§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Sir Charles MacAndrew)
I suggest that all the Amendments to Clause 24, except those in page 14, lines 39 and 40, in the name of the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl), might be taken together. The other two may be taken separately. If Divisions are wanted, Mr. Speaker will be quite happy for Divisions to take place.
§ Mr. Page
Do you include in those, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, the Amendment in page 14, line 40, at end insert:(3) A provisional order shall not be made unless every consent thereto without which the principal Act as amended by this Act prohibits the making of an adoption order shall contain a specific consent to the removal of the infant from Great Britain naming the country to which consent is given for such removal.in the name of myself and of the hon. Member for Brixton (Mr. Lipton)?
§ Mr. Page
I am obliged.
I beg to move, in page 14, line 30, to leave out "or" and to insert:adoption which is substantially similar to that applicable in Great Britain and which is effective".I will address my remarks mainly to this Amendment and to the following one, in page 14, line 33, after "interval", insert:and that an adoption society or other adoption authority active within the said country has knowledge of the application".These Amendments concern two fairly simple points. Under the Clause, there are provisions for a provisional adoption order when a child is to be adopted outside Great Britain. It seemed to my hon. Friends and myself that the Clause does 869 not go far enough in protecting the child and in allowing the courts in this country to consider the matter fully before making the provisional adoption order. In particular, no obligation is inserted in the Bill for the court to consider whether there are any effective adoption laws in the country to which the child is to be sent. That is to say, although the court here may make a provisional adoption order, it is not called upon to consider whether any final adoption order may be made in the country to which the child is going and whether anything similar to our law will apply to that child and to the parent who has adapted it.
About half a dozen countries have no adoption laws at all. Others have adoption laws which are very dissimilar to ours. I feel that the court should, before granting a provisional order, give careful consideration to the legal rights which will arise in the country to which the child is to be sent. That is on the first Amendment.
In the second Amendment there is a point of considerable substance. If a provisional order is made and a child eventually goes overseas many things may happen to the adoptive parents, and for all we know in this country a child may be left stranded.
There are some very effective adoption societies operating in many countries. There is one very effective international adoption society. If the court when making the provisional order were satisfied that such a society at least knew that the application was being made, then I think that perhaps the court would feel happier in making the order. As Clause 24 stands, once the provisional order is made the court in this country, and, indeed, I suppose, any administrative powers in this country, wash their hands of the case. I know of no official contacts with children who may be sent abroad in this way. I suppose there may be some contacts through British consular offices or something of that sort, but that is not written into the Bill as yet. If when the application is made to the court here the applicant were obliged to satisfy the court that some adoption authority or some adoption society which is active in the country to which the child is to be sent has knowledge of the application, I think that that would be more satisfactory.
870 If such a society has knowledge of the application I think we can trust it, because, after all, this is its job, to look after adoptions, to follow up cases. I think we could trust it to follow up such a case and to look after the child should any disaster occur to the adoptive parents or should the adoptive parents abandon the child.
§ Mr. W. Wells
What would the hon. Gentleman propose in relation to countries where there are no adoption societies or adoption authorities? Would he necessarily preclude all adoptions to such countries in all circumstances?
§ Mr. Page
I think at this stage we ought. I would prefer at this stage under my Amendment to exclude any countries which have no adoption laws substantially similar to ours, and I would exclude any countries where there are no adoption societies or adoption authorities to which we could confidently look to follow up cases of this sort, and to see that the adoption does take place and that the child is not abandoned. I think we ought to exclude them at this stage. I am sure that in due course, through the good offices of international adoption societies, a chain will be forged between all countries eventually. I feel we ought to allow no child to be abandoned, as it were, to a country which has no satisfactory adoption laws and in which there is no adoption authority we can trust to follow up cases.
§ Mr. Michael Clark Hutchison (Edinburgh, South)
I beg to second the Amendment.
I do not want to make a long speech. I wish merely to express my opposition to Clause 24 as at present drafted. I know there are certain categories of children who, if adopted by foreigners, might benefit—coloured children, for example—but the Clause as at present drafted is much too wide and I am against it for the following reasons.
There are more people in this country waiting to adopt children than there are children available. Why should we bring foreigners in and have them added to the list? This is particularly so in Scotland.
Under Clause 24 there are no proper safeguards, in my view, for the protection of the child. It is left to the discretion of the court, but there are no clearly defined lines which the court ought to 871 follow, and courts in cases of this sort do vary very much.
Much will depend on the guardian ad litem. As I understand it, the duties are to be laid down in rules of court, but we have not seen those rules, and personally I should like to see these duties more clearly defined.
In my view all adoptions by foreign people should be channelled through an adoption society or local authority. I think that is the best way. We are told that under the main Act and under this Bill local authorities will be brought in and will be respondents. It may be so in England, but it is not so in Scotland. The local authorities there will not automatically be respondents. It may be the intention to make them so, but in this serious matter I prefer to see deeds rather than intentions.
Once the child gets abroad, whatever the theories may be, in practice it will be extremely difficult to help it if anything goes wrong. By "abroad" I mean a foreign country. I am not satisfied that we should let children who are born here under our flag leave without extremely strict safeguards.
The various Amendments down to Clause 24 are designed to strengthen the Bill and the safeguards. I suggest to my hon. Friend that if she cannot accept these Amendments it would be wise for Clause 24 to be struck out altogether, and then perhaps another Bill can be brought in next Session when we have all had more time to study this matter and think about it. We have been much too quick. If my hon. Friend cannot give that undertaking for the United Kingdom as a whole, can she give it for Scotland, so that this Clause will not apply to Scotland and we can have another Bill next Session when the matter has been better tidied up?
I was the only Scottish Member who spoke in Committee on the Bill. I have had a lot of letters against Clause 24. I have not had one in favour of it as at present drawn. Certainly among many influential people in Edinburgh today there is much opposition to it, and I agree with them. I hope, therefore, that my hon. Friend will see her way to improving the Clause.
§ Mr. Marcus Lipton (Brixton)
I have put my name in support of this Amend- 872 ment for a number of reasons. Of course, there is no political party principle involved in this issue, and so the fact that I have added my name, for what it is worth, may help to convince the Joint Under-Secretary of State that there is over Clause 24 a strong feeling on both sides of the House.
I will not disguise the fact that I am still as hostile to Clause 24 on Report as I was on Second Reading. I endorse what was said by the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South (Mr. M. Clark Hutchison). From my own point of view this Bill would be very much better if Clause 24 were struck out altogether.
If reference is made to the Report of the Departmental Committee on the Adoption of Children it will be seen that the Committee recommended the continuance of the licensing system. The Committee did not make any strong recommendation on the basis of which the Government are justified in asking the House to accept Clause 24 as it stands. Although I have said, and I still say, that the Bill would be very much better without the Clause, it is a solemn obligation upon all of us to see that, if the Government insist upon forcing the Clause through, every possible safeguard should be introduced to ensure the widest possible protection for the children who will be exported—and I use that word advisedly—as a result of our accepting the Clause.
Nothing was said in Committee that removed or diminished my anxieties. It was admitted that, to all intents and purposes, when we talk about a provisional adoption order it means, in effect, a final adoption order. It means that we have no control whatever over anything that may happen to that child once it leaves the jurisdiction.
The Solicitor-General for Scotland, who, for some reason, was in charge of the legal side of the Bill in Committee, went so far as to say when he was talking about the difficulties of a provisional adoption order that:I agree there is a difficulty in a case where a provisional order is made and, for some reason, no adoption proceedings are taken in the foreign country, but, from a practical and legal point of view, I see no method of safeguarding against that possibility.873 I consider that to be a really shocking admission on the part of a Law Officer recommending the Committee on that occasion to accept the Clause, and now we are asked to accept the Clause without the additional safeguards which we ought to introduce and which we are under a moral obligation to introduce.
I hope, therefore, that the Joint Under-Secretary, on behalf of the Government, will be able to accept the Amendment. I refuse to accept the doctrine, which was advocated by the Solicitor-General for Scotland in Committee, that if there is a risk of this kind,That is a risk we must face, but I do not think it a greater risk than applies at present under the Section 40 procedure."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A. 15th July, 1958; c. 110–1.]I want to emphasise as strongly and sincerely as I possibly can that we ought not to wash our hands of our responsibilities in this matter.
If the Government are determined that children should be allowed to go abroad and be placed in the custody of people in foreign countries, we are at least entitled to an assurance that the countries to which those children shall be allowed to go shall be countries where there is something in the nature of similarity in the adoption procedure and something in the nature of societies there comparable to the adoption societies which we have in the United Kingdom.
I have no hesitation whatsoever in associating myself with what the hon. Member for Crosby (Mr. Page) said in reply to the interjection by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. W. Wells). Yes, it means that certain countries will be denied the facility, or the privilege, of receiving British children for eventual adoption there. I agree that that is a limitation, but I would prefer a limitation of that kind, and to say that certain countries may come within the ambit of the Clause and others may be excluded, to having the appalling situation in which children may be sent to other countries where there is no legal provision of any kind for their protection if certain undesirable consequences arise.
I referred on Second Reading to countries where there is no law of adoption, and reference was made in Committee to 874 the difficulties which might arise when, for instance, an adopted child became a mental defective in the United States and as a result could be deported by the United States authorities. The law governing adoption varies from State to State in the United States. There is no Federal law.
