|Previous Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|
The Earl of Listowel: I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, for bringing forward the amendment. Some years ago I heard of such an incident where the child experienced great distress. He felt that he had been forgotten by the parent left behind because he had not been saved from that experience. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for bringing forward the amendment and I look forward to the Minister's response.
Lord Adonis: In response to the noble Baroness's point about statistics, I am told that we do have statistics and I shall write to her with them. I am not
17 Oct 2005 : Column GC165
absolutely clear that the statistics are in exactly the same category to which she referred. But I shall come back to her with the statistics that we do have and it may be that we can meet her point. If not, I shall look further at what she said on the specific issue of statistics.
The noble Baroness has raised a very important and profound concern about the parents of children who are abducted, which is a terrible thing to happen, both to the parents and often to the children themselves. We do not in any way minimise the gravity of that situation or the need for effective measures to counter it. Indeed, the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction is an international instrument for ensuring the return of abducted children to their country of habitual residence. It is generally recognised as working well and we play a full part in it.
Each contracting state to the convention maintains a central authority. The central authority for England and Wales is operated by the International Child Abduction and Contact Unit in the Office of the Official Solicitor. As well as processing applications for return and for contact, the unit provides information to parents and publishes details of the services it can provide. Additional advice and support to parents is provided by reunite, the organisation mentioned by the noble Baroness, and by the International Child Abduction Centre. Reunite is funded by the DCA and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The DCA currently contributes £100,000 a year to its core funding and it provides a 24/7 telephone advice and information service. This includes a prevention guide for those who fear their child may be abducted and a lawyers' list of legal practitioners, in both the UK and abroad, specialising in child abduction to help parents quickly identify a solicitor experienced in this field of expertise.
Reunite signposts parents to the relevant government departments and helps people understand the situation in which they find themselves. The child abduction co-ordination group, chaired by the DCA and comprising members from across government, the public sector and the voluntary sector, monitors the operation of the convention and constantly looks for new ways to prevent abduction and to support those affected by it.
The operation of the convention is kept under review by the Hague Permanent Bureau through a series of regular special commissions. The commission which met in 2001 concluded that the instrument itself did not need reforming but active steps were required to improve its operation. A further commission in 2002 concluded that improved contact arrangements could potentially reduce the risk of abduction. A fifth special commission will meet next year in March and will be focussing on contact and enforcement orders. The Government are closely involved in the research being carried out preparatory to that commission. It is expected that the special commission will consider whether a further chapter on contact should be added to the Hague good practice guide, which currently covers central authority practice, implementing measures and preventative measures. This guide has
17 Oct 2005 : Column GC166
been developed over several years, with input from all contracting states to the Hague convention. It gives advice to central authorities and practitioners about the operation of the convention but is not legally binding.
I can assure the Committee that we are playing a full part in the Hague processes and will play our part next year in considering whether they can be further improved. We offer good support to parents faced with the terrible situation of their children being abducted, although of course we are always looking at ways in which we can improve this.
Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank Members of the Committee for their support and the Minister for his detailed reply. I shall look forward to reading it and also to receiving his letter. "You will never see your children again" must be one of the most awful comments, and must strike fear into the heart of every parent. We must do everything we can to ensure that we recognise the early signs of abduction and do something about it, and that when it does happen we give every possible support to the parents. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 125, I should like to speak to Amendment Nos. 126, 127 and 141 as well. The amendments are designed fully to meet the points raised by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that the powers to make and end special restrictions in respect of intercountry adoptions should be exercised by statutory instrument. Taken together, the amendments provide for the use of statutory instruments in these cases. They go no further than, but fully meet, the points raised by the committee.
On what basis will that review be conducted? Where and from whom will information be sought? Will the other countries, as they are designated in this part of the Bill, be able to trigger a review, or will prospective adopters be able to do so? The process of inter-country adoption and the basis on which decisions are made is somewhat obscure. Will the Minister give us more information so that the review process becomes more transparent?
Lord Adonis: The fact that we have not specified detailed criteria in respect of bringing a country off the restricted list in Clause 9 is not meant to signal that we have any intention of not following the agreed international criteria of the United Nations convention on the rights of the child and the Hague convention, wherever possible and in the vast majority of cases. Our intention would be to follow those processes. However, there has, as yet, been only one instance of a country from which we have had to suspend adoption. We cannot predict that the issue of Cambodia will be a typical example, nor that the approach we have taken in this instance will be the most effective and appropriate in every case.
We simply cannot know what we will encounter in future regarding suspension of intercountry adoptions. In the case of Cambodia, the articles of the UNCRC were useful criteria on which to judge the process, but in the case of other countries, there may be effects to intercountry adoption that do not fall within this category, but are nevertheless against public policy. Since we cannot predict the situations that the Secretary of State will need to review and evaluate, we should allow the flexibility that this clause allows.
Lastly, I should add that the Secretary of State has a duty under the clause to cancel special restrictions if she believes that the reasons that provoked the restrictions cease to apply. Therefore, there is a clear obligation on the Secretary of State with regard to the ending of restrictions.
Baroness Barker: I thank the noble Lord for that reply and I shall study his words carefully in the Official Report. My concern about the process of review in part stems from the fact that the decision to restrict, as set out in the Bill, will not itself be subject to consultation with the central authority in the country that is going to be restricted or with others. Nor is there an appeal process against that decision. So this may be a decision that may be taken swiftly without much information being available to any other relevant party who might have an interest, hence
17 Oct 2005 : Column GC168
my concern about the process of review and the need to make it transparent. Perhaps the noble Lord will write to me with further details, if he has any.
|Next Section||Back to Table of Contents||Lords Hansard Home Page|