HC Deb 02 March 1966 vol 725 cc1298-300
38. Mr. Abse

asked the Minister without Portfolio whether he is aware of public concern that in the determination of adoption orders blood ties with putative fathers are taken into account, and that such considerations may result in the interests of children, unmarried mothers and would-be adopters being subordinated to a theory of consanguinity; and whether the Lord Chancellor will appoint a committee to inquire into the jurisdiction and procedure of courts in adoption applications, with a view to considering whether such courts should continue to be composed exclusively of lawyers untrained in child care or whether paediatricians, psychiatrists and children officers should be additionally appointed to determine adoption orders.

The Minister without Portfolio (Sir Eric Fletcher)

The hon. Member is no doubt referring to the recent case in which the Court of Appeal, by a majority of two to one, refused an adoption order in respect of an illegitimate child, and awarded custody to the putative father. I understand there is likely to be an application for leave to appeal to the House of Lords. I will not, therefore, comment on the assumptions in my hon. Friend's Question as to the principles to be applied in such cases.

There is no reason for the Lord Chancellor to appoint a special committee to inquire into the jurisdiction and composition of the courts in adoption applications, because these aspects of family law are now under examination by the Law Commission.

Mr. Abse

Is my hon. Friend aware that the application of this blood-tie doctrine is in breach of every canon of child welfare, that it has caused grave anxiety to many adopters and would-be adopters and that its application can lead to serious and dramatic effects upon little ones which could have lasting and maiming emotional consequences?

Mr. Speaker

Order. Questions must be short, even on important subjects.

Sir Eric Fletcher

I cannot accept all the statements made by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse). He will know that the learned judge who first heard the case has now published his judgment and I understand that there was a conflict of medical evidence about the matters to which my hon. Friend has referred.

Mr. Paget

Is not the worrying thing here the fact that this invasion of the principle that the child's interest shall be paramount is a piece of judicial legislation on which Parliament has had nothing to say?

Sir Eric Fletcher

My hon. and learned Friend knows that adoption cases always provide most difficult decisions for the courts. He will also know that the Law Commissioners, as part of the programme which has been approved for them, are reviewing the whole question of the jurisdiction of the courts on all matters relating to infants, wardships, guardianships and adoption.

Mr. Braine

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the Court of Appeal refused an application to go to the House of Lords? Are we to understand from his reply now that it is possible for a fresh application to be made? If so, we shall be delighted.

Sir Eric Fletcher

The present position is that application has been made for a legal aid certificate to enable the parties to apply to the House of Lords for appeal against the decision of the Court of Appeal.