Adoption and Children Bill

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Mr. Dawson: Is not the hon. Gentleman being overly modest in asserting that the changes that the amendment would bring about are small? He is breaking with the hereditary principle of the monarchy and with that of the peerage. Is he not dealing a greater blow to the system of inherited privilege and wealth in this country than any Labour Member would have dared to propose?

Mr. Bellingham: The hon. Gentleman's point is interesting. The changes are minor in the context of a Bill that will hopefully make adoption much easier for hundreds of thousands of people. As a result of the Bill, many thousands of families will provide loving homes for children. As I said, the proposed changes would at the most affect 50 families. I will shortly draw my remarks to a close, as other Members want to speak.

It is wrong that children born as a result of egg or sperm donation or, dare I say it, illicit liaisons—or even surreptitious overseas adoptions—should be given more rights than legally adopted children. That is the fundamental point.

Mr. Djanogly: Has my hon. Friend discussed his amendments with august institutions such as the College of Arms?

Mr. Bellingham: I happen to know that such institutions take a fairly neutral view—they can understand both sides of the argument. My hon. Friend's intervention is none the less constructive. If the Parliamentary Secretary were to accept the logic of my arguments and the amendments were made, it would be important to ensure that such organisations were on side, to lessen the chance of the removal of the amendments on the Floor of the House or in another place.

We ought to put the proposed reform in context. Will the Parliamentary Secretary carefully consider the examples of ancient Greece and ancient Rome, where adoption carried inheritance rights? Subsequent natural children there could never take away adopted children's rights. Gaius Julius, nephew of Julius Caesar, was adopted; he inherited the imperial office and became Augustus Caesar. Labour Members may be familiar with Ovid and with the myth of Hercules, who was adopted by Zeus and Hera. Ovid wrote:

    ''When Zeus persuaded his jealous wife to adopt Hercules, the goddess got into bed and, clasping the baby hero to her bosom, pushed him through her robes and let him fall to the ground in imitation of real birth''.

That practice is still carried out in Bulgaria among Bosnian Turks.

Tim Loughton: My hon. Friend draws an important analogy. Was not Ovid exiled to the Black sea, supposedly for having an affair with the illegitimate daughter of the emperor Augustus, who would not have been able—

The Chairman: Order. I ask hon. Members to keep within the scope of the amendment. I am being super-generous.

Mr. Bellingham: We have had a brief excursion into the classics, which may have revealed that some Conservative Members might be better equipped for the modern age had they spent more time reading subjects such as mathematics and the sciences. On the other hand, we do have a knowledge of the classics.

The amendment would bring about a symbolic reform. It would demonstrate total acceptance of adopted children at every level of society. I commend it to the Committee and look forward to its acceptance by the Parliamentary Secretary.

Mr. Brazier: I shall be brief. My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk made a parallel with the classical world at the end of his speech. There was almost a management principle involved in adoption law in Rome and Greece. Adoption was so much the norm in classical Rome that, according to Gibbon, there was not a single instance in all the centuries of the Roman empire of descent through blood relatives lasting for three generations. There were sometimes military coups, but in the majority of cases the emperor chose to adopt the worthy candidate as his son rather than to pass power on to his natural descendants.

For all its faults, the edifice of the Roman empire was the most stable secular structure that the world has ever seen, lasting for about one and a half millennia, depending on when one considers it to have started and finished. We can learn from it. Choosing a person who was worthy if one was not satisfied of the suitability of one's blood offspring was the Roman approach.

Ms Meg Munn (Sheffield, Heeley): The hon. Gentleman referred to a ''person'' being worthy. In relation to the amendment, I am sure that we are talking about a worthy man.

Mr. Brazier: Not always, no. I can remember at least one—

The Chairman: Order. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not be tempted to digress.