If difficulties of this kind can arise in a civilised country like the United States, how much more are difficulties likely to arise in a country like Colombia, for example, where the law requires that if a child is born to the adopting couple after the adoption, that adoption must be ended? Again, in Bolivia, Peru and Brazil the adopting parents must be 50 years of age. We must realise the undesirable and dangerous possibilities that exist. I hope that the Government will be disposed to accept what I consider to be a most reasonable Amendment, which has been put forward in a most reasonable way by the hon. Member for Crosby and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, South.
§ Mr. J. E. B. Hill (Norfolk, South)
I should like to associate myself with what has been said about the Clause. It is a Clause of very considerable difficulty. I should prefer that we should have a further look at it and leave it out of the Bill for the moment, because I do not think that all its implications are yet clear. We have taken the whole Bill in the House rather quickly. It is only four weeks since the Second Reading debate, at which I was not present because I was abroad. Since that time, and since the Committee stage, a good deal has come to light.
§ Mr. MacColl
I am sure that the hon. Member would not want to be disrespectful to another place. Is not the whole point of a Second Chamber, which I have never been able to see but have always understood, that to complicated and non-party matters grave and wise men give long attention and, therefore, it was not necessary to take the Bill here in the detail that would have been necessary otherwise? Surely it is not suggested that the Bill has not been properly considered in another place.
§ Mr. Lipton
May I point out to my hon. Friend that this is the revising Chamber in this connection?
§ Mr. Hill
The trouble is that the ball has started from the opposite end. I would have preferred it if the Bill had started in this Chamber. We should then have had the great advantage of a more leisurely revision. We have had the clock, and the Parliamentary calendar, against us.
If we cannot look at this again and deal with the new principle of foreign adoption separately, and get it right, I will support the Amendments and will formally move the one standing in my name, in page 15, line 23.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
Order. We will not do that until we reach the Amendment, but we can discuss them all now.
§ Mr. Hill
The broad purpose of the Amendments is to strengthen the safeguards. All that has happened so far, both in another place and here, has been to emphasise the need for adequate safeguards. The best phrase is that of the Lord Chancellor himself, "The most stringent safeguards." I am not persuaded that the safeguards in the Bill are sufficient, and I am not really persuaded that our Amendments go as far as, given more time, we might be able to secure.
The classic difficulty is that we cannot legislate to provide effective safeguards in another sovereign country, and therefore we cannot ensure that the process of adoption will be completed even if there is a satisfactory adoption law. That is an important point in the case of adoptions, for this reason. In this country an adoption is final in one legal act. It means that the adopters, by this act, not only secure permanent possession of the child for their own as against the natural parents and the rest of the world, but at the same time they give to the child all the advantages and privileges and rights of a natural child in one complete and reciprocal legal act.
The difficulty about the provision adoption order is that when it is made by the decision of the judge, the adopting parents have that child to take out of the jurisdiction for their own as against losing it to any other third party, but they are not bound by the same obligation to provide for that child and to give it permanent rights in their own family at the same time. Therefore, they are exposed to the temptation of second thoughts. They have an opportunity to 876 resile from their intention and that, I submit, is a considerable temptation—to wait and see how it turns out. There is nothing we can do legally to force them to complete the adoption procedure. I accept that. What I would hope is that we would try to secure that all foreign cases are, as it were, routed through, channelled through, hooked on to—whatever the phrase may be, because it is hard to get the right legal term—the welfare and adoption agencies in the countries concerned and internationally which already exist. If I felt we could ensure that cases use these facilities, then we would be providing the most stringent safeguards that are available. We would be calling in aid such other safeguards, mainly voluntary, mainly administrative, to reinforce the law.
Considering the first Amendment and whether there are suitable adoption laws, I would like to draw the attention of the House to an exceedingly valuable report which has come to me since the Committee stage of this Bill. It is the Report of a European Expert Group at Geneva under the United Nations on Inter-country Adoption. This Report lists a series of principles that ought to be observed in inter-country adoptions, and I quote Principle 11 with regard to the first Amendment. It states that:… care must be given to assuring adequate protection of the child in his new country, that in view of the difficulty of exercising guardianship functions across natural boundaries, the value of the former legal guardianship needs to be examined; that legal responsibility for the child in the new country should be established promptly.Then there is an explanatory paragraph which, if there were more time, I would read. However, the point is that it is agreed on an international level, by experts considering this problem, that every possible step should be taken to secure that the child moving across boundaries is effectively adopted. Principle 12 states that:… steps must be taken to ensure that the adoption is legally valid in both countries.It goes on to say:There are some countries, and parts of other countries, where adoptions by their nationals completed abroad are not automatically recognised. Some countries require that the adoption of their children by nationals of other countries must be carried out in accordance with the law where the 877 adoptive parents reside; in others, such adoptions must conform to their own adoption laws; while in still others, provisions relating to parents are controlled by the law of their country and those relating to the child by the law of the child's country. It is clear that the status of a child, placed for adoption with nationals of another country can be protected both in his new and in his native country only if the laws and regulations of the countries concerned are clearly understood in advance. In this respect also, an inter-country placement can be protected if the services and experience of a specialised international agency are used from the beginning.This paragraph really poses the problem. There is a limit in law, but a great deal more could be done if we could ensure use of the international agencies. Whether we can require them legally to be used is the difficulty. As the Clause stands, the only safeguards we have are that there should be six months' residence in this country by the prospective foreign parents. This is twice the probationary period required in an ordinary English adoption. That obviously is an improvement, but it makes the process more difficult and more expensive but not necessarily any safer for the child to be adopted.
For the rest, we are told that satisfactory rules of court will be drawn up. My comment on this is that the rules of court are not subject to scrutiny or debate by this House. They can be altered without our knowledge in the future, and in any event they are only rules of procedure and, therefore, do not meet the great need for ensuring follow-up procedure.
It may be said that the guardian ad litem will look at all the matters to which I have referred, but he need not come into the picture until a comparatively late stage, because his inquiries are directed towards the hearing and therefore he will not be concerned at another critical stage in a foreign adoption, which is the very beginning, that there should be a satisfactory placement. The child should go to a family not only with which it will get on well but into a family where the foreign home circumstances are known to be satisfactory.
There is a great deal of evidence one could give on this point but it is unnecessary because the problem is all too clear. It would be desirable if those foreign home circumstances were investigated at the very earliest stage, before the prospective foreign adopters start the 878 somewhat arduous process of coming to this country and setting up a home for six months, which is not easy. That strengthens the argument, I submit, for our trying to secure from the very earliest stages some organisation being brought into the picture so that the whole adoption is run on the right lines, including the vital stage of the initial placement and the ultimate stage, followed by a procedure by which in the foreign country it should be possible to get the prospective adoptors to commit themselves legally to carrying the adoption through when the child arrives in the country. It would also cover the very important procedural problems that could exist with regard to immigration laws and like matters.
A great deal has been done on an inter-country level already by one international agency, International Social Service, to which reference has already been made, which is dealing with the methods of processing adopted children in the United States and different countries. It has worked out a system by which, operating on no less than seven distinct and useful principles, the actual procedure includes 13 separate stages, all of which are important when we examine them. If any were omitted, the adoption might get into either technical or really serious trouble, with the result that the child could be misplaced and unhappy.
There is no requirement in this Bill that this procedure has to be used, and that is the whole burden of our argument If, as I very much hope, the first two Amendments will be accepted, I still hope that the last one will also be accepted, because there would be a check through consular officials certifying reports in the foreign countries on what the welfare agency is doing. I think that, through administrative processes, this would help to bridge the gap between our own laws, jurisdiction and complete security, which at the moment, is the weakness of this Clause.
§ Mr. John Hobson (Warwick and Leamington)
I desire to speak to the Amendment which stands on the Notice Paper in my name—in page 14, line 37, at the end, insert:(2) The court shall not make any such order in favour of an applicant unless—
- (i) it is satisfied by the applicant, either—
- (a) that the applicant is a British subject or a Commonwealth citizen; or
- (b) that the relationship between the applicant and the infant is one to be found in either the female or the male columns of the table of kindred and affinity of the prohibited degrees of marriage annexed to the Book of Common Prayer of the Church of England, whether the infant is a male or a female, whether the relationship is by the half blood or the whole blood and whether the relationship is legitimate or illegitimate; or
- (c) that there are special circumstances or reasons why the infant should have the opportunity of being adopted by a person who is neither a British subject nor a Commonwealth citizen and that it is for the benefit of the infant that this should be done; and
- (ii) evidence is tendered on behalf of a local authority or registered adoption society in support of the application.(3) The court on making any such order shall impose a condition and shall require the applicant by bond in such sum as it thinks fit to undertake—In agreement with hon. Members who have already spoken, I desire to emphasise the great importance of Clause 24. It replaces what was previously known as a licensing system, but it is, in fact, a licensing export system. We may call it a provisional adoption order, but it is nothing of the sort. It is an export licence in respect of a British child, and it is for that reason that it is of the utmost importance that we should see that we allow an export of a British child only in circumstances which are really justified.
- (a) that apart from applying for an adoption order in the country of his domicile the applicant will take all such steps and will do or refrain from doing all such things on behalf of the infant as may be necessary to preserve until the infant's twenty-first birthday the citizenship and status of the infant in the same condition as it was on the making of the order in England or Scotland; and
- (b) that the applicant will report to the Registrar General such particulars as may be prescribed of any adoption order subsequently made outside England and Scotland in respect of the infant.
