoned and/or abused children in permanent homes. One of the Minister's own colleagues, therefore, argued in support of the same considerations that we are promoting in our amendments. For those who argue the opposite, the benefits of what I gather is technically known as ``identity essentialism'' are thought to exceed the advantages of being fed, clothed, housed, schooled and emotionally supported by adoptive parents and siblings representing a different race or ethnic group. That is what we are debating.

The paramount consideration is the child's welfare. If there are circumstances in which a child could be more readily, speedily and effectively adopted by adoptive parents with different ethnic and religious backgrounds, subsequent considerations should not rule out that adoption. That may not happen in every, or even most, circumstances, but that is the case that I am making, and the point that my hon. Friends have made in their amendments. That is why I tabled the amendment with the balance referring back to earlier considerations in subsections (2) and (3). Far from confusing the issue, I believe that it explains it rather more clearly. Children's lawyers have been having a field day with the version in the Children Act, and will continue to have a field day if we continue with the terminology in the Bill without the qualifications that I propose.

I wish to refer to the Government White Paper on adoption that started off the whole process. Section 2.16 states:

    ``Each case should be judged on its merits and the needs of children considered''—

that should be the major consideration, regardless. It should not be dominated or subverted by politically correct considerations that were inserted willy-nilly into clause 1(5) without any clear indication of their order of priority against the other considerations in the clause. That is the point behind the amendment, and I hope that the Committee will consider its merits.

Mr. Shaw: I have only a few comments to make. I do not believe that the clause is politically correct in the way that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham describes. As I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre, taking account of ethnicity, racial origin and religion is part of an assessment, not an add-on. It is an important part of an assessment, and we have not heard anyone suggest during our entire Committee proceedings that it could represent such a hurdle that it would prevent a child from being adopted by a couple of another ethnic origin. However, one cannot ignore the testimonies of people who have been brought up in different circumstances.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said that he wanted to strike a balance. In doing so, he should also present the other side of the argument. There are many testimonies from people who have been brought up in an environment different from that of their own race, such as those of black children put into white middle-class areas where they feel different from their families, friends and local community, especially as they grow older. It is absolutely true that there are many stories of black children who bleach themselves in baths because they feel that they do not fit in. I have spoken to young people who have had such experiences because they felt that they did not fit in.

An adoption may have been made with the best intention, but if we delete the provisions, we will turn the clock back—

Mr. Bellingham: Forward.

Mr. Shaw: Certainly not. I wish that the hon. Gentleman had heard the testimonies of youngsters brought up in such environments. They would not thank him for attempting to remove the provisions.

Tim Loughton: I sympathise with people in the circumstances to which the hon. Gentleman refers, but those circumstances would not be brought about or encouraged by the amendment. They would still be subject to the paramountcy principle of the child's welfare. If the people who performed assessments deemed that children would be put in circumstances so horrendous that they found it necessary to bleach their skin and so on, such adoptions would not go ahead. The paramountcy principle would still prevail, so the amendment would not take away from the aims of the Bill. It would merely provide an additional consideration.

Mr. Shaw: The clause requires the adoption agency to give due consideration. I challenged an Opposition Member earlier to say which of the agencies of which representatives came before us in earlier sittings advocated removal of the provisions. The written evidence presented to us contained nothing on the subject. If the issue was of paramount importance, and it is key for Opposition Members, why did they not test their beliefs with professionals? There was ample time, and the Chairman, my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe), repeatedly asked whether hon. Members wanted to raise any other issues. Not once did Conservative Members mention the issue, which they say is now so important to them.

The amendment would wind the clock back to a time when a bad practice that disregarded people's ethnicity prevailed. We need to learn the lessons from inappropriate placements. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, we need to learn the lessons of political correctness. I do not especially like the term, but we know what it means. My hon. Friend the Member for Stockport (Ms Coffey) told us at an earlier sitting that, when she was a social worker, she had to find a parent who was one quarter Pakistani and found it virtually impossible. We do not want that. We do not want inappropriate placements, or a hurdle so high that it creates a delay and an impossible task for the social services. The clause strikes a balance.

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