Adoption and Children Bill

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Mr. Walter: I thank the Minister for correcting me. Obviously, I had been acting on information that was out of date, and I am reassured that Northern Ireland has passed the necessary legislation. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the new clause.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New clause 13

Provision of information relating to adoption

    'Organisations providing services with regard to pregnancy and the care of young children must be under a duty to provide information relating to adoption.'.—[Mr. Brazier.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Brazier: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

It would be nice to be able to say something about each of new clauses. Thus, as we have only a short time left, I will be brief. The purpose of the new clause, which has been loosely drafted, is to probe and draw attention to an important point. Time prevents me from giving a lot of verbatim quotes, but the Government's statements and academic testimony from institutions such as Cardiff university make it clear that there is a shortage of information in many quarters about adoption and its benefits.

I hope that the Committee will forgive me for briefly mentioning a tragic constituency case that I referred to some time ago, in which a 13-year-old girl, whose mother was a financially struggling lone parent, unexpectedly gave birth to a baby. For obvious reasons, the girl had given no indication to her mother that she was pregnant. The family thought that she was putting on weight.

Some aspects of that case relate to the new clause. A social worker visited the thunder-struck, devastated family, intending to do her best under the circumstances. She did not suggest that adoption was a possibility. The 13-year-old child was left with the impression that she had only two options. One was that the baby should be taken into care and fostered; the girl was given an unattractive picture of fostering. The second option was that the girl's mother should look after the baby while she was at school. Their decision might have been different if adoption had been suggested.

I do not want to criticise a particular social worker. However, I was pleased to receive a letter of apology from the director of social services in Kent. I understand that fresh guidance has been distributed

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that makes it clear that adoption should be mentioned prominently in such cases.

Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): Does the hon. Gentleman propose to extend the duty to general practitioners?

Mr. Brazier: The hon. Gentleman makes an excellent point, which the Government should consider.

As I said, no mention was made of adoption at the early stage at which decisions quickly become set in stone. Another point arises from that tragic, difficult case. Let us move from the actual case to a hypothetical variant of it, which is a more common occurrence, and suppose that the girl had told her mother some months earlier that she was pregnant. Whether it be a social worker or, as the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre rightly said, a general practitioner, one hopes that whoever they consulted would mention adoption prominently as a possible option.

A better local story is that East Kent Community NHS Trust, which is responsible for mental health care in my constituency, said in a presentation to Members of Parliament a few months ago that it commonly discusses options in the tragic cases of which, sadly, we have a disproportionate number in my area because of the moving—I hesitate to use the word dumping—of a number of mental health cases from central London to east Kent. In several cases, women with severe mental illnesses have become pregnant. In some cases the local authority has been very good in considering before birth what will happen to the child and, insofar as is possible, discussing the matter with the mother. It is stressed that adoption is an option and it is discussed with the mother early before the birth.

I do not want to detain the Committee any longer. It is not necessary for the Minister to tell me that the clause is appallingly widely drafted. She understands that it is a probing new clause. I would be grateful for her comments on what can be done to improve the information given so that young girls do not feel that their only options are to allow the child to be taken into care, to have an abortion, or to struggle as a 13 or 14-year-old with a grandparent trying to bring up the child.

Jacqui Smith: I shall say only briefly that the new clause is extremely broadly drafted, to the extent that were we to go ahead with it we could be in a position, for example, where the providers of day care nurseries should display information to working mothers who leave their child in the crèche about adoption being another option. I do not believe that is what the hon. Gentleman is suggesting, nor that expectant mothers arriving at a maternity clinic should see information encouraging them to consider adoption even though they have expressed no such wish and are looking forward to the birth of their child.

I accept that the hon. Gentleman said that that is not his intention. I hope that I can reassure him about the extent of advice that is necessary. If an expectant mother raises the issue of adoption or expresses doubts about motherhood, she should receive advice from her

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GP—this relates to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre—midwife, or pregnancy adviser. Professionals are provided with information by their Royal Colleges and others on sources of advice and counselling on an expectant mother's options: to keep the baby, adoption, abortion, and future contraceptive needs. Where a woman is considering abortion, successive Governments have always recognised the importance of objective counselling.

All UK health authorities and private sector clinics carrying out abortions have guidance on the provision of counselling services, which makes it clear that counselling should include the provision of advice and information about all possible alternatives to termination, including adoption.

Mr. Brazier: There is a difficulty if the Government provide mere advice without an element of compulsion. A high proportion of abortions in this country are carried out in private clinics, so there is a financial interest in the abortion taking place. Surely, in that regard at least, there is a case for some statutory move rather than just guidance?

Jacqui Smith: The new clause proposes pretty strong guidance. It is clear both to health authorities and to private sector clinics that carry out abortions that counselling should include the provision of advice and information about all the possible alternatives to termination, including adoption. Adoption should be raised as an option when pregnant teenagers under 18 seek advice from their GP or pregnancy advisers. Professionals should once again provide all the information on sources of advice and counselling. Each top-tier local authority area has a teenage pregnancy co-ordinator, and they are required to ensure that a directory or service guide is provided for pregnant teenagers under 18. This guide must list sources of advice on future options, such as keeping the baby, adoption or abortion. Family doctors, the sexual health service and pregnancy advisers are provided with an advice checklist, which also includes the option of adoption.

In the light of those comments, and given the sensitivities on this issue, I hope that I can assure hon. Members that there will clarity in the information that must be provided to expectant mothers and others, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw his new clause.

Mr. Brazier: I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

New Clause 14

Foster carers and adopters: insurance

    'Foster carers and adopters shall be required to be covered by insurance for legal proceedings that might result from any complaints of negligence or failure to provide sufficient information on the part of adoption agencies.'.—[Mr. Bellingham.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Bellingham: I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

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The Minister will be aware of the power given to insurance companies in this country, as we saw for example in Clwyd, which have discouraged local authorities from admitting any form of liability for fear of compensation claims. It is quite understandable that apologies and self-criticism are unlikely, and very often users of the system will feel somewhat failed by it.

I will not go into a great deal of detail, but one can certainly envisage a situation in which legal action might be taken against the adopting parents by the birth parents or blood relations of an adopted child. In a current case, I understand from correspondence sent to me, a couple in Flintshire who adopted a child abroad are being taken to court by Flintshire county council over declaration of the adoption. The couple will obviously have to pay a substantial sum of money. A way of avoiding and averting that problem would be to require foster carers and adopters to have the necessary insurance cover for any legal proceedings that might result.

I hope that the Minister will agree that the new clause is logical, straightforward and sensible. It puts in place a safety net, in the form of insurance, and I hope very much that the Minister will accept it.

Jacqui Smith: I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but I do not think that we will be able to accept the new clause. The hon. Gentleman made it explicit that it would require foster carers and adopters to be covered by insurance for legal proceedings that might result from any complaints of negligence or failure to provide sufficient information on the part of adoption agencies. However, it is not clear whether the clause is intended to allow foster carers or adopters, as well as the adoption agency, to initiate and possibly defend proceedings against others. Is it his intention to cover the cost of legal proceedings for the adopters who take legal action against the foster carers or even the birth parents of their adopted child where they complain of abuse of that child? Is it also intended that the insurance will cover the cost of legal proceedings in defence of the same foster carers? Is it intended to cover civil or criminal costs? It is not clear from the clause whether the adoption agency should provide the insurance cover.

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