Clause 66 - Rules of interpretation for instruments concerning property

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:45 am on 6 December 2001.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk

The clause is fairly complicated, and much of it will be covered in appendices, but what is the situation as regards entailed property? I hope that the Parliamentary Secretary's colleagues in the Box can shed some light on that, although she may know the answer herself.

Subsection (2) refers to dates of adoption. What is the crucial factor in deciding the inheritance of property that is left to the eldest of two adopted children of a marriage—their dates of birth or the dates on which they were adopted? That would affect not only large inheritances, but the inheritance of, for example, a small, modest house in one of our constituencies. I would be grateful if the Parliamentary Secretary could consider those two points.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

I should set out a little of the background to the clause. As the hon. Gentleman said, it sets out the rules of interpretation for any instrument concerning the disposition of property. It puts in place a clear system that endeavours to put the adopted child and any natural children in the adoptive family on as equal a footing as possible in respect of inheritance issues.

The hon. Gentleman asked what would happen if two or more children had been adopted. Where a disposition depends on the date of birth of a child of an adoptive parent, an adopted person is to be treated as having been born on the date on which the adoption order was made. Where two or more children are adopted on the same date, they will be treated as if they were both born on that date, but in the order of their births. That general principle does not prejudice an interest vested in possession in the adopted child before the adoption or any interest that is expectant on such an interest.

The clause assists in the disposition of property where no express position has been made in any legal instrument or will. It is, however, open to any person who leaves property to make their own provision as to how an adopted child should be dealt with. For example, if the adoptive parents die intestate, the adopted child will be able to benefit in the same way as any natural children.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk spoke of there being two or more children. Where there is a question about who is the eldest, the adopted child will be treated under the clause as having been born on the date of the adoption. A family might have two natural children aged five and three and an adopted child aged seven. For the purpose of any will that specifies that property should go to the eldest child, the five-year-old natural child would inherit the property.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Conservative, North West Norfolk 10:00, 6 December 2001

Does the Parliamentary Secretary not feel that that is slightly unfair? We have been talking about inclusion and how such children, when they understand that they are adopted, should nevertheless feel part of the adopted family. We have said all along that they should have exactly the same rights as natural children, yet they do not on this important point.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Parliamentary Secretary (Lord Chancellor's Department)

The hon. Gentleman might quarrel with the clause, but it replaces section 42 of the 1976 Act and follows the system that has been in place since 1976. We should accept that that system has been seen to operate fairly. We have to think about the balance of rights for natural and adopted children. Experience has shown that the previous Act has worked well, so the decision has been made to repeat the provision. I hope that that reassures him.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.