Adoption and Children Bill

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Mr. Walter: As I said at the outset, I tabled a probing amendment. The Minister has responded, although not necessarily to my absolute satisfaction. She reiterates that someone habitually resident, let us say, in Scotland cannot apply to a court in England for an adoption order. That is an unfortunate consequence of several historic occurrences, but we cannot rectify it under the Bill. The Minister has given us some helpful definitions, and we can rest reasonably happily now that we know what is meant by the provision—although I would have preferred it if the amendment had been accepted. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 86 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 87

Overseas determinations and orders

Mr. Walter: I beg to move amendment No. 169, in page 47, line 28, leave out 'colony' and insert 'British Overseas Territory.'.

I fear that it is my turn again. The term ''colony'' seemed to be shouting out at me when I read clause 87. In British law, that term obviously goes back quite some time. We are still on the subject of definitions: perhaps we should get them right. If my understanding of procedures in the House is correct, British colonies have not been so named for some time; they have been renamed British overseas territories, and legislation before the House at the moment grants their citizens the right of abode in the United Kingdom.

This is a probing amendment. I am intrigued about why legislation in 2001 still uses the term ''colonies'' to describe what we have correctly renamed British overseas territories. It is a throwback to an earlier time. We do not refer to the Administration of those territories as our colonial Administration, and we are responsible only for their external relations, not their internal government. We should perhaps not continue to incorporate the term ''colony'' in new legislation. I shall be interested in the Minister's response.

12.30 pm

Mr. Bellingham: My hon. Friend made an interesting point. The word ''colony'' has disappeared from the lexicon, and we have rightly moved on to use the term ''overseas territories''. My hon. Friend is right to note that a Bill before the House will give the

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citizens of our few remaining overseas territories extra rights. I would like it to go further, and I hope that the Government will consider that.

Those issues are relevant to the clause, because the Government's thinking in it has not moved on sufficiently. Now is the logical time to ensure that overseas territories are properly represented in Parliament so that they can invoke legislation such as the Bill. We should move to the system that exists in countries such as France, whose former colonies are now overseas territories and part of la France—

The Chairman: Order. I tried to catch the hon. Gentleman's eye, but failed to do so. I think that he knows what I am going to say. I would be most grateful if he stuck to the amendment.

Mr. Bellingham: My point is important. If overseas territories were represented in Parliament, they would be able—

The Chairman: Order. Yes, but with the greatest respect, we are not debating whether overseas territories should be represented in the House. That should be debated elsewhere. I refer the hon. Gentleman back to the amendment.

Mr. Bellingham: I have great respect for your skills as a Chairman, Mr. Stevenson, and I shall endeavour to keep my remarks in order.

Goodness knows what the Government were thinking when they included the word ''colony'' in the Bill. It is a throwback to imperialist thinking, and I was under the impression that we had moved on. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset is right that the word sends entirely the wrong signals. It is not only clumsy drafting, but a basic mistake.

Conservative Members feel strongly about the issue because we feel strongly about our overseas territories, which we do not want to insult or patronise. We feel strongly that they have much to offer, particularly now that we are left with a hard core of such territories. Once, there were big questions about Hong Kong's future as a dependent territory and about whether part of it would remain with Britain ad infinitum or whether all of it would move back to China under the terms of the lease. However, that is history, and we are left with 14 overseas territories. To call them colonies, as the Bill does, is insulting. It is patronising and it sends completely the wrong signals. I urge the Minister to support the amendment.

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Member for North Dorset has probed long and hard this morning, and he has finally hit the jackpot. Clause 87 allows for the recognition of a decision made by an authority in a country that has ratified the 1993 Hague convention or in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or any colony where it has the power to decide that an adoption order should be revoked or annulled. If an authority in one of the specified countries decides that a convention adoption should be either annulled or confirmed, that decision will have effect in England and Wales also. The hon. Gentleman's amendment seeks to replace the word ''colony'' with the phrase ''British Overseas

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Territory''. He is right; the British Overseas Territories Bill is going through Parliament. We believe that the clause should be amended to take account of the terms used in that Bill. We shall consider what drafting change will be most appropriate and will table an amendment on Report.

Mr. Walter: I am lost for words. I am grateful for the Minister's assurance that, although my relatively straightforward wording is not immediately acceptable, a similar form of words will be introduced as a Government amendment on Report. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Mr. Bellingham: I have a couple of questions for the Minister. Subsection (2) states:

    ''If the authority makes a determination in the exercise of that power, the determination is to have effect for the purpose of effecting, confirming or terminating the adoption in question or, as the case may be, confirming its termination.''

I am not sure that that wording is as sharp as it could be—we considered tabling an amendment to make it more logical. Does the Minister agree that it does not flow very well, especially in the last line? Is it really necessary to repeat ''confirming its termination''? As she knows, I believe in trying to keep things simple, straightforward and logical. It could be that such wording is required in order to make sure that the law stands up. Will she comment on that?

Jacqui Smith: The clause, as I have said, allows for the recognition of a decision made by an authority in a country that has ratified the 1993 Hague convention or in the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or overseas territory where it has the power to decide that an adoption order should be revoked or annulled. Therefore, if an authority in one of the specified countries decides that a convention adoption should be annulled, that decision will have effect in England and Wales too, and the adoption order will not be recognised. The hon. Gentleman is concerned about the wording of subsection (2). The wording, as it stands, is legally necessary to confirm a termination as well as to confirm or terminate an order—two separate things are covered in that subsection. I hope that I have reassured him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 87 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 120

Scottish restriction on bringing children into United Kingdom

Mr. Bellingham: I beg to move amendment No. 178, in page 67, line 24, leave out 'British Islands' and insert 'United Kingdom'.

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The Chairman: With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 179, in page 67, line 26, leave out 'outside the British Islands' and insert 'abroad'.

No. 181, in page 67, line 43, leave out 'British Islands' and insert 'United Kingdom'.

Mr. Bellingham: These amendments continue our earlier discussion. Through them, I propose to clarify once and for all what we mean by ''British Islands''. I mentioned briefly that I was not especially happy about the expression. As the Minister pointed out, the phrase has a definition under the Interpretation Act 1978, but events have moved on since then.

We have been keen to build close relationships with the Dail in the Republic of Ireland. Since 1978, a series of initiatives has tried to bring the two Parliaments closer together, including the Anglo-Irish treaty and other initiatives that have flowed from it, including the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body and the Good Friday or Belfast agreement. Many important initiatives have been made under which cross-border bodies have been set up, to try to break down the idea of the British isles.

The expression ''British Islands'' may evoke nostalgia among various people, especially Conservative Members, for the days when the Republic of Ireland was part of the UK and it was not necessary to talk about the British isles with any regard for people's sensitivities. However, the Republic of Ireland is concerned about the use of the phrase. As various members of the Committee who are on the inter-parliamentary body will know—I think that my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy is—the expression often leads to offence. The Irish find it patronising, archaic and in many ways inappropriate.

That is why whenever there is a bilateral meeting of any kind between the two countries, we talk about ''these islands'', which encompasses the islands around this country—the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey—and the islands around Ireland. Obviously, many issues of mutual concern affect all those islands. Once or twice, people have talked about the British isles in the inter-parliamentary body and it has led to considerable offence, as my hon. Friend the Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy will recall.

I would like to see ''British Islands'' removed from the Bill. It is good to be nostalgic at times, but we must bear in mind the concerns of the Irish, our nearest neighbours in the west. The links between our two countries have improved substantially. Every initiative that has arisen from the Belfast agreement has led to the countries working together, and there are several more initiatives to ensure that we work more closely on social legislation. Hon. Members will be aware that Irish citizens in this country have the right to vote and the same rights of citizenship as us. We have a special relationship with Ireland, although it is a separate sovereign country. Since 1989, citizens of this country have had the rights to vote and claim benefit in Ireland. For example, they have the same rights as Irish citizens to claim subsidised bus passes. The Government made a concession a moment ago on the amendment tabled

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by my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset, which would have removed the word ''colony''. In the same way, it is important that they should remove the words ''British Islands''.

12.45 pm

The Minister pointed out a moment ago that under the 1978 Act a legal definition is attached to the term ''British Islands''. That distinguishes it from the term ''United Kingdom'', which manifestly does not include the two Channel Islands, Jersey and Guernsey, or, indeed, the islands attached to Jersey—Alderney and Sark. It does not include the Isle of Man either. Therefore, I understand the term ''British Islands'' to mean, in a strict legal context, the United Kingdom and those islands. I asked the Minister on—I think—Thursday whether that was right, and she was not able to give me a clear answer. I think that she has since been briefed by her civil servants, who have updated her on the legal definition of the United Kingdom. The islands that I mentioned are not included in it; they have a separate legal status.

It is interesting, to return to a point that I made earlier about our close relationship with the Irish Republic and the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body, to note that we have brought on to that body Members of the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and of the Northern Ireland Assembly, a Member of the Tynwald of the Isle of Man, and Members of the Parliaments of Jersey and Guernsey. The result is truly an inter-parliamentary body, encompassing the Parliaments of all these islands' countries, including the one separate sovereign state, the Republic of Ireland. That arrangement is now working well. I should like more inter-parliamentary bodies to be set up between the countries concerned, to deal, particularly, with social legislation, health and transport.

What does the situation that I have outlined mean for the clause? Simply, we must remove the words ''British Islands''. The amendment would replace them with the words ''United Kingdom'', but probably we should not do that. If the Minister's intention is to include the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, that should be stated. We should, in that case, insert the words, ''United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, Jersey and its attached islands and Guernsey''. That would make it clear what was intended. It would also send a strong signal to our friends in the Irish Republic that we are not trying to patronise them or invoke nostalgia.

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