HC Deb 12 June 1964 vol 696 cc831-6

As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

1.12 p.m.

Mr. George Forrest (Mid-Ulster)

I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

This is a short but most important Measure, and I hope that it will be adopted by the House.

Sir Douglas Glover (Ormskirk)

When I came into the House this morning, I was hoping to be able to take part in the debate on the Sunday Observance Bill, but I am happy to be here now that this Bill has come up for its Third Reading.

Life works in a funny way. Until this year I had had very little close connection with the system of adoption. This year one of my greatest friends has adopted a dear wee baby, and the other day another of my greatest friends used my name as a sponsor when he and his wife wanted to adopt a child. It therefore seems appropriate for me to say that I regard this as a very useful Measure, and that what it does needed doing.

The Bill improves the situation regarding adoption, and applies virtually the same procedure to every part of what I would call the British Isles, in other words, Guernsey, Jersey, Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, and the United Kingdom.

I am sorry that my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) is not in his place, because during the Second Reading debate I supported what he said. He wished that the Bill was wider in its scope, and that it eased the system of adoption.

Nearly all adopted children are illegitimate. The houses to which they go are better than those in which they have to live if they are not adopted, but at the moment the conditions of adoption are so stringent that many worthy couples are not successful in their efforts to adopt a child. These couples are deprived of the happiness which they would enjoy as parents, and the child whom they wish to adopt has to continue to live in an institution or in some other organisation.

I know that what I have said is perhaps strictly out of order on the Third Reading debate of a Bill which is designed to deal with a particular problem or anomaly in the adoption law.

This is a worth-while Measure as far as it goes, and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest) on introducing it. I wish it Godspeed.

1.15 p.m.

Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)

I apologise for only just having entered the Chamber, but I have taken part in the discussions during the various stages of the Bill, and I should like to make a few comments on it and to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest) for introducing it.

A large number of Amendments were tabled to the Bill during the Committee stage, but they were dealt with in almost record time. That is a tribute to my hon. Friend, because this is a complex Measure. I hope that today the House will give it its Third Reading.

During the Second Reading debate I think that nearly all hon. Members on both sides of the House were concerned to increase the scope of our existing adoption laws to cover certain matters which were not covered by the general law. I think that hon. Members were also concerned to ensure that the system of adoption was not so loose that the chances in life of those who were adopted were not adversely affected in any way.

There are many people who would make extremely good parents, but who, through no fault of their own, have no children. This is due to what one can only describe as the ill-fortune of nature, but in many cases it is not realised that this is no reflection on the parents. It is one of those biological things which prevent otherwise normal people from having children. It is to that category of people that the House has rightly addressed itself when considering this question of adoption.

I think that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will agree with me when I say that the number of people who would like to adopt children is in excess of the number of children available for adoption. To some extent this is a good thing, because it means that those responsible for the adoption procedure can select the adoptive parents, and it is a tribute to the societies and to the voluntary organisations who are responsible for selecting prospective parents that only in rare cases do these adoptions go wrong.

During the Second Reading debate I said something which was not entirely clear. I said that we should not be too strict in our interpretation of the law. I think that the whole approach to adoption should be on the basis of the suitability of the prospective parents. I do not mean their financial position. I mean their suitability to bring up a child in a good Christian home and to train him to be a useful member of our society.

Those are the sort of lines on which we must look at this matter. I do not believe that anyone who has had anything to do with homes in which children are brought up can deny that the best of all choices for a child are its own parents and, failing that, adopted parents. However good an institution may be, however kind the matron and staff of the home are, the great value of an adoption is that the children are brought up by parents who must have a closer interest in their lives and a better interest in their happiness than can be achieved in the best possible institution.

I do not wish in any way to decry the institutions, because they are admirable, but they can never be a substitute for adoptive parents or real parents. The whole House should be indebted to my hon. Friend for the excellent Measure he has placed before us, which strengthens and improves the existing adoption laws. I hope the House will give the Bill a Third Reading.

1.22 p.m.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Mervyn Pike)

I take the opportunity of congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest) and other hon. Members who facilitated the progress of the Bill through its various stages As hon. Members have said, we had interesting discussions on the Bill in Committee. We considered a number of Amendments, but because of the technical grasp of this complicated subject shown by hon. Members, we were able to get it through with such facility.

Although the Bill may appear very technical and complicated its purpose is most important. Nowadays few people would dissent from the view that the law should put beyond doubt such vital questions as the place of the adopted child in the family, his rights and the rights and obligations of his adoptive parents. Legislation over the past 30 to 40 years has achieved this for the child adopted in this country. This Bill will ensure that these benefits—and, of course, the liabilities—extend to matters arising here that concern a person adopted in Northern Ireland or the islands.

We must not be misled by the small-ness of the number of children adopted each year in those territories compared with the number adopted in this country. Over the years these numbers amount to a not inconsiderable total; and we must remember that the matters which the Bill touches are not confined to questions that arise during the adopted persons childhood. Indeed, I should imagine that its benefits will be felt just as much after he has come of age as before. It could affect all stages of his life, touching as it does all manner of things ranging from his right to come into property to arrangements for his superannuation.

Of course, it is unlikely to have any effect on those people who spend their lives in the territory in which they are adopted. These are probably the majority—although one cannot be sure of this in our rather mobile form of society—but a good proportion will find themselves at some stage in situations that are governed by English or Scottish law. The Bill will, I am sure, be of real benefit and an effective safeguard for these people.

I think that we should recognise also that the Bill is equally important in another way. It is a first step in what we hope will be a much wider recognition of adoption orders made outside this country. The Bill removes the uncertainty about the effect here of orders made in territories within, so to speak, the immediate family. During our discussions in Committee it was clear that many hon. Members were concerned that any doubts about the validity in this country of adoption orders made in the Irish Republic or in Commonwealth or foreign countries should be removed. I should like to repeat the assurance that I then gave that the Government are equally anxious that this should be done in as many cases as possible and as quickly as possible. But this is a complicated subject and the ground needs thorough preparation.

The best way of making progress is, we believe, by means of international discussion and agreement. As I told the Committee, two international bodies in whose deliberations we are taking an active part are at present considering proposals which could carry us further towards the goal we all want to reach. A draft convention now before the Social Committee of the Council of Europe will, we hope, bring into closer harmony internal laws relating to adoption in contracting States. Another draft convention, which is being considered by the Hague Conference on Private International Law, aims at regulating conflicts of law and jurisdiction in adoptions where the adopters and child are of different nationalities or of different places of habitual residence.

While these international discussions are going on we can take comfort in the knowledge that within the immediate family of the United Kingdom and islands we are putting our house in order. I congratulate my hon. Friend in bringing forward such a useful measure and, once more, on the way in which he and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, North (Mr. Stratton Mills) have handled it.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.