10.30 am

Mr. Brazier: The case I have in mind is that of the lady who inherited the titles of Attila the Hun, but I shall have to look it up. You are right to reproach me, Mr. Hood, but I mentioned that not because we all seek succession for the monarchy but because my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk makes a serious and worthy point. Many people who have reached the pinnacles of success have chosen to pass on not only their inheritance but their position among their followers. One example of a person adopted into a privileged family who went on to do huge amounts of good—he is still doing so, not least for my party—is Mr. Stuart Wheeler, whose actions were reported by the newspapers shortly before the election. His family passed on to him considerable wealth and position, and he had a privileged education. He has chosen to use his position in a number of philanthropic ways.

The question that I want to ask the Committee is this. Would it not be a thoroughly good, symbolic measure if Parliament were to allow the provision to apply to peerages—they are still sought by many people for many reasons, although new ones are nearly always life peerages—as a way of saying that we are determined that adopted children at every level of society should be treated in exactly the same way as birth children?

Kevin Brennan: Further to the intervention of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn), does the hon. Gentleman believe that an adopted son should take precedence over his older sister when the title is inherited? What he is exposing is not so much a shortcoming in the Bill that may need to be rectified, but shortcomings in the wider system. Those shortcomings, which create much unfairness, may need to be rectified in more wide-ranging legislation, and I am sure that we would welcome the hon. Gentleman's support for such legislation.

Mr. Brazier: That issue goes well beyond the terms of clause 68, although it is a serious matter. There is a practical, albeit curious, difference between many Scottish titles and almost all English titles, but this Committee is not the right place to address that point, and I am sure that you, Mr. Hood, would restrain me if I did so.

Most of the Bill, rightly, deals with adoption as it applies to the vast majority of children; but allowing one or two symbolic cases over the years, which is all we are talking about, will say something about every adopted child. I strongly believe in symbolic acts but I have always rejected symbolic gestures. Symbolism is fundamental to the way people live. The amendment proposed by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk would say something engaging to every adopted child.

Mr. Djanogly: Having heard my hon. Friends put across a competent argument—I have great admiration for their reforming zeal—and having heard Labour Members speak about the hereditary principle, I thought that a Conservative should make a case for the hereditary principle. My argument, which is that the hereditary principle is both hereditary and a principle, has been touched on. We may or may not like it, and I am sure that all hon. Members have a view, but that principle is based on blood ties—and on legitimacy. Whether or not that is regarded as correct in this day and age, it is the principle on which the hereditary system is based. Changing the principle would be a dangerous thing, for doing so would undermine the whole concept. Although fairness and advantages would be won for adopted children if they were included, it would not be consistent with the principle as it stands.

My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk asks where we go from here. Life peerages have been mentioned. The children of those who now receive life peerages receive the courtesy title; that should apply in future even if the child is adopted. In the same way, and using the same rationale, the same should apply to new hereditary peerages—I appreciate that not many are created—and adopted children should be included. In effect, we would be creating a new principle without destroying the existing one.

Ms Rosie Winterton: The debate has been wide ranging. I am sure that the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk sincerely wants to right what he believes is a wrong affecting the rights of adopted children. However, as the debate has shown, the intention underpinning the amendments would have substantial implications for the wider law in that area—and for the rights of other children.

Although I understand the motive behind the amendments, they will not achieve the consistency that the hon. Gentleman intends. As my hon. Friends have made clear in speeches and interventions, the amendments address the rights of adopted sons only. Daughters cannot usually inherit peerages and the amendment would not change that, whether or not the daughter was adopted.

Mr. Bellingham: The Parliamentary Secretary is right, but some peerages have a special remainder, which allows the eldest daughter to inherit. In fact, quite a few Scottish titles have such an arrangement and a number of titles have been created with a special remainder for the daughter for one generation.

One example is the Bass family, the famous brewing family from Burton. The first Lord Burton had only a daughter: she became Baroness Burton and her son became the second Lord Burton. The Parliamentary Secretary should bear such cases in mind. I have no difficulty with the rights of daughters being put on the same footing as those of sons. Our monarch is a female, and there are plenty of able female politicians on both sides—

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