The Hurst Committee, which dealt with this matter very shortly, was considering three categories of persons from abroad, every one of whom was a British subject, except for an incidental reference to United States Service men who might be serving in this country. Under the provisions of the Adoption Act, 1950, one could get a licence to take a child overseas for the purpose of adoption only if 880 the child was to be adopted by a British subject. Now we propose, in Clause 24 as it now stands, to export children born in this country to any country in the world with very little control indeed over the way in which the courts should exercise their discretion in granting their permission.
It is true that there is a six months' probationary period, but it is nothing like as important a probationary period as is now provided for in the case of ordinary adoption, because under Clause 24 only one person can be the applicant. There is no provision at all by which spouses can apply jointly for an export licence for a child. As the Hurst Committee pointed out, it is very important indeed that during the probationary period, if two spouses are ultimately to adopt a child, they should take part in the probationary period; whereas, under Clause 24 as it stands at present, one spouse, a foreigner, could make an application and obtain an order without any necessity whatever for the other spouse to have been resident in this country or to have taken any part in the probationary period. That is something which is not normally provided for in ordinary cases of adoption.
The Hurst Committee, in dealing with this matter, assumed—or so one may suppose—that the authority which should grant such export licences would be the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate, and the Committee expressly said that the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate had acquired a very great deal of knowledge and experience in these matters. But the Bill as it stands provides that the High Court, or any county court judge or any sheriff in Scotland can deal with this matter, and many of them, no doubt, will have little or no experience of the difficulties to be met with in exporting children from this country. Indeed, this provision of the Bill is based on paragraph 170 in the Hurst Committee's Report, which says:We see no sufficient reason why licences should, as at present, be granted only to British subjects. We are confident that the licensing authority would not grant a licence to foreign nationals who could not show special reasons for their application.We may perhaps have confidence in the Chief Metropolitan Magistrate only granting such a licence to a foreign national who could show special reasons, but when county court judges and sheriffs in Scotland are also involved, I should prefer to see an express restriction of that 881 sort put into the Bill to provide that, if a foreign national is to take a child out of the country, he should do so only in circumstances in which there are special reasons or circumstances.
My Amendment provides for what I regard as a matter of great importance. It is that we should restrict the taking of children out of this country for the purposes of adoption to British subjects and citizens of the Commonwealth, except in two special cases. The first exception is where there is a blood relationship or a close connection. Those who have read my proposed Amendment will see that the prohibited degrees of consanguinity for the purposes of marriage, which are fairly widespread, provide a reasonable class of persons within a family who might assert that they have some sort of blood relationship or connection. Therefore, a person from abroad ought to prove either that he is a British subject or a Commonwealth citizen, or that he is a person within the degrees of consanguinity prohibited for the purposes of marriage. The second exception is in cases where there are special reasons or circumstances why a foreign national, rather than a British subject or a Commonwealth citizen, should be allowed to adopt a British child.
The first two of these conditions arises from an earlier report of the Horsbrugh Committee of 1937 (Cmd. 5499), in which on page 32 the Committee said:In these circumstances, in view of the difficulties of making sufficient inquiries, the impossibility of ensuring that the adoption will be legalised, and the particularly unhappy consequences which may result if for any reason difficulties occur in the future, we have seriously considered whether adoption societies and other agencies should be prohibited from sending children abroad for adoption in any circumstances.That Committee then dealt with domiciled British subjects not resident in this country, a matter with which Clause 23 now deals, and went on to say:There are greater dangers in the case of adoption by British people in the Dominions and Colonies. But we should be most reluctant to close the door to such adoptions, which do not involve the child's upbringing in an alien community nor any possibility of loss of nationality.Special considerations also apply to adoptions by relatives, whether of British nationality or otherwise, and whether or not domiciled in the United Kingdom.882But with these exceptions, we think the disadvantages of adoptions abroad greatly outweigh any possible advantages and we recommend that adoption societies and other adoption agencies should be entirely prohibited from arranging adoptions in which the child will be taken abroad except where the adopters are British subjects.My Amendment goes slightly further than that, because it incorporates a proposal of the Hurst Committee that, where there are special circumstances or reasons, a foreigner should be allowed to take a child abroad for the purpose of adopting it overseas.
Time presses and I need not elaborate on my Amendment any further. It speaks for itself, but I urge on the House that some limitations of this sort should be placed on judges who are to exercise their discretion to allow British children born in this country to be taken to countries overseas, where they may lose their citizenship and where there is no control whatever over what happens to them, nor over the persons who take them out of the country.
§ Mr. Younger
I want first to say a few words about the Amendment in the names of my right hon. Friends and myself, that in page 15, line 23:
This idea is incorporated in the much longer Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson).
As those who were members of the Standing Committee will realise, this Amendment arises out of a discussion of an Amendment moved in Committee by my hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Mr. Hastings) who, unfortunately, cannot be here today, and who wanted to make it compulsory for the local authority or adoption society to be a respondent in adoption cases. Since then, in common with many hon. Members, I have received further evidence that adoption societies, as well as some local authorities, are very worried about this matter.
The hon. Lady's reply to the Amendment in Committee was one which had a certain appeal to me. She suggested that the idea was a bit too rigid, because it would deprive third parties in all circumstances of taking an initiative. That seemed to be going rather too far. It was also said that in any event local 883 authorities would always be respondents and that there was no point in making adoption societies respondents unless they knew something about the case.
The hon. Lady said:The local authority will always, as a respondent to any application, have an opportunity to oppose or investigate as it thought fit."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, Standing Committee A, 15th July, 1958; c. 129.]I accept that, but we should like to go a little further and make it certain that the local authority would have to play an active part, and not, as might otherwise be the case, simply be a passive respondent. We want to make sure that the local authority will make these investigations and that if it does not do so, the proceedings will not be able to be consummated. That is something to which we attach some importance.
I realise, of course, that in common with many of the other Amendments which we are here discussing, these are things which could conceivably be dealt with in some way other than by putting them into the Bill. Many of us will have much sympathy with most of the points of substance raised in the Amendments, although sometimes we will not be sure that they are necessarily things which should be incorporated in the Bill. They might be much better dealt with in rules and, in some cases, best left to the discretion of the court, since the court can be trusted to exercise reasonable common sense.
I do not want to pick out each Amendment separately and to say what I feel about it, but the long Amendment of the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington is somewhat too detailed and too restrictive and I have some doubts whether the hon. Members who support it will be as successful, as it is obviously hoped, in finding a means of enforcing an undertaking upon somebody who has already left our jurisdiction and who is not domiciled here. However, most of the other points seem to be things which should be covered somehow, and I hope that even if she cannot accept the Amendment, the hon. Lady will say something more than we have yet had about how the Home Office proposes to cover these matters.
The hon. and learned Member was quite right when he said that the implica- 884 tions of these provisional orders were not clear. I must confess to having been somewhat disappointed so far in the evidence which we have had of the authorities having thought out the numerous snags which arise. I do not share what seems to be the general prejudice in some quarters against the Clause. I want the Clause to be kept in the Bill. It is right that there should be provision for these things to be done, but there are many snags which require safeguards, and I am disappointed by the evidence which we have had of the length to which official thinking has gone on these matters.
§ Miss Vickers
I rise to speak to the Amendments in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby (Mr. Page).
Those of us who were members of the Standing Committee and who were present for the Second Reading debate and who have a considerable interest in these matters were somewhat disturbed in the later stages of the Committee to realise that the Government had no intention of limiting provisional orders to nationals of countries where there were adoption orders.
I might have been slow on the uptake on that, but, from what I have heard, even the adoption societies did not know that that was to be the case. I want to put most of my remarks in the form of questions so that we can be assured that, before a child is adopted overseas, parental consent is required.
The parent of a child in this country should give consent before a child is adopted overseas, and even an infant parent should be consulted. Even an infant parent can develop an intense love for a child and may be forced by her mother or grandmother, who is not happy about the child being illegitimate, to get rid of it quite quickly. If it is fostered and is to go overseas, the effects could be damaging.
Are the parents of the child to know to which country the child is to be sent? Is there to be any form of central register so that we can know to which countries the children have gone? What will happen if both adopting parents die at the same time? What will happen if, when they get the child to their own country, they decide that they do not want it? Will the child then be sent back 885 to this country? Whose child will it ultimately become? If it is not wanted in the country to which it is taken and it is not legally adopted—and in many countries there are no societies for the prevention of cruelty to children—what will happen to it then?
We were told that the child would retain its British nationality. If there were a war and the country were overrun—as happened with France in the last war—which nationality would the child take? Having had much to do with civilian prisoners of war, I know that that complication arises when people have to be interned. That was especially the case in the Far East with people of dual nationality. I know of an instance of an Irishman in Hong Kong. He came from the Republic of Ireland and the Japanese told him that he need not be interned. He said that he had never gone under the Irish Republican flag and he opted to remain in prison. But it might work the other way. If there is another war between Germany and Great Britain and France is overrun, will those children who have been adopted by French parents and who have retained their British nationality be liable to internment?
