Adoption and Children Bill
Baroness Barker (Liberal Democrat)
My Lords, I rise to give the weakest support to Amendment No. 88 and the warmest of welcomes to Amendment No. 96A. I do not want to steal the Minister's thunder, but I have to speak now.
Today is a really good day. I thank the Minister and his department for listening to the arguments that we made with a great deal of conviction and with a great deal of information at our disposal from people who have worked to achieve this change for many years. It would not have come about in the right way without the technical input from the department. On behalf of the charities, I thank the department for finding a way to make a good idea work well and, in particular, for coming up with the safeguards for people who are adopted, which are, perhaps, the most important parts of the amendment. In particular, it is good to see a right for people who have been adopted to give pre-emptive notification to the courts, to the registrar-general and to the adoption agencies that they do not wish to be contacted or wish to be contacted only in certain circumstances.
I do not want to cover in great detail the ground that we went over in Grand Committee. However, I believe that people who gave children away for adoption prior to 1976 have suffered from being unable to break through a barrier erected by the state and gather information about people with whom they have a blood relationship. At Second Reading, I said that that was wrong, and I am glad that we have managed to find a way to enable them not to bring about contact but to try to bring about contact.
Unlike the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I have only a couple of questions. I understand why the Chancellor of the Exchequer gets a look-in on this matter, although I stand to be corrected. I have a practical question. How will this be publicised? I have a particular reason for asking that. Noble Lords may remember that, at Second Reading, I talked about birth fathers. I have no doubt that birth mothers will get to hear about the change in the legislation. I do not wish to be sexist in any way, but I imagine that the change will be picked up, in particular, by women's journals and programmes directed at women. However, birth fathers and siblings also have the right, and I am concerned that they should be able to exercise the right to approach an intermediary body.
It has been a strange night. Not only have I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, but I am about to say something that I rarely say. I believe that, in this case, it is right to use regulations to bring the measure into effect. It is right because there is still some uncertainty about how it will work in practice and what best practice will turn out to be when we are dealing with the most complex personal cases. We need the flexibility to change practice if it becomes apparent that that would be best for all concerned.
I offer a suggestion about funding. One of the reasons why many of us lobbied hard for the change was the expensive and Byzantine process that people seeking to make such searches must go through, from adoption agency records to bits of historical information that may be incomplete. The key to the measure is the information held by the registrar-general. That should make the process more efficient, and I wonder whether there will be efficiency savings that could be put towards the cost of the real implementation of the measure. I have no doubt that that will be done by people who care passionately about the subject.
All along, we have said that the measure would not bring about a happy ending for everybody. We cannot guarantee that. We are not here to play God; we are here to make a legislative framework in which people can make their own decisions. However, it is a good move. On behalf of the organisations that have worked for this, I give a heartfelt welcome to Amendment No. 96A. It is a just move.