Clause 14 - Other amendments relating to adoptions from abroad

Children and Adoption Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 14 March 2006.

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

Photo of Annette Brooke Annette Brooke Shadow Spokesperson (Children, Schools and Families), Shadow Minister (Education), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

On Second Reading, I raised an issue on which I should have liked to table an amendment. Foreign adoption of UK children was discussed at every stage in the other place and reached the point at which there was a possibility of a way forward. Obviously, the protection of children is paramount, and I appreciate why we have restrictions. The only channel for requesting an easing of those restrictions is the High Court. I should like an easing of the requirement for a 10-week domicile of the child with the parents from abroad. There are many reasons for that, and I understand them entirely, but in a few cases where the child may have foreign connections, it can be an insurmountable barrier.

I genuinely want an answer on this. The last time the matter was raised, Lord Adonis said that it would be looked at further, that there was perhaps a need for suitable flexibility to deal with very unusual cases, and that there might be an opportunity for the Government to introduce some amendments on Report. Is that being considered, in which case I need not engage my thought processes in writing amendments myself, or are the Government still thinking about it?

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

I have been drawn back to proceedings on the Adoption and Children Act 2002. Subsection (1) substitutes “twelve” for “six” in section 83 of that Act. Remarkably, that very amendment was tabled in the Standing Committee in 2001. I thought that the hon. Lady would mention it because it was tabled by the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley), who I thought would be a member of this Committee and who could therefore have taken credit for being so prescient as to predict five years ago that something would not work. In response to that hon. Lady’s suggestion of extending the period to 12 months—in amendment No. 159—the then Minister, the right hon. Member for Redditch (Jacqui Smith), said:

“Extending the period to 12 months would not increase our chances of catching those leaving the country for a short period in order to adopt. However, it would increase our chances of catching those who legitimately choose to go through the adoption procedures in the country where they live.”—[Official Report, Special Standing Committee, 6 December 2001; c. 479.]

With that clarification she asked the hon. Member for Romsey to withdraw the amendment. What has changed over those few years, so that the Minister was wrong and the hon. Lady was right, as supported by us?

Photo of Beverley Hughes Beverley Hughes Minister of State (Children, Young People and Families), Department for Education and Skills, Minister of State (Education and Skills) (Children, Young People and Families)

I appreciate that the issue of the 10 weeks and the circumstances in which UK children may be adopted abroad in foreign countries were of considerable debate in the other place. I was surprised not to see amendments to similar effect here.

With the situation as it stands under the 2002 Act, which is what brought the change from the previous position to the 10-week period, what we want is a trial period to consider whether the relationship between the prospective adopters and the child is likely to be stable and lasting. That seems to be an essential component of the process, providing information to the courts about whether the making of a lasting adoption order is in the best interests of the child. As members will know, the local authority prepares a report to the court setting out its opinion on the likely   success or otherwise of the placement. That is a minimal required position to try to ensure that the proposed arrangements are going to work for the children.

Such a route is slightly more onerous than the previous court-order route, although less onerous than the six-month cohabitation period. For safeguarding, which the hon. Member for Mid-Dorset and North Poole said at the outset was her overriding principle, we have come to the settled position that the 10-week provision is right, striking the balance between safeguarding children and having a requirement for adopters, which, while important, is not over-onerous. We have concluded that we will keep to the current position, particularly on the safeguarding issue.

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham asked what had changed since the amendment was debated some years ago. The argument, to which my noble Friend Lord Adonis alluded in the House of Lords, if I remember the debate correctly, is that we feel that there have been some cases in which people are circumventing the six-month rule who would be caught by a 12-month rule. We have had some cases of UK residents adopting children, then leaving them in the care of a person in another country until the six months have passed, in order to avoid meeting the conditions. Members may ask why we have 12 months and not another period, but there is a balance, as with everything. We know that in certain cases the six-month rule is being circumvented by people with the wherewithal to do so. Twelve months discourages people from circumventing the restrictions.

While attempting to strengthen the legislation, I recognise that no system can be watertight. However, we believe on the basis of evidence put before us over recent years that we cannot leave the six months. We have to raise the bar somewhat and, because of cases that we are aware of, we propose 12 months. It might have been better to do that when the amendment was proposed some years ago, but the thinking then was based on evidence at the time. We have now considered the issue more closely and believe that cases are getting around the system, so we feel that we must tighten it. That is why we propose 12 as opposed to six months. I hope that hon. Members are reassured and will accept that clause 14 should stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. Cawsey.]

Adjourned accordingly at five minutes to One o’clock till this day at Four o’clock.