I would draw attention to a letter, written by Mary Ellison, which appeared in today's Daily Telegraph. I should like to quote from the letter because, during the Second Reading debate, the hon. Member for Rossendale (Mr. Anthony Greenwood) referred to the excellent book which she wrote, called, "The Adopted Child." In her letter she raises some points which worry me considerably. The letter is headed, "Market In Children: Still Gaps in Proposals on Adoption," and she says:It has already been noted in the Press that the status of the adopted child varies considerably in different parts of the world.Here she emphasises what many hon. Members have said, namely, that the child will not be able to be legally adopted if it goes to certain countries. She goes on to say:The Hurst Report points out that 'Over the whole country only about one-quarter of the adoption orders made are in respect of adoptions arranged by societies or local authorities'".I mentioned this matter in Committee, in referring to the fears of many welfare workers. A young woman may hand over her child to an American serviceman. 886 Under the rules of the International Social Service Bureau, if that American has looked after the child for a period of one year in this country it would be extremely difficult for a court to refuse to agree to an adoption unless cruelty to the child could be shown. I am therefore very doubtful about the wisdom of many provisions of the Clause.
We have heard a lot about the adoption of Roman Catholic and coloured children. I want to put in a special plea on behalf of the coloured children. We must remember that in this country coloured children are usually not full-blooded. The ones that we want to get adopted usually have a white mother and a coloured father. I have lived in countries overseas, including India and Indonesia, and I realise the great difficulty under which the half-caste lives. In many cases they do not wish to be considered as coloured children.
In this country it is usual for a child to go with its mother, and these children feel white. This fact has been shown very clearly in India, where, although we did not favour intermarriage, a certain number of children of mixed marriages were born. When they grew up they always wanted to be thought of as European. I do not think that the Bill will be of any help if it adversely affects the lives of the children. These children will not be happy if the adoption is carried out in this way.
We must try to safeguard the many children who may go through third-party adoptions. As I have pointed out, this is the most numerous class of adoptions at present. Unless we can ensure that further precautions will be taken in the case of children who leave this country, the main object of the Bill, which is to safeguard children, will not be attained. Even more third-party adoptions will take place, because that will be the easiest way to slip through this network. There was considerable confusion about the question in Committee, and no effective safeguard has been written into the Bill. I hope that my hon. Friend will consider the Amendment in the names of my hon. Friend the Member for Crosby and myself because that will go a long way towards safeguarding the position.
§ Mr. Janner
I have listened with great care to a number of speeches. I do not think that anybody in the House would want to say that this is not an extremely important debate. It is a debate at a late stage of a Bill which deals with a problem of very grave concern to many people. A Clause of this nature is necessary; the real question we have to decide is: What precautions will be taken to ensure that a child is properly attended to so that it may eventually have a happy and useful life?
I am interested in one point which was raised by the hon. and learned Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. John Hobson). There is something to be said for the idea of putting an adopter under a bond which may be enforceable in his country of domicile. This would be a deterrent against any kind of undesirable action. If it were possible to sue such an individual under that bond, in any country as well as this one, he would have to watch his position carefully. The question is beset by innumerable difficulties, but we must find some way by which at least a financial hold can be put upon an individual to make him comply with certain obligations—a hold which can be enforced in most countries, if not all, and which could certainly be enforced against that individual if he came within the jurisdiction of any country with a law similar to ours.
We must be careful not to lose sight of the importance of the Clause. With all the precautions we take there are bound to be exceptional cases where parents, foster parents or adoptive parents will not comply with the humane necessities of looking after children. It is true that many prospective adoptive parents outside this county could provide better facilities for the upbringing of a child than any which that child could obtain from certain adoptive parents in this country. It is a very great responsibility to allow a child to go outside the jurisdiction of our own courts and the supervision of our own welfare bodies without taking every conceivable precaution, not only by these discretionary methods, but, if possible, by compulsion on the individual adopter.
The point made about the two parents is a very substantial one. It may very well be that the parent who wants to 888 adopt the child is an admirable person, but the condition of the other spouse, from a psychological if not from a financial or physical standpoint, may be entirely different. These things cannot be left to chance. We have to do the best we can to cover the various contingencies that may arise and must be as satisfied as possible that the child's interests are properly safeguarded.
It is true that regulations may be altered from time to time, but it is also perfectly true that Acts may be altered, and one cannot be too sure that another country's adoption laws at present similar to our own, may not be altered. Therefore, as far as possible, we should incorporate safeguards in legislation rather than rely on what I call discretionary methods. I hope that proper weight will be given to that. The intention of the Government in this connection is right. It is proper that people who are decent and good, who have good intentions and believe and hope that they will be able to give some human and humane assistance to an adopted child, shall have their wishes—which, of course, must be examined—attended to. Nevertheless, I hope that some additional provision will be made in the Bill fully to protect the interests of the children.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
We have had a very interesting debate on this Clause, which has certainly aroused the greatest discussion throughout our proceedings. However, I must confess that listening to some of the speeches one might gain the impression that its intention was not to protect the child—which is the whole basis of our introduction of this system of provisional adoption orders—but the very reverse, so perhaps I may be forgiven if I go into some detail to try to explain what will happen in the operation of this machinery.
First, we have to recognise that the Hurst Committee thought the licensing system undesirable. I am sure that hon. Members would be just as vehement in their protest if we were debating the licensing system under which the child is sent abroad unseen by the potential adopters, where the child does not know whether it will get on with the adoptive parents, and where the adoptive parents do not know that the child will be satisfactory from the family point of view.
889 By this Clause we are providing the greatest safeguard, in that for six whole months those parents will be under the direct supervision of the local authority—
§ Mr. John Hobson
Is it not correct that Clause 24 provides only for an applicant and makes no provision for joint application by two spouses, such as is provided for under ordinary adoption?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I had intended to deal with that point in due course, but for the moment, I am glad to say that my hon. and learned Friend is wrong.
It is true that by this Clause very great responsibilities will fall on the guardian ad litem, but hon. Members ought to appreciate that very similar inquiries have to be made abroad in the case of the emigration of children, and of licences for children. In emigration cases, which are very parallel, it is not at all uncommon for the guardian ad litem to get in touch with the local authority responsible for welfare in the town or city from which the application has come; for his opposite number in that city to make very full inquiry, and to send back, through the consul, an accredited statement of the results of the inquiry. The guardian ad litem, under the present rules—and I shall have a word to say about the rules which the Lord Chancellor proposes to apply in connection with provisional adoption orders—has to provide very detailed and extensive information to the court about the general conditions, the financial position, the religion of and a whole host of items about the family that is taking the emigrant or, in this case, the child for adoption.
I know that my hon. Friend has suggested that the services of adoption societies should be used, but how do we know that adoption societies abroad are as well controlled and supervised as ours are; that an adoption society there has the machinery and the wide experience necessary, or that it is not, in fact, only a body which has some rather good notepaper and a part-time typist dealing with matters in a small town? I am sure that we should not under-estimate the ability of these highly skilled officers who act as guardians ad litem, who are either fully-trained welfare officers or, in Scotland, as I believe, qualified solicitors.
890 Prospective adopters will not lightly enter into a process which means that they have to leave their homes and their jobs for six months to come to this country. They have to live here, under the eagle eye of what is, to them, a foreign authority. They have to go before what is, to them, a foreign court, and have their circumstances investigated and brought out before what is, to them, a foreign judge. I do not think there is any ground for the use of such terms as "a market in children," or "farming out." This process is, in itself, a very great deterrent to any flippant, idle or unworthy adopter, who must, as I say, for six months be under the skilled eye of the supervising local authority, and then has to go before a British court and prove that be would, in fact, be a worthy adopter.
Dealing with the Amendments in the order in which they have been put down, that in page 14, line 30, suggests that this procedure should apply only when the adoption law in the other country is substantially similar to that in Great Britain, but there are many cases where perfectly good and worthy prospective adopters from abroad may be able to show special circumstances in which they would like to adopt a British child, but would be debarred from doing so, if the Amendment were accepted, because the adoption law of their country of domicile was not akin to ours. For example, I understand that in France, in Denmark and in Switzerland, a married couple may not adopt a child if they already have a legitimate child of their own. On the other hand, we may think that to join a family where there is already one child would be a very good thing for an adopted child. There are many foreign people working in this country. Hon. Members will know that it is not at all unusual for illegitimate children to be born in this country, children who are half foreign by blood and sometimes wholly foreign by parentage and only British by virtue of the fact that they were born in this country.
Are we to say that if a French woman has a child in this country and subsequently marries one of her own countrymen, they are not to be entitled to adopt that child merely because under French law a family cannot adopt a child if they already have one legitimate child? There will not be many of these cases. Are we going to deprive that sort of 891 family, a European family who could provide a good home for a child who may be, on one side of the family and sometimes on both, of foreign parentage even though it is British in law?
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
No, not necessarily. A foreign mother may be working in this country, and if she has a child born in this territory it is British. She make may take it out of the country but she cannot give it legal adoption because it is a British child, even though both parents may be of foreign nationality.
§ Mr. Page
I am sorry to pursue the point and interrupt my hon. Friend, but I think we should get the matter clear. The mother, in those circumstances, can take the child abroad to her own country and then the child becomes subject to the laws of that country and may or may not be adopted. That does not seem to me to be a case in point. Our Amendments are directed to the removal of a British child from its parents to some adoptive parents abroad.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
My hon. Friend has missed the important point. If I may say so, many of the points made today were made in Committee and I endeavoured to answer them. Either I have been very bad at answering them or else hon. Members have been too bored to listen. There are many children born in this country—many in the care of the L.C.C., for example, and other authorities—who are of at least half and sometimes wholly of foreign parentage. It may not be the natural mother who wishes to take the child. My hon. Friend is quite right in saying that the natural mother can take the child abroad. But she may well know that the child is half or wholly of foreign parentage. She may wish it to be brought up in her native country. At present such a child, by virtue of having been born on British soil, is a British subject and cannot be adopted by a family abroad, however worthy.
