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Margaret Hodge: We have considered such difficulties and the best advice is that in reviewing whether a care order should be revoked or amended—which is the focus of the review—individual social service authorities will have to look back at the best record they have of the evidence given. I recognise that there is not always a full record of the proceedings, but we can trust the professionals engaged in this review to take a common-sense approach to the matter, to review the reasons why a care order was made and decide whether, in the interests of the child, they should review it and refer it back to the courts.

Mr. Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): As the father of two adopted sons, who are now far too old to be involved in this issue, I am conscious of the concern, distress and apprehension felt by many adoptive parents about what might happen. Would my right hon. Friend be prepared to say that it would be unusual for adoption orders to be overturned or revoked? However, it is important to have some process by which a wrong can be righted, perhaps by a declaration of some kind. Has she given some thought to how the record may be put straight without necessarily overturning adoption orders?

Margaret Hodge: My hon. Friend is right to say that it would be unusual for adoptions to be overturned. I hope that I made that clear in my original statement. Whether a declaration could be made in relation to particular birth or adoptive parents is a matter for the courts, and that is why my advice would be for individuals to seek legal advice and return to the courts if appropriate.

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Mr. George Osborne (Tatton) (Con): The statement by the Minister anticipates the debate that I have been granted in Westminster Hall on this very subject tomorrow. Will she return to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve) raised and say why she is restricting the guidance to disputed cases? Why did she feel unable to issue guidance to local authorities about cases with just one piece of evidence about sudden infant death, given what we now know about the Court of Appeal's verdict in the Angela Cannings case and the case of Sally Clark, my constituent?

Margaret Hodge: I was mindful of the Cannings judgment, which was very narrow indeed and related to disputed evidence in respect of just one category in which care proceedings and possible adoption proceedings could take place, where an unexplained infant death or multiple deaths had taken place. We broadened that very narrow category to provide for the review of all cases in which an instance of disputed medical evidence was the only or main reason for referring them to court.

I shall simply reiterate what I told the hon. Member for Beaconsfield (Mr. Grieve), which is that in most care cases where only one medical expert has given evidence, the courts and social services departments will have considered other issues in looking at the best interests of the child in the round. We have to trust the common sense of social services departments to ensure that, in their statutory six-monthly review of all care orders, they will have regard to the sort of evidence that led to a care order being instigated in the first instance.

I think we have got things about right in this difficult policy area, but I assure the hon. Gentleman that, if that proves not be the case over time, I will return to the House with further proposals.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): I welcome my right hon. Friend's statement. She has referred to the lack of centralised information. In view of the public concern and the serious public policy issues, will she consider publishing some of the results of the reviews that local authorities have undertaken and ensure that the best practice from those reviews is captured and disseminated widely across social services? I hope that, as a result, improved procedures would work through local authorities and not only apply to cases that come under the present review, but improve arrangements for children in care on a much wider basis.

Margaret Hodge: We must beware of giving publicity to individuals. This is a very difficult area, and publicising details about how individual cases have been considered is extremely difficult. In dealing with the situation that arises from the Cannings judgment, there has been no criticism of the way that local authorities have conducted the reviews and taken the decisions about whether or not to proceed with action in the courts in relation to individual children. What has happened is that, because of the new knowledge and evidence and because of the judgment of the courts, local authorities must now have regard to the new information that is available to them and consider each child's interests in the light of that new judgment. It is in no way a criticism of local authorities that has led me to make my statement today or has caused local authorities to undertake the review that I am asking them to undertake.

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Point of Order

5.3 pm

Mr. Owen Paterson (North Shropshire) (Con): On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The Dairy Crest site in Ellesmere in my constituency has lain derelict for 15 years. A proposal to develop it has the support of the town council, North Shropshire district council, Shropshire county council and the regional development agency and was passed with flying colours by the Deputy Prime Minister's inspector last March. It therefore caused total consternation in the town when the Deputy Prime Minister threw out the proposal—a decision that was seen to be arbitrary and capricious. I wrote to him on 3 February, asking that I be allowed to bring a delegation of local councillors and other parties to meet him. He has refused to see me on the grounds that he has a judicial role in the matter. I have also been told that I cannot see any of his other Ministers. What advice do you have for me, as the elected representative of the public of Ellesmere, whose town will be blighted for a generation unless that proposal goes through? How can I represent my constituents' interests when the Deputy Prime Minister and his fellow Ministers flatly refuse to see me?

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving notice of his point or order. If he consults the Table Office, I am sure that he will be able to find a way to raise his concerns with a Minister in the House.

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Orders of the Day

Gender Recognition Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

5.4 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Constitutional Affairs (Mr. David Lammy): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

The Department for Constitutional Affairs was created in June last year to spearhead across government a coherent programme of constitutional reform. This programme is designed to improve the credibility and effectiveness of our constitutional arrangements, engage citizens in decision making and enhance trust in our public institutions.

The Bill is part of the Government's commitment to reforming the constitution so that it better meets the needs of all people. It reflects, too, our commitment to social inclusion. Transsexual people are a small and vulnerable minority in our society and the Bill addresses one of the key problems that they face. It is essential that no one is left behind as we create the conditions for a credible and effective modern democracy.

There is a strong tradition of legislation in this country that has sought to respond to the concerns and needs of minority groups—whether they have been ethnic minorities, people who are disabled or, with this Bill, transsexual people. As you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, the Government intend to introduce legislation this Session that will enable same-sex partners to acquire a legal status for their relationships. I believe that the reformist tradition behind such measures is one that the country can be proud of. We, as a Government, are committed to continuing that tradition.

The Bill provides transsexual people with the opportunity to gain the rights and responsibilities appropriate to the gender in which they are now living. At present, transsexual people live in a state of limbo. Their birth gender determines their legal status.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): My hon. Friend has now referred at least twice to transsexual people and once to gender dysphoria. Will he clarify whether the definition, for the purposes of this Bill, includes people who were born with ambiguous genitalia and whose proper gender could not be identified at birth, or does it cover only people who are identified by the medical profession as having gender dysphoria?

Mr. Lammy: I know that my hon. Friend has taken a keen interest in these issues. The Bill does not specifically deal with people who are born with ambiguous genitalia. They are, of course, already able to re-register their birth certificates with the general registrar after having the appropriate medical assessment. The Bill deals specifically with people with gender dysphoria who present themselves as having acquired a new gender because they are driven to that by the medical condition surrounding gender dysphoria. I shall come to that point, but I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising it.

23 Feb 2004 : Column 49

The Bill provides transsexual people with the opportunity to gain the rights and responsibilities appropriate to the gender in which they are now living.

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