Clause 1 — Considerations applying to the exercise of powers
Orders of the Day — Adoption and Children Bill — [2nd Allotted Day]
Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight, Conservative)
I agree with the hon. Lady's first proposition but not with her second. The reason for that is to do with the word "paramount". If one child's interests are paramount, those of the other child are, by definition, of less importance—they must be taken account of but they are not equal. I see no reason why two children in the same family who may be of the same age should be treated unequally by the courts in relation to such proceedings. Clearly, an effect on one may be equal on another; indeed, it may be equal and opposite on another. I accept the intention of subsection (4), but it does not deal with the issue of the word "paramount".
Amendment No. 159—my second amendment—considers the length of time that proceedings can go on and the effect of that estrangement on the natural parents of a child. I should like to refer to the judgment in the case that I have in mind. Among other things, it states:
"There has been delay in this case"—
three years and one month's delay. It continues:
"The obvious consequence of this is that"—
"has been able to become more firmly settled in the home of"—
the prospective adopters—
"whilst contact with his parents and"—
"has continued at a level which would usually be regarded as inconsistent with a plan for adoption."
That is the judgment. It seems incredibly unfair to parents who are simply pursuing their rights, as the local authority is pursuing the rights of the child, under this and other legislation, that the passage of time should lead to the estrangement of the child to such an extent that the court may consider that nothing may have been wrong in that relationship except the passage of time. In the case that I have in mind, no charge has ever been preferred against either parent, and no arrest has ever been made of either parent. The only reason that I can see, in reading the judgment, is the passage of time.
I accept, of course, that three years and one month in the case of a child who was four at the time of adoption is a very long time. That period allows much time for the formulation of bonds with the foster parents and prospective adopters. However, the parents concerned feel deeply that it is unfair that the court should take into account that estrangement, which is not their fault, when deciding on adoption.