On Second Reading, my hon. Friend said that there were evasions of the law by the natural mother in taking the child 892 abroad, leaving it with a family of her choice and then returning to this country without it. One can virtually do very little about that. I believe that the majority of natural mothers, if they know they can give the protection of adoption to a child who for various reasons they do not wish to keep and bring up themselves, would be prepared to invoke the greatest safeguards which are available by way of these provisional adoption orders, and at least feel that they have done their utmost to protect the future of their child by consenting to a provisional adoption order.
I should like to say a word about the inquiry of an adoption society or other adoption authority in the country which has knowledge of the application. I must confess that I think the Amendment is not precise enough in meaning to be suitable for enactment. Even if an adoption society in the country of domicile were informed of the application, it might have no knowledge at all of the adopter's character and circumstances. The requirement of the Amendment would be satisfied if applicants domiciled in France were to inform an adoption society in Marseilles of the application which they proposed to make, even though the applicant might have come from Britanny or may have been living for several years in this country. I think it is so loosely worded that it would not be suitable for enactment and it would not in effect achieve the result that my hon. Friend wants.
I believe that the very responsible professional men who will be appointed as guardians ad litem are far more likely to go to the known reliable and reputable sources for their information—either the responsible welfare and public health authorities in the country to which they are applying, through the consular officer, or to use the well-known international bodies the various denominational bodies and the international adoption societies on whose investigations they know they can rely.
There must be some countries which have very few of what we regard as properly constituted and registered adoption societies. That does not mean that within that country there might not be circumstances where a perfectly reputable applicant who could satisfy the requirements of the court should not in those 893 special circumstances be permitted to adopt a child. I fully appreciate my hon. Friends' anxieties.
The hon. Member for Norfolk, South (Mr. J. E. B. Hill) fairly made the point that it is not possible for us to legislate to provide sanctions which can apply in another sovereign country, but my right hon. Friend has followed very closely the proceedings on this Bill and he is aware of the anxieties felt and fairly stressed by my hon. Friends about the need for safeguarding the welfare of the child in applications for provisional adoption orders. He has discussed this matter with the noble Lord the Lord Chancellor and will draw the noble Lord's attention to all that has been said on this matter today. Hon. Members will appreciate that the Lord Chancellor cannot say in advance of the Bill being passed what form the rules of court will take, but I am sure we can rely on his readiness to do everything that is reasonable and practicable to meet the views which have been expressed today. Hon. Members will be aware that the Lord Chancellor gave an undertaking in another place that the rules would be no less stringent than those which require the full investigations that are made in connection with ordinary adoption orders.
One hon. Member made the point that under Clause 24 (4) there was no provision for joint applications. I assured him that this was not so because that Clause applies most of the provisions of the principal Act and of the Bill about ordinary adoption orders to provisional adoption orders. It includes in those provisions Section 1 (2) of the 1950 Act which provides for joint applications. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that that point is covered.
Some hon. Members suggested that no prospective adopters other than those from the British Commonwealth should be allowed to adopt a child. I think that would be an unduly narrow outlook and I do not think that on reflection this House would suggest that there is no foreign parent who can be entrusted with the care of a child before any British parent. That would be an unfortunate suggestion and conclusion to emerge from this debate, and I do not think it is one with which hon. Members generally agree. The procedure will be a costly process. It will not be an easy matter for foreigners to present their case before an English 894 court and stay for six months under the supervision of an English local authority.
I think that the few cases which will be dealt with under this procedure may well include very genuine and worthy cases where often the parents themselves may wish a certain family with whom they have long-standing friendship to adopt a child abroad. Most of the cases will not be from family to family. They will concern children who have already been placed in the care of a local authority, or cases in which the mother with an illegitimate child has no desire or intention of making herself responsible for that child in the future.
So far as consent is concerned, the same provisions will apply as under the ordinary adoption order procedure. The child cannot be placed without consent. The parent will know if it is a provisional adoption order and that, therefore, the application is from applicants who normally live abroad or live in this country but will ultimately intend to take the child abroad. They will be aware of those circumstances. They will have the same rights as under ordinary adoption orders procedure in withholding consent, with only the exceptions which are enshrined in the Act, where the child has been abandoned and the mother cannot be found or the parents are incapable of making a decision or, indeed, where they are unreasonably withholding consent.
I do not believe that in practice the courts will grant provisional adoption orders to any applicant of whatever nationality unless there are very special circumstances which justify such a course. Hon. Members know our courts well enough and the very responsible view that they take on the protection of children to know full well that they will take the greatest care in matters of national compatibility, in questions of religion or colour and all those things which go to build up a good family and community life.
A point was raised on the Amendment in page 14, line 37. The court cannot make any adoption order, provisional or otherwise, unless it is satisfied that it will be for the benefit of the child. I believe that much of the Amendment was based upon the assumption that, other things being equal, the child should always go to a Commonwealth family.
895 Reference was made also to the requirement of a bond. There is the difficulty of the British courts not having power to impose any sanction on a foreign national within his own country. In the the absence of information about whether the applicant had carried out his obligation, it is not clear whether there would be a liability on the courts to find it out. It might be difficult to find it out. I do not think that it would be possible to enshrine in the Bill a provision that a bond should be required, with liabilities and sanctions on an applicant who would not, probably, thereafter be living under the laws of this country.
§ Mr. Janner
Has the hon. Lady consulted the Law Officers as to whether there is any alternative method by which a financial obligation might be imposed, in consideration of the adoption being granted, which would be enforceable in another country? That is really what is behind the idea of a bond. It is not merely a matter of enforcing a bond in this country but placing a financial obligation upon an individual if he does not comply with certain provisions, having entered into the particular document and in consideration of something granted to him.
§ Miss Vickers
It was stated in the Washington Senate a little while ago that, from the Middle West to New York and from the East to Florida, children were being sold at prices from £700 to £100,000. That is the sort of thing one wants to safeguard against so that when the child grows older he is not passed on to somebody else for some consideration.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
My hon. Friend is really underrating the very full investigation to be made and the evidence to be produced to the courts by the guardian ad litem about the circumstances, background and conduct of the applicants, in addition to which those applicants will, as I have reminded the House, have to be here for six months. They will have to pay their fare, perhaps across the Atlantic and, perhaps, half way across America, and return. It will, indeed, be an extremely costly business to undertake, and would not be embarked upon lightly or without any real desire or intention to adopt a British child.
The hon. Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) is far more knowledgeable 896 about international law than I, but I believe that another point arises in connection with the requiring of a bond from a prospective adopter. It would really be an attempt to exercise control over the relationship between adopter and child after the order has been made and after the applicant has left the jurisdiction. In the first place, it is impracticable to exercise any effective control of real benefit to the child. We must satisfy ourselves, when the parties are here, that the applicant is a worthy one who measures up to the standards we have laid down. Secondly, any attempt to exercise control, however unsuccessful, would tend to foster the very evil that we wish to curb. It would create the impression that the relationship between adopter and child is not close and is not irrevocable. One of the cardinal principles of adoption has been that, once the order has been made and the adoption completed, the child is, to all intents and purposes, one of the new family just as is a natural child.
§ Mr. Janner
I am much obliged to the hon. Lady for giving way again. That is not quite the point we are driving at. After all, if a person adopts a child in this country and afterwards is cruel to the child or does not do what is proper, there are laws by which he may be deprived of the custody of the child. The child can be put into a home, to foster parents, and so forth.
I hope that the hon. Lady will consider again what we have suggested. I believe it to be well worth while. It is not a slur on the adopting parents. On the contrary, I should have thought that they would be prepared, in the interests of the child, to submit to some such arrangement. We are asking for some kind of preventive measure so that the kind of treatment and protection which is given to our children here will, after adoption, still be in some way enforceable in another country.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
If the adoption law in the other country was identical and if we could enforce the sanction of a bond, the hon. Member's suggestion might, I think, be a little more practicable, but, on the face of it, I think we must make our decision in this country after the six months' residence. I believe that that six months' residence 897 has far more importance than many hon. Members have admitted. The only reliable safeguard is to ensure that adoption orders are made in favour of reliable people. For this, we trust to the full investigations, through proper and reputable channels, by the guardian ad litem. We trust the courts, in placing upon them a great responsibility in coming to a decision.
The Government are confident that the Bill provides adequate machinery for enabling the courts to have before them information which will allow them to exercise their discretion wisely. They have, after all, a very wide experience in ordinary adoption, and they are likely to exercise even more stringency in hearing applications of this kind. I know that hon. Members have very sincere reservations about this—indeed, I have discussed hardly any other subject during this week—but I believe that this new procedure affords a much better protection than the present licensing system. If an unmarried mother has made up her
§ Mr. Speaker
Unless any other hon. Member whose Amendment was discussed with the last one wishes me to put it to the House, I shall call the hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) to move his Amendment.
§ mind that she will not bring up her child and she feels in her heart that it is best that the responsibility should be undertaken in a Canadian home or an American home, she will know that she can give the child the legal protection of a provisional adoption order.
§ In view of the assurance given by my right hon. Friend and the assurance from my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor that the rules of court will certainly be as stringently drawn, probably more widely and stringently, in respect of applications for provisional orders than the present rules are for ordinary adoption orders, I ask hon. Members to accept our view. Certainly, all the comments, questions and reservations which hon. Members have expressed will be taken into account, but I very sincerely hope that the Amendments to the Clause will not be pressed.
