HC Deb 28 October 1975 vol 898 cc1381-7

'Any decision of the Secretary of State relating to the refusal of approval of or withdrawal of approval from an adoption societly under sections 4 to 6 of this Act shall be subject to a right of appeal to an Independent Adoption Society Appeal Tribunal appointed in pursuance of Schedule (Independent Adoption Society Appeal Tribunals) to this Act'.—[Mr. Norman Fowler.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Mr. Norman Fowler

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this we may take Amendment No. 226, the proposed new schedule—Independent Adoption Society Appeal Tribunals.

Mr. Fowler

This is a matter that we touched on in Committee. The starting point is that the voluntary adoption agencies have, as we all know, made an enormous contribution. If it were not for them, there would not be the adoption service that we have at present. Therefore, as well as recognising their worth in words, we feel it right to safeguard their interests to the maximum extent possible.

The Bill gives the Secretary of State a great power and discretion. It lays down criteria that an adoption society shall meet, but those criteria are necessarily drawn very widely. The Secretary of State is required to take account of the numbers of staff, of financial resources, of organisation and control, and of operations, but none of these criteria is exact and the Minister has the last word on whether the society shall continue.

Naturally, we accept the Minister's good faith and good intentions, We have co-operated with the Government on this legislation, as I am sure the Minister will agree. We would not have done that had it not been the declared intention of the Government to promote a partnership between the local authorities and the voluntary organisations. However, we have to recognise that we are making laws and seeking to guard against unwelcome future developments.

If the Secretary of State were to decide to pursue a policy of making a substantial reduction in the number of voluntary agencies, he has all the powers in the Bill that he would need. He could set the criteria as high as he wished and he could easily reduce to a handful the number of voluntary agencies. It is true that the Secretary of State must set out in writing the reasons for withdrawing his approval. Although that safeguard is useful, it is not sufficient. The fact remains that any Secretary of State is judge and jury in this case.

If we were dealing with a case in the purely civil rights sphere, there would undoubtedly be calls from both sides of the House for an adequate appeals machinery. I pointed out in Committee that other legislation provides for the right of appeal. The Children Act 1948 provides for the registration of voluntary children's homes, but there is also an appeal tribunal to determine appeals against ministerial requirements to close down such homes. Then there is the tribunal for independent schools which determines appeals against ministerial requirements to close down a school or to remedy a defect in an independent school. We have taken this provision into our clause, in that the appeal tribunal that we propose closely follows the already existing legislative form.

In Committee the hon. Gentleman rejected the idea of there being an appeal to the courts. We have sought to meet him on this point, as he has sought to meet us on a number of other points, notably the point dealt with in the last debate He also sought to argue that a tribunal was not the best way of dealing with this question. He said this to the Committee: I am not persuaded that ultimate wisdom always lies outside the House of Commons in some strange tribunal that may be established."—[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 8th July 1975, c. 112.] I do not suggest that either this proposed appeal tribunal or any such system would produce ultimate wisdom. I suggest that it might provide a safeguard on the exercise of power, which is something about which the House should be concerned. I urge the House to support the motion.

Mr. Bowden

I urge the Minister of State to accept the clause. Adoption societies are concerned about the long-term future. We must not lose sight of the fact that there is a great wealth of experience within such societies. They have performed years of dedicated work. Many people work for these societies in professional or in voluntary capacities and they have given a lifetime of work and seen their work bear great fruit.

It would be very frustrating if such people were to feel that at some time in the future their societies could be gravely endangered and that they did not have open to them the common justice of going to an independent appeal tribunal which could judge the situation at that time. I ask the Minister to accept this point so as to ensure that in future societies, even in changing conditions, have the right to go to an independent appeal tribunal.

Dr. Owen

On 8th July I advised the Standing Committee to reject an amendment seeking to introduce a right of appeal to the High Court against the Secretary of State's refusal or withdrawal of approval of an adoption society. I also said that the case had not been made out for having what I called an appeal tribunal.

I recognise that the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr. Fowler) has taken up the criticism and tried to seek another method which I think is preferable. I undertook in Committee to have another look at the matter if, as a result of this debate there were substantial recommendations from the voluntary agencies saying that this was not a satisfactory situation".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 8th July 1975, c. 114.] I do not think that the voluntary agencies are the only people who have the right to express an opinion. Hon. Members have that right. Hon. Members, of course, attach great weight to what the voluntary agencies think because, after all, they are most likely to be affected by this. However, I do not think that the voluntary agencies share the anxieties of hon. Members about the Secretary of State's power.

7.15 p.m.

The ABAA, which represents most of the large voluntary adoption agencies as well as local authorities, wrote to me, following my appeal for views, saying that the matter had been considered by its council where there had been full agreement from the voluntary society representatives that appeal to a court would be not only unnecessary but unsuitable since standards of adoption practice are not appropriately judged by legal criteria. The only dissenting view that I received was from the National Adoption Society and that appeared to be at least partly based on a misunderstanding of how applications would be dealt with. The society suggested that an appeals panel could give guidance to a society on how to attain the standard required for approval. In fact, we envisaged that such advice would be given, when needed, by the Department's social work service at as early a stage as practicable in consideration of a society's application and that a society could then be allowed a reasonable period in which to improve its standard before a final decision on its application was taken. If approval is refused, therefore, it will not be, as the National Adoption Society suggests, for lack of advice or guidance. It will be because, in spite of such guidance, the Secretary of State's professional advisers and the local authorities concerned cannot recommend that the society be allowed to carry the full range of responsibilities that an approved adoption society will be enabled to assume under the provisions of the Bill.

