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If a prospective adopter is well informed, he or she can be well prepared. That preparation will make all the difference at a difficult and an emotional time. If prospective adopters are to be sensitive to the needs of a child, they must be given as much information as possible about those needs, be they learning or behavioural difficulties, physical disabilities, challenging psychological experiences from a past home environment, or the problems that the noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, mentioned earlier.
Baroness Barker: I rise very briefly to make the case that this is not the customary argument held in Parliament between "may" and "must". This is something more than that, because it imposes a duty on adoption agencies to disclose information. The amendment has arisen because of past experience and practice. It is not isolated experience; it is representative of the experience that adoptive parents have had. The issue which the noble Lord, Lord Astor of Hever, has raised is one that has come increasingly to prominence, particularly over the last 10 years or so. The nature of the children being adopted has changed dramatically and the importance of the history of particular children to adopters has become more important than it ever was previously.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I do not disagreesubject to reading it in Hansardwith a word that either the noble Lord, Lord Astor, or the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, have said. I am sorry to have to tell the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, that I am afraid I believe I can show her that it is a "may" or "must" issue and it is the kind of "may" or "must" issue with which I have been dealing in this House for nearly 20 years. For 14 of those years, I used to argue that the "may" should be turned into "shall", and for the past five years I have been arguing that it should not. So the Committee will hear the experience of five years rather than the experience of 14 years.
I can give the assurance that is sought. The Government are committed to providing adopters with the information they will need in order to decide whether to adopt a child. We shall bring forward these regulations and we shall consult stakeholders in the adoption field, including groups representing adopters. We have not done so because the consultation has not yet taken place or, at any rate, is not complete. The Government tabled these amendments in Commons Committee precisely to ensure that we have the powers to bring forward regulations.
The regulations will give the powers to ensure that there is full and appropriate information in three stages: first, when a link between a child and prospective adopters is suggested; secondly, when a match is being considered; and, thirdly, in preparation for the placement of the child. Therefore, I assure the Committee that that is not the problem.
What is the problem about "may" and "shall"? We can bring forward the regulations, but Parliament is sovereign and we cannot be sure that the regulations will be acceptable to either this House or the other place. If the regulations were rejected and if we had the word "must" in, the Secretary of State would be given a duty that he could not fulfil. That is the only issue between "may" and "must", and that is why parliamentary counsel insist that we should say "may" and not "must". However, everything that has been said, with which I very much agree, is still true.
Lord Astor of Hever: I welcome the Minister to Grand Committee. We look forward to more of his humour. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for her support. I certainly agree that there have been many bad experiences of information not being given to prospective parents.
We wish to consider this matter carefully. We have received strong advice from outside bodies that feel that the provision should be on the face of the Bill, but in the meantime we shall consider it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
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