§ Question put, That "or" stand part of the Bill.
§ The House divided: Ayes 82, Noes 8.897
|Division No. 205.]||AYES||[2.54 p.m.|
|Agnew, Sir Peter||Grimond, J.||Oswald, T.|
|Aitken, W. T.||Gurden, Harold||Peel, W. J.|
|Armstrong, C. W.||Hall, Rt. Hn. Glenvil (Colne Valley)||Powell, J. Enoch|
|Barber, Anthony||Harrison, Col. J. H. (Eye)||Price, David (Eastleigh)|
|Batsford, Brian||Heald, Rt. Hon. Sir Lionel||Redmayne, M.|
|Bevins, J. R. (Toxteth)||Heath, Rt. Hon. E. R. G.||Renton, D. L. M.|
|Bingham, R. M.||Hope, Lord John||Reynolds, G. W.|
|Bishop, F. P.||Hornsby-Smith, Miss M. P.||Ridsdale, J. E.|
|Blyton, W. R.||Hughes Hallett, Vice-Admiral J.||Robens, Rt. Hon. A.|
|Bossom, Sir Alfred||Hughes-Young, M. H. C.||Robertson, Sir David|
|Butler, Rt. Hn. R. A. (Saffron Waiden)||Hylton-Foster, Rt. Hon. Sir Harry||Robinson, Kenneth (Sir. Pencras, N.)|
|Cole, Norman||Iremonger, T. L.||Sharples, R. C.|
|Cordeaux, Lt.-Col. J. K.||Janner, B.||Spens, Rt. Hn. Sir P. (Kens'gt'n, S.)|
|Crosthwaite-Eyre, Col. O. E.||Jeger, Mrs. Lena (Holbn & St. Pncs, S.)||Stuart, Rt. Hon. James (Moray)|
|Cunningham, Knox||Jenkins, Robert (Dulwich)||Teeling, W.|
|Currie, G. B. H.||Johnson, Dr. Donald (Carlisle)||Thompson, R. (Croydon, S.)|
|Dance, J. C. G.||Johnson, Eric (Blackley)||Turner, H. F. L.|
|D'Avigdor-Goldsmid, Sir Henry||Kirk, P. M.|
|Deer, G.||Legge-Bourke, Maj. E. A. H.||Wall, Patrick|
|Doughty, C. J. A.||Lucas-Tooth, Sir Hugh||Webster, David|
|du Cann, E. D. L.||MacColl, J. E.||Wells, William (Walsall, N.)|
|Erroll, F. J.||MacDermot, Niall||White, Mrs. Eirene (E. Flint)|
|Fletcher, Eric||Macmillan, Rt. Hn. Harold (Bromley)||Whitelaw, W. S. I.|
|Gammans, Lady||Macmillan, Maurice (Halifax)||Williams, W. R. (Openshaw)|
|Glyn, Col. Richard H.||Maddan, Martin||Younger, Rt. Hon. K.|
|Goodhart, Philip||Maydon, Lt.-Comdr. S. L. C.|
|Gordon Walker, Rt. Hon. P. C.||Mitchison, G. R.||TELLERS FOR THE AYES:|
|Grant, Rt. Hon. W. (Woodside)||Nicolson, N. (B'n'm'th, E. & Chr'ch)||Sir Gerald Wills and Mr. Legh.|
|Green, A.||Noel-Baker, Rt. Hon. P. (Derby, S.)|
|Body, R. F.||Holman, P.|
|Corfield, Capt. F. V.||Hornby, R. P.||TELLERS FOR THE NOES:|
|Hill, John (S. Norfolk)||Hutchison, Michael Clark (E'b'gh, S.)||Mr. Lipton and Mr. Page.|
|Hobson, John (Warwick & Leam'gt'n)||Vickers, Miss Joan|
§ 3.0 p.m.
§ Mr. MacColl
I beg to move, page 14, line 39, to leave out "or the county court".
I was delighted to find this morning when I came to the House that my hon 899 Friend the Member for, Brixton (Mr. Lipton) had added his name to my Amendment. We approach this problem from entirely different points of view, and I hope it will not be lost to the hon. Lady the Joint Under-Secretary that there is some significance in the fact that my hon. Friend and I have been able to join hands across a High Court judge. That may well indicate the answer to this difficult problem.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North-West (Mr. Janner) so clearly said, we have either to restrict the power of the court in making an order or to rely on the court exercising its discretion. We have discussed at great length and rejected the possibility of restricting the power of the court. I agree with the hon. Lady that the other solution is the right one to adopt, and that is why I supported her. I hope she noticed me when I was going through the "Aye" Lobby. I supported her because I agree with her that the answer to this problem is to rely on the discretion of the court. I suggest, however, that if we do that, we require uniformity in the exercise of that discretion and the building up of a considerable amount of experience in this very difficult field.
I make no apology for moving the Amendment at this late stage of the Bill. It occurred to me in Committee when I was listening to the debate when we were wrestling with the problem. It suddenly hit me that this was the answer. The more I think of it, the more convinced I am that it is the answer. I am not naturally prejudiced in favour of the High Court. When we were discussing the question of children of divorced parents and their supervision I fought hard to persuade the House to accept the principle that the work should be done locally by a magistrates' court. I am prejudiced in favour of local jurisdiction, but this is a quite different problem which is essentially international and not local. Therefore, the criticisms which have been made about this suggestion, most of which were criticisms concerning the exercise by the divorce courts of their jurisdiction in respect of the other Bill, are not relevant to this Bill.
The first suggestion was that county court judges have a wide experience of the law of adoption. That, however, is not relevant here, because what we are 900 considering is the law of international adoption, which is a quite different problem. The fact that a county court judge has much experience of local adoption and of the adoption law in this country is not really the important factor when considering foreign adoptions.
The second point that was made was that witnesses, perhaps in large numbers, might have to come up to London and that this would be an expensive business. The hon. Lady herself, however, has said again and again that one of the sanctions against too easy use of the powers in the Clause is that it is an expensive business. I suggest that when anybody is settling the fate of a child and sending it abroad for ever, the consideration of possible trouble to children's officers in having to come up to London and matters of that sort should not be allowed to weigh.
The hon. Lady said upstairs in Committee that when people had settled in an area, they would be known and, therefore, it was useful to have local evidence of their character. It is not likely that the county court judge would have local knowledge of the character of the people and I am sure that even if he had, it would be improper for him to take it into account. We are not dealing with a problem of general welfare to be discussed around the table, as might be the case in most problems concerning children. We are dealing here with a tricky question of comparative international law.
Again, we are not dealing with people who are living in an area or who may come up out of the area to London to consider the case. These are people who, the hon. Lady said, had had to come to this country and settle down and live here for the qualifying period. It is true that some of them may be on service in this country. It may be more convenient for an airman stationed at, say, Burton-wood to go as a witness to the county court rather than to London, but it is not all that inconvenient for him to do so. He is probably accustomed to coming to London and the fact that he is serving in a certain area does not mean that he is rooted there as a witness. There would be no real hardship for him to come to London if he wanted to adopt the child. Therefore, these negative criticisms which have been made are not relevant.
The question is whether there are any possible advantages in confining the 901 jurisdiction to the High Court. The first point to be made is that the licensing procedure has been confined to Bow Street and the Chief Magistrate. Therefore, in the case of the licensing procedure, the idea that we build up a corpus of knowledge about the problem of children going abroad has been accepted by the legislature and has become an intrinsic part of the procedure. Therefore, it is going backwards to say that in this, if anything, more drastic procedure of provisional adoption orders we should go back and scatter the jurisdiction all over the country to different county courts.
There is also the danger—perhaps not a great one, but it can happen—that certain county court districts become known for taking these cases rather more lightly or sympathetically than other areas. It is possible for a prospective adopter to select his own county court district. These are not the kind of cases where one is living in an area and, for better or for worse, the local police and the county court judge are taken as part of the facts of life and must be accepted accordingly. In these cases, the prospective adopter comes to this country with the purpose of acquiring a domicile in order to be able to make application. Therefore, it is possible for him to choose where he lives. It may well arise that if adoption brokers were at work, they could advise a person that if he settled in a certain area, the county court judge there was more pro-foreigner than the county court judge in another area and the prospective adopter was more likely to get his order. That would be an undesirable state of affairs. It is another strong argument for saying that the jurisdiction should be placed in the hands of a single High Court judge.
The hon. Lady said upstairs that this would be too much work for one judge. I was surprised to hear that. The whole point about this procedure, I thought, was that there would not be many cases and that they would be the exceptional ones. Therefore, I was very much surprised to hear that there would be a heavy load on the judge. If it were so I do not think this is really an argument for more than spreading it among some of the High Court judges.
But a High Court judge in the Law Courts, with all the professional advice available to him, and specialising in these 902 matters, is more likely to deal with a case accurately and carefully than the very busy county court judge who has to deal with it between a couple of eviction cases and an action brought on a civil debt or something of that sort. This is essentially a Chancery proceeding which ought to be looked at very carefully by a very experienced judge.
The kind of question which will arise will not primarily be one of the local situation of the child or anything of that sort. It will be other such questions as, "What is the law of adoption in the other country? What is its law of citizenship? Will there be a conflict of law between the country of the adopting parents and that of our own country? What is to be the way of resolving that conflict? What kind of social services are available in that country?" My hon. Friend the Member for Brixton cited the case of Colombia where the rules of the law of adoption presumably prevented parents from adopting another child. Presumably one would have to have a very strong case before the court would consider it to be a proper one for adoption. What the court needs to know is best obtained in the High Court, with a judge building up as he goes along a corpus of knowledge of the customs and practices and laws of different countries, a judge specialising in this very difficult and delicate business.