I do not think that this one letter can be considered to amount to substantial representations from the voluntary agencies".—[Official Report, Standing Committee A; 8th July 1975, c. 113.] and, in the light of the very strong recommendations from the ABAA, which is a professional organisation which speaks authoritatively of the view of the voluntary organisations, I have found no reason to change my view.

I should like to be able to meet the hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield on this point because I know that he attaches great importance to it. It occasionally arises on the Bill that there will be a difference of judgment. The decision in the case of an individual society will involve a qualitative judgment based on reports from the Secretary of State's advisers and from the local authorities with which the society will be working. I believe that the Secretary of State's answerability in the House is in this case a sufficient safeguard in allowing the full exercise of this power. However, I recognise that my judgment may not be shared by hon. Members opposite.

Mr. Norman Fowler

As the Minister of State said, his judgment is not shared by Opposition Members. He has at least agreed that our proposed scheme is preferable to that we proposed in Committee. He spoke about representations made by the ABAA. As I understand it, the ABAA said that it was not in favour of an appeal to the courts. That is not exactly what is proposed. We changed our original proposal in view of what was said in Committee.

It is the duty of hon. Members to see the defects in legislation. We should seek to be experts upon how legislation is framed and to spot its defects. The adoption agencies are the experts on adoption.

The hon. Gentleman's reply was short and disappointing, although I accept that he gave a rather longer reply than he gave in Committee. He relied upon the Secretary of State's discretion and his answerability to the House. If we were always to rely upon that, there would be no departmental appeal mechanism. However, there are appeal mechanisms, not only in the hon. Gentleman's Department, but in other Departments.

We shall press the clause to a Division. The Government have not met the spirit of our argument.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time:—

The House divided: Ayes 127, Noes 188.

Division No. 368.] AYES [7.20 p.m.
Adley, Robert Havers, Sir Michael Pattie, Geoffrey
Aitken, Jonathan Hawkins, Paul Percival, Ian
Arnold, Tom Hayhoe, Barney Pink, R. Bonner
Atkins, Rt Hon H. (Spelthorne) Hordern, Peter Rawlinson, Rt Hon Sir Peter
Banks, Robert Howell, Ralph (North Norfolk) Renton, Rt Hon Sir D. (Hunts)
Bell, Ronald Hunt, John Renton, Tim (Mid-Sussex)
Bennett, Sir Frederic (Torbay) Hutchison, Michael Clark Rhys Williams, Sir Brandon
Bottomley, Peter Irvine, Bryant Godman (Rye) Roberts, Michael (Cardiff NW)
Bowden, A. (Brighton, Kemptown) Irving, Charles (Cheltenham) Rodgers, Sir John (Sevenoaks)
Boyson, Dr Rhodes (Brent) James, David Ross, William (Londonderry)
Bradford, Rev Robert Johnson Smith, G. (E Grinstead) Royle, Sir Anthony
Brittan, Leon Jones, Arthur (Daventry) Sainsbury, Tim
Brotherton, Michael Jopling, Michael Shaw, Giles (Pudsey)
Brown, Sir Edward (Bath) Kellett-Bowman, Mrs Elaine Shaw, Michael (Scarborough)
Buchanan-Smith, Alick Kilfedder, James Shelton, William (Streatham)
Budgen, Nick King, Evelyn (South Dorset) Shepherd, Colin
Bulmer, Esmond King, Tom (Bridgwater) Sims, Roger
Chalker, Mrs Lynda Knight, Mrs Jill Skeet, T. H. H.
Churchill, W. S. Knox, David Spicer, Jim (W Dorset)
Clark, Alan (Plymouth, Sutton) Latham, Michael (Melton) Spicer, Michael (S Worcester)
Cockcroft, John Le Marchant, Spencer Sproat, Iain
Cooke, Robert (Bristol W) Macfarlane, Neil Stanbrook, Ivor
Costain, A. P. Madel, David Steen, Anthony (Wavertree)
Dodsworth, Geoffrey Mates, Michael Stewart, Ian (Hitchin)
Douglas-Hamilton, Lord James Mather, Carol Stradling Thomas, J.
Dunlop, John Mawby, Ray Taylor, Teddy (Cathcart)
Durant, Tony Maxwell-Hyslop, Robin Tebbit, Norman
Dykes, Hugh Meyer, Sir Anthony Thomas, Rt. Hon P. (Hendon S)
Eden, Rt Hon Sir John Mills, Peter Trotter, Neville
Fairgrieve, Russell Mitchell, David (Basingstoke) van Straubenzee, W. R.
Fletcher-Cooke, Charles Moate, Roger Vaughan, Dr Gerard
Fookes, Miss Janet Montgomery, Fergus Viggers, Peter
Fowler, Norman (Sutton C'f'd) Moore, John (Croydon C) Wakeham, John
Goodhart, Philip Morgan, Geraint Walder, David (Clitheroe)
Gorst, John Morrison, Hon Peter (Chester) Weatherill, Bernard
Gow, Ian (Eastbourne) Mudd, David Winterton, Nicholas
Gower, Sir Raymond (Barry) Neubert, Michael Wood, Rt Hon Richard
Gray, Hamish Newton, Tony Young, Sir G. (Ealing, Acton)
Grieve, Percy Nott, John Younger, Hon George
Grylls, Michael Onslow, Cranley
Hall-Davis, A. G. F. Osborn, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES
Hