Adoption and Children Bill

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Tim Loughton: All that was as plain as mud. I want more clarification. Amendments Nos. 212, 213, 214 and 216 appear to be slashing away at the Bill for the reasons that the Minister outlined. However, I am not clear what the difference is between object'' and give their views as''. Does that amount to a watering down, so that an objection will not be seen as such? Does it amount to a declassification of objections, along the lines of there is no power of veto'', which we discussed earlier? What is the point of changing object'' to give their views as''?

Mr. Djanogly: I should like to address the same point. In an earlier discussion the Minister said that objections to the disclosure of information would relate to new clause 7 and new clause 8, and could be taken to a clause 12 panel. That being the case, what is objectionable about the use of object''?

Jacqui Smith: I am sure that hon. Members will remember that the problem with access to information was that in the case of birth records it was possible for birth parents to object to information being made available to enable people to access their birth records. As we have discussed today, the changes that the Government have subsequently made mean that new clauses 7 and 8 now spell out that such disclosure cannot be objected to. The adopted person has a right to the information required to access their birth record. Only in exceptional circumstances would the adoption agency refer the matter to the High Court.

Previously, the references to object'' in the clause related only to access to birth records. All hon. Members have agreed that we should change the provisions on that, and the Government have done so. The effect of that change is to remove the need for the regulations to require clarification of the nature of the objection. It does not undermine the points that I made in response to the earlier debate about how consent will be sought, what the safeguards are around

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that consent, or the nature of the discretion, such as it is, surrounding decisions following the granting of such consent. The system for all identifying information apart from birth records is now based on the idea of seeking consent. It is therefore no longer appropriate to have parts relating to a capacity to object'', because that no longer appears in the rest of the legislation.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendments made: No. 213, in page 34, line 34, leave out from 'which' to end of line.

No. 214, in page 34, leave out lines 36 to 38.

No. 215, in page 34, line 43, leave out 'object' and insert 'give their views as'.

No. 216, in page 34, line 45, leave out paragraph (b).

No. 217, in page 35, line 14, after '58', insert

'[Disclosing protected information about adults] or [Disclosing protected information about children]'.

No. 209, in page 35, line 15, leave out 'or 59'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Jacqui Smith: I beg to move amendment No. 210, in page 35, line 16, leave out from 'person' to 'by' in line 17 and insert

'who (but for his adoption) would be related to him'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take Government amendment No. 229.

Jacqui Smith: The amendments improve the drafting around the definition of relative'' in clause 61, and, consequentially, in clause 78. The word is defined in a circular manner in the Bill. It is defined as

    any person (other than an adoptive relative) who is related to the adopted person by blood (including half-blood) or marriage.''

The amendments clarify that definition.

Amendment No. 210 changes subsection (6), which provides for regulations for the payment of fees to the adoption agency by anybody other than the adopted person in respect of any information disclosed to him about a birth relative. The access to information provisions place new duties on adoption agencies, and it is important that they provide that service at no cost to the adopted person when he is seeking information about a birth relative.

There will be an obligation on agencies to take all reasonable steps to seek the views of the person who would be identified. That will require them to engage in research work, to contact individuals, to use the information that they have, and—possibly—to gather more information, if their current records do not enable them to trace that individual. Adoption agencies will also have the discretion to charge a fee to a person, other than an adopted person, who is seeking protected information about a birth relative, to cover only their costs in acting on an application for such information.

Amendment No. 229 clarifies the definition of relative'' for the purposes of clause 77. It is intended to assist the Registrar-General in the determination of the criteria used to decide whether to make an entry on part 2 of the adoption contact register. As I have spelled out to the Committee, the Registrar-General is

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precluded from making an entry on part 2 of the register unless the person is over 18 years of age and the Registrar-General is satisfied that that person is the relative of an adopted person. In determining whether an applicant is a relative of an adopted person, the Registrar-General is bound by the definition in the clause. The amended definition makes it clear that the applicant must be related to the adopted person by blood—including half-blood—or marriage.

The intention behind the amendments is to ensure—both in relation to clause 61 and the regulations around fees, and in relation to clause 77 and the situation with respect to the Registrar-General defining a relative for the purposes of the adoption contact register—that the definition of relative is clearly drafted, and that there is no confusion.

4.45 pm

Mr. Bellingham: I listened carefully to the Minister. However, I feel strongly that nothing could be clearer than

    adopted person by blood (including half-blood) or marriage'',

whereas what we are substituting is

    who (but for his adoption) would be related to him''.

It seems in some ways slightly insulting to say but for his adoption''. Such people are related, regardless of the adoption. Obviously he or she is related to the adoptive siblings. When a family adopts a child, the adopted child becomes related to the birth children of the adoptive parents, but he will always be related to his true—or birth—siblings. The provision complicates matters and is slightly insulting.

Jacqui Smith: I do not have much more to add to my previous comments. We believe that the proposed drafting is clearer than the previous drafting. The suggestion that it is insulting is silly, dare I say it. On that basis, I am sure that hon. Members will support the amendment.

Amendment agreed to.

Clause 61, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 62


Jacqui Smith: I beg to move amendment No. 218, in page 35, line 23, at end insert

    'or to information relating to his adoption'.

The clause relates to interpretation and provides definitions for this group of sections''. The amendment affects the term appropriate adoption agency'' in subsection (1). The term is used throughout this group of clauses in order to identify the adoption agency to which a person must apply in order to obtain information—either the agency that placed the adopted person for adoption or the agency that keeps information on a person's adoption because the placing agency has since closed down. In the case of a non-agency placement, notice of intention to adopt would have been given to the local authority. The

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amendment makes it clear that the definition of appropriate adoption agency'' applies to both the adopted himself and to information relating to his adoption.

Amendment agreed to.

Jacqui Smith: I beg to move amendment No. 211, in page 35, line 45, after 'fee' insert

    'by virtue of section 61(7)'.

The amendment will restrict the regulations that require the approval of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to those made under clause 61(7). Clause 61(7) provides for the payment of a fee by an adoption agency to the Registrar-General for his disclosure of information on the adoption contact register, which is provided for under clause 61(4). The purpose of seeking the approval of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when a fee is prescribed in regulations is to align the provisions with the chapter 5 provisions under which the Chancellor is required to approve regulations made by the Registrar-General.

Under clause 61(6), regulations may provide for adoption agencies to charge a fee to a person other than the adopted person seeking protected information about a birth relative in order to cover only the costs in acting on an application for identifying information. The amendment makes it clear that the approval of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is involved when regulations prescribe that a fee should be paid by the adoption agency to the Registrar-General.

Mr. Brazier: I have one question. If I heard the Minister correctly, she said that a fee could be charged—to recover costs—except when the person concerned is the adopted person. Is that correct?

Jacqui Smith: Yes. If I did not say that just now, I said it earlier.

Mr. Brazier: That seems a reasonable provision, but in such circumstances, is it not unfair that a fee is still charged by the Registrar-General for providing centrally held information? I am thinking about voluntary adoption agencies that are already struggling. Why should they be charged a fee that cannot be recovered?

Jacqui Smith: The Registrar-General charges individuals a fee. The hon. Gentleman continues to mention the charging of adoption agencies by the Registrar-General, although I understand his point. However, it is necessary to ensure that costs are recovered. The important principle is that adopted people should not be charged for information made available to them. The intricacies of the cost structures of adoption agencies should not be discussed under the amendment or, perhaps, in this Committee. However, I heard the hon. Gentleman's point and I am sure that Treasury Ministers will also hear it.

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