All the arguments, it seems to me, are heavily in favour of removing this jurisdiction from the local court, the county court, and handing it over to the High Court. If the hon. Lady can see her way to do this that would meet a great many of the criticisms and misgivings which have been expressed. We have had all the difficulties in doing so deployed today as we did upstairs. People are worried and concerned about this.
I myself feel that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, and I am prepared to leave it to the wisdom of the court which is making the order, but I think it is very important that, if we do that, we see that the court has adequate knowledge, adequate experience; and to get uniformity of practice and uniformity of decision is best done by leaving this to the High Court. We have left licensing with the Bow Street magistrate, who is a far busier man than 903 most Chancery judges are, and if he can carry out all the jurisdiction, I feel suit, that the High Court judge could.
Although I am very much in favour of keeping local jurisdiction, and have, indeed, fought hard for it for the welfare of children of divorced parents, I am, for the reasons I have set out, quite convinced that that argument does not weigh in this matter. I think that this is the way in which we shall get uniformity on these important questions, and I hope that the hon. Lady will be able to see her way to accept the Amendment.
§ Mr. Lipton
I beg to second the Amendment, which has been so effectively moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl). I should like the Joint Under-Secretary of State to take note of two important facts. My hon. Friend supported her in the Division which took place on an Amendment just now. The other point I think it is fair to make is that my hon. Friend is well known to be a strong local authority man, a local government man, and if he takes up the attitude he does on this Amendment he cannot be accused of being one of these centralising types who wants to focus everything in one spot and subject the whole country to some form of centralised dictation.
It is quite true that in respect of adoption by foreigners there is really no significance in the local argument. In other words, it does not seem to me a valid point that a county court in a particular district, just because the prospective adopters happen to be living there, is in a better position than anybody else to decide upon the merits of the application by these foreign visitors.
The Joint Under-Secretary has said that the number of cases involved is likely to be small. In that case they will come easily within the competence of one or the other of the High Court judges. Difficult points of law are likely to arise and in those circumstances a High Court judge is in a much better position to deal with them. It seems to me to be strange that whereas under the licensing system we had a centralised organisation at Bow Street, now that much more effective organised control is envisaged the whole system should be spread out among many county court judges.
904 The Joint Under-Secretary has also admitted, and we all know, that the prospective parents must reside in this country for six months at least. In those circumstances the prospective parents have no roots in any particular locality. They are not likely, within six months, to provide the local people with such additional information as would justify or necessitate an application for adoption being heard in that locality. The expenses which they are likely to have to meet by having to reside in this country for six months and giving up their jobs and residences abroad are not likely to be added to very largely if the proceedings in which they are involved take place in London.
It is very important, in these early stages, to accumulate a body of experience and a corpus of law competent to handle cases of this kind. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. W. Wells) made the point in Committee that there was a strong case to be made for uniformity of practice. The best way of ensuring that uniformity is by accepting the Amendment.
The Under-Secretary said that she was prepared to look at this matter again. I do not know whether she has done so, or what conclusions she has reached or whether she is prepared to change her mind on the subject. She pointed out that in the view of the Lord Chancellor it was wise to include both county courts and the High Court as appropriate courts to consider this type of application. But the Lord Chancellor's view is not necessarily binding and immune from reconsideration.
It strikes me as odd that a county court judge is not considered a fit and proper person to try an undefended divorce case where no children are involved but when he has to decide the future of a child for the rest of its natural life he suddenly becomes endowed with the virtues that would have enabled him to deal with undefended divorce cases, with which otherwise he cannot deal, except where he disguises himself as a Commissioner, moves to another court and pretends not to be a county court judge. The whole thing strikes me as being a little odd, and I hope that the Under-Secretary will find it possible to accept this reasonable and practical Amendment.
§ Mr. Janner
Although the point had been put frankly and with force by my two hon. Friends, I do not think they have covered all the ground. It is important here not only to do the right thing but to make it as obvious as possible to the person who is adopting the child that the right thing is being done. If there ever was an occasion when the dignity of the law and all that goes with it should be used to its fullest extent, this is the occasion.
An assize court, and all that goes with the robing of the judges and so on, is a good tradition and has a substantial effect. In my view, the county court judge, for whom I have a high respect, because he does a great amount of work and serves an extremely useful purpose, is not sufficient. In this case, in order to take every possible precaution, it would be wise for the person who is asking to adopt the child to face the highest tribunal in the country, so that he realises the weight we attach to his application being a genuine one and to its being properly considered.
It may very well be that the county court judge or the sheriff could do this work as well as the High Court judge, but that is not the point. The point is that if a man goes before a county court judge he knows he is appearing before a person who has jurisdiction in an inferior court. Say what you will, that is the position. If he goes before a magistrate or a sheriff, he is not before the High Court of the country and, irrespective of anything else, the fact that an individual has to make his application for this purpose before the highest tribunal in the land will make that individual realise that he is being given a concession which we regard as one of the highest concessions, namely, giving the custody of a child, the life of a child, to a person living outside our country.
I hope that this argument, added to the others which have been advanced, will appeal to the hon. Lady. This is not a trivial point, and it is not a matter of fancy. It goes to the root of the matter with which we are dealing. I am sure the hon. Lady would not want a person to feel that in this matter he had not been dealt with at the highest level. Irrespective of anything else, that point should be brought home to the applicant, and so I sincerely hope, if she has not already made up her mind, that the hon. 906 Lady will give us an assurance that she will reconsider the position.
§ The Solicitor-General for Scotland (Mr. William Grant)
The hon. Member for Widnes (Mr. MacColl) moved this Amendment in his usual attractive fashion, but I submit to the House that the arguments in favour of it, although possessing certain attractions, have only superficial attractions, and that, indeed, the strength of the argument is the other way.
I appreciate that in England the licensing system up to now has been centralised. We have not in Scotland had the same centralisation. Any sheriff within whose jurisdiction an applicant or child has been living has had jurisdiction, and we have had no trouble in that respect. I am against centralisation, and if I can bring a little attractive breath of decentralisation south of the Border into England, I think it will be a very good thing. We have had a licensing system operating in many cases where no local inquiries or no extensive local inquiries had to be made but in which the applicant very often was residing abroad.
Under the new system, we will have the applicant residing for six months in, say, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in Wales or in South-West England, and extensive local inquiries will have to be made there. As my hon. Friend pointed out earlier, what we want to do and what the court will want to do is to ensure that the potentional adopter is a reliable person, and that must, to a large extent, depend on the inquiries made during the six months while that person is residing in this country. There will be inquiries abroad, and there will be matters of foreign law. So far as foreign law is concerned, it will be the duty of the guardian ad litem to deal with that in his report to the court.
The county court judge, with the experience which he has already gained of adoption law and procedure, and of assessing the reliability of the potential adopters, is really much better qualified than, or at least equally well qualified as, a High Court judge. When one comes to the question of expense and inconvenience, we must remember that we should have the children's officer brought from wherever the applicant has been residing and the guardian ad litem having to come and give evidence at great 907 inconvenience. After all, in the High Court in England and in the Court of Session in Scotland, the expenses are very much higher than in a lower court.
Accordingly, from the point of view of the experience already gained by county court judges and sheriffs, on the score of expense and inconvenience, and because of the fact that so many inquiries will have to be made locally, I would suggest that the applicant should, as is provided in the Bill as it now stands, have the option of going to a local court.
§ Mr. W. Wells
May I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether he attaches any importance to the establishment of a standard procedure and practice in this matter?
§ The Solicitor-General for Scotland
That really is a question of uniformity, and I had intended to mention it. I certainly agree that uniformity is a very desirable thing, but in adoption cases we have had no real trouble on the score of the lack of uniformity. Equally, I think that under this new procedure there will be no trouble. After all, the original adoption procedure was a new procedure at one stage, and there was no real difficulty in getting reasonable uniformity between the various judges who dealt with it. Equally, I do not see that we need fear any lack of uniformity under this Bill.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ 3.30 p.m.
§ Miss Hornsby-Smith
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
We have had a very full and interesting debate today on a subject which, when introducing the Bill a short time ago, my right hon. Friend commended to hon. Members as one in which all hon. Members would show their interest. He expressed the conviction that all who would contribute to the discussions of the Bill would be animated by a common sympathy with the many children whose lives we hoped would be made happier and more secure as a result of the Measure. I am sure that all those who have taken part in the discussion or who have followed the proceedings will agree that my right hon. Friend's conviction has been amply justified.
There has been a very sincere controversy on certain items, but on all sides 908 of the House we have had a common intent, to provide children, in the main deprived of their natural home and family life, with as near an alternative within a family as we possibly could.
The Bill has substantially benefited from the co-operative manner in which hon. Members have joined together to try to make that neat balance between parent and child, and between the many other considerations which we have had to view. I am very grateful to my hon. Friends and to right hon. Gentlemen opposite for the help and co-operation which they have given us in our labours. All sides of the House have been inspired by very great sincerity and conviction.
Inevitably, the broad principles of the Bill have commanded general assent. There have been certain items and certain Clauses on which they have been differences, but I believe that the Bill is a good one. It is a Measure which will add still further to the reforms which have become a tradition of this country in the care and welfare of children.
