Clause 11 - The special restrictions

Children and Adoption Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 14 March 2006.

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

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Minister (Children)

Again, I do not want to let the clause pass without trying to get further details out of the Minister. In my comments on the amendments to clause 9, I welcomed the fact that there is a provision for special decisions to be made on individual cases. She just alluded to them—for example, if somebody gets caught by the barrier coming down. Will she give examples of who would be captured by the clause, other than those whom we have just discussed, and of which countries would go on the prescribed list?

Who are the beneficiaries of those special exceptions? At what stage will a decision be made to say that those restrictions can be got round? Will that decision be based on some family or friendship contact, or the fact that they come from a part of the country that is not affected? We have lots of definitions of the various bodies mentioned in the clause, but we do not have examples of how widely the Minister anticipates the special restrictions will be introduced and in what circumstances. Some elaboration on how the clause will be used would be helpful.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Conservative, Rugby and Kenilworth 12:00, 14 March 2006

Following that theme, I, too, would be grateful if the Minister could elaborate, if she can, on subsections (2) and (3), because, as she has already   mentioned, they make provision for prospective adopters to invite and satisfy the relevant authority that there are other circumstances that should permit the adoption to go ahead. Subsection (3) indicates that the Secretary of State may make regulations that provide for the procedure to be followed in those circumstances, and matters that the appropriate authority may take into account.

Clearly, as I am sure the Minister will accept, those will be important matters for prospective adopters, and I would be grateful if she could give us an indication of the sorts of things that the Secretary of State, or any other appropriate authority, will take into account, when such specialist circumstances arise, and when prospective adopters make representations to the appropriate authority.

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)

Although we are well into our first sitting, I should also like to express my pleasure in serving under your chairmanship on this important Bill, Mr. Hood.

As Opposition Members have noted, clause 11 provides for the effect of special restrictions. Where those restrictions have been imposed clearly, the appropriate authority cannot take any further step to bring children, or a child, into the UK from that restricted country. However, the provisions are intended to protect the welfare of the children concerned, not to penalise prospective adopters or to impose blanket restrictions that do not meet the needs of particular children. The provisions are intended to protect particularly vulnerable children in other countries from the abuse of flawed adoption procedures, or other matters of concern.

Clause 11 specifies when there can be exceptions to special restrictions and makes provisions for regulations to specify the procedure by which an exception will be considered. I can give some examples, because I asked the same question myself. From Cambodia, there were 13 cases of children in process, and two were allowed in for special reasons. One had a complexity of health needs that could not have been met in Cambodia, and the other was deaf. For reasons peculiar to those circumstances, the adoption processes of those children were allowed to proceed.

There might be other circumstances in which it would be right to let the adoption process proceed despite the restrictions, such as if a relative were applying to adopt, or if a family had already adopted one child and were in the process of adopting a sibling of that child. There may be concern about the trafficking of very young children or the selling of babies in a particular country, but a child might be of an age that clearly put them outside that category of concern. Once a restriction had been declared and the bar to which my hon. Friend the Minister referred had come down, people who fell below the threshold would be able to apply to the Secretary of State and make a case for their circumstances to be regarded as exceptional.

Those cases will be decided on their merit. They will take into account concerns about the circumstances that led to the restrictions, but most particularly they   will be concerned with the best interests of the children taken in the round, including the situation in the restricted country: the sort of circumstances that I have outlined.

Subsection (3) provides for the Secretary of State to make regulations laying down the procedure that will be followed by the appropriate authority in determining whether it is satisfied by the prospective adopters that their case should be an exception. The Secretary of State is also empowered to make regulations as to what matters the decision maker will take into account in deciding whether a case should be an exception. However, although those parameters will exist, cases will mostly be decided on their merits and on what is fundamentally in the best interests of the children concerned.

Although the Bill provides a statutory framework for the suspension of adoptions on the grounds of public policy, it is also reasonable to include provisions to make exceptions for individual cases that are demonstrably atypical, or where the circumstances are such that it would not be in the interest of the child not to proceed and to allow such cases to come to fruition. The clause augments the Bill’s flexibility and humanity, and I hope that Members will support its inclusion.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.