I want to say again with what joy and pleasure my distinguished constituent, the late Sir Gerald Hurst, would have welcomed the Bill. Had he been alive today, he would have been sitting in the Gallery listening to the debate.
We can be very proud and happy about the sympathetic support and help which the Bill has had from all sides of the House. It is not often given to Governments, even the best of them, to see their labours greeted with all-party support and when that event occurs, it is a very pleasurable occasion and one on which one is entitled to enjoy mutual satisfaction.
It is the impact of legislation on human lives which is our primary concern. The Bill will have a good impact and will endure throughout the lives of many children deprived of their natural home and it will benefit them in providing warm and happy family life with, so far as we have been able to arrange, those safeguards which hon. Members quite rightly desired.
§ 3.34 p.m.
§ Mr. W. Wells
This was a good Bill on Second Reading, and the hon. Lady is to be congratulated on the fact that it is an even better one on Third Reading. She has steered through a very 909 difficult and technical matter with great courage as well as great skill.
I want to mention two or three respects in which the Bill has been improved, by co-operation with both sides of the House, although largely in response to specific Amendments put down by hon. Members on this side. There were two Amendments to Clause 3, one cutting out indefinite exemptions from giving notice and the other, which the Government have moved today, to Clause 3 (5), reducing to three months from six months the period allowed for the return without notice of children who had previously been in care.
The most important Amendment in Part II of the Bill is that to Clause 18, which now gives the court a wider discretion to dispense with the consent of a parent who has failed in his obligations to the child, if the court thinks that that is in the interests and for the welfare of the child. We also warmly welcome the Amendment to Clause 19, in respect of medical certificates, and hope that the rule to which the hon. Lady referred will provide that in all cases some sort of medical evidence will be brought before the court.
I turn from that rather happy aspect to one which is slightly less happy. It is a fundamental criticism that we have had insufficient time for discussion. That fact was manifested in the debate on Clause 24 today. There have been widespread expressions of anxiety from local authorities, adoption societies and individuals experienced in adoption about the changes which are being made in respect of foreign adoptions. The hon. Lady will have taken full note that in the Division which took place a few minutes ago we voted with her.
On the whole we welcome the substitution of the Clause 24 procedure for the old procedure under Section 40 of the principal Act. But anxieties have been expressed by hon. Members both in respect of sending children to adopters whose suitability the courts cannot completely assess, and, on the other hand, in respect of the fact that the abolition of the licensing procedure may prevent children from going to adopters who have close ties with them or with their natural parents because they, the adopters, have insufficient means or opportunity to come to this country for the qualifying period 910 in order to obtain a provisional adoption order.
These two sets of anxiety have been pressed home from many quarters upon hon. Members on both sides of the House, and other points have been raised in correspondence with many hon. Members. We have had to concentrate our attention on only a few of the most important ones, however, and I think that we all part with Clause 24 with a feeling that we should have liked further time for its consideration.
In the Second Reading debate the Home Secretary said:We look forward to any constructive suggestions which hon. Members may care to make with a view to improving the Bill. This is a human problem and one on which we wish to enlist the co-operation of hon. Members."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 27th June, 1958; Vol. 590, c. 747.]The hon. Lady has carried out her task admirably, in the spirit of those words, but the right hon. Gentleman, who has very great experience of life in Opposition—and may soon have it again—should realise that between 27th June and 25th July we have had to deal with a matter of this kind, where there is a great volume of public anxiety and where the issues at stake are very often rather technical and involve going through a great deal of previous legislation in order to make sure that we are appreciating the point correctly and also involve the examination of many points of view and the obtaining of information from many sources. We had all this to do between 27th June and 25th July, and the Bill has had to go through all its stages in that time. This has not really given us, as an Opposition, or hon. Members in their private capacity, the time or the scope in which to make all the changes to the Bill that ought, perhaps, to be made.
What is even more important is that it makes the local authorities and adoption societies, who have points of view to express, feel that this House has been unable to give full consideration to those points of view. Quite frankly, we have not been able to do that. We have not had sufficient time, and the reason for our not having sufficient time is that the Government introduced, earlier in the year, a lot of contentious legislation. The result has been that we have not had enough time to do full justice to this Bill, which we all welcome.
911 Having said that, let me repeat that this is a good Bill. We shall watch its enactment with pleasure, we shall follow its subsequent development with close interest and attention, and we hope that when the Government bring in the consolidating Measure for which we pressed on Second Reading, and which has now been promised at an early date, they will look very carefully at any opportunities there may be to make the procedural amendments that will further improve the machinery of this Measure.
§ 3.42 p.m.
§ Mr. Page
I wish to put on record that, although I should be doubtful about supporting a Bill that includes. Clause 24 as it now stands, I am quite certain that I can give no support at all to a Bill that includes Clause 18 (3). For me, all the other goods points of the Bill are completely destroyed by that subsection (3), which deprives parents of their natural rights.
I would not, at this hour, seek to divide the House on Third Reading, although I may tell my hon. Friend that it did not escape my notice that the total number voting a little while ago would have enabled those who feel so strongly about this Bill to have talked until four o'clock. I still feel very strongly that we are mistaken in including Clause 18 (3); that it will give great pain and suffering to many parents, by depriving them of their parental rights, and I hope that, at some time in the future, that Clause may be amended.
§ 3.43 p.m.
§ Mrs. L. Jeger
I very much regret that we have so little time for a Third Reading debate. There are still several important points to make, but, as I do not wish to interfere with the timetable, I shall confine myself to one or two observations on Clause 30. We welcome that Clause because it enables local authorities to act more freely than before in the adoption of children. It also empowers the Secretary of State to make the necessary regulations, and I should like to ask him, when he is doing so, to bear in mind the following three points.
Under the present Regulations, an adoption society must have a case committee to confirm each adoption, but many local authorities use only one official 912 to inspect the home, to choose the child, and to confirm the excellence of his own judgment—and to act, in addition, as guardian ad litem. The whole responsibility is thereby placed on one officer. It is absolutely essential for their success that adoption arrangements should be decided by someone who has played no part in making them. It might, therefore, be advisable, under the regulations, to insist that a local authority also should work through a case committee.
Secondly, I hope that the Secretary of State will encourage local authorities to co-operate with one another. One of the things that makes the unmarried mother, in particular, hesitate to go to her local council, is her fear that, as a result, the child will be placed locally, and that she may, therefore, expose herself to the embarrassment and difficulty of meeting the child. If we could encourage local authorities to do adoptions for one another's children, I am sure that it would be very helpful.
I also hope that the right hon. Gentleman will give some guidance to local authorities about the training of the officers who should do this work. Some authorities use the children's officer, and in certain cases the probation officer is used. Same people think that the year's training given by the Central Council for Children's Care is the right kind of preparation. We need to know a great deal more about the kind of training which should be undertaken by people to whom we are rather glibly entrusting this important work.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ Mr. Lipton
I want to go on record in this debate as expressing the view that this Bill has been rushed through the legislative machine, and in that respect I agree with every word which my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Walsall. North (Mr. W. Wells) has said. We have not had adequate time to discuss all the implications of this Bill and, what is more, the Press and the public have not been given a proper opportunity of realising all the dangers implicit in some of the Clauses, particularly Clause 24.
On Second Reading there was some rather superior criticism about the Sunday Pictorial which contained an article pointing out the dangers of Clause 24. It seems to me that the 913 public would not have known anything about the dangers of Clause 24 to anything like the extent that they should have known but for that article. It certainly brought to the attention of many hon. Members who might otherwise have not realised the dangers the significance of what we are doing in Clause 24.
§ The Secretary of State for the Home Department and Lord Privy Seal (Mr. R. A. Butler)
May I point out that the Hurst Committee's Report was published just four years ago and any hon. Member who wished to study this subject should have done so then?
§ Mr. Lipton
The interesting point about the Report that appeared four years ago is that the Report did not put forward any proposal on which the Government can claim this Clause ought to be based. If the Home Secretary will look at page 73 of the Hurst Report—I have not got time to go into it as fully as I should like—he will see in paragraph (43):The licensing system should be maintained in order to provide for the transfer of children to destinations outside 'the British Islands'.The public were in no way prepared by the contents of this Report for the conclusions to which the Government suddenly came as a result of which it will now be possible, as an hon. Member opposite said, to have export licensing of children provided for by the law of the land for the first time.
I am sure the Government must agree with this point. In Clause 24 we are taking a gamble. The Under-Secretary knows that she is taking a gamble. It has been made clear by Government spokesmen that there were risks involved in this Clause, which the Government thought on balance ought to be taken. I do not mind taking risks at my own expense, but I object to taking risks and gambling with the lives of children. In retrospect I am sure the Government will agree that they have taken a very serious responsibility upon themselves. I do not think this Third Reading ought to be allowed to proceed without some reference being made to this fact.
The Government are taking a gamble on the future of these children and, what is worse, we shall never know whether 914 this gamble has come off. Even if we did get to know, no one would be able to do anything about it. Goodness knows what tragedy may occur as a result of this, of which we shall never know, but the Government will say, "The Act is working very smoothly. No evidence has been brought to our notice that any child who has been allowed to go abroad is not as happy as any other child in this country." I know that the rest of the Bill makes many useful and desirable provisions, but from my point of view this Bill will always be tainted by the inclusion in it of the Clause which enables child to be exported abroad.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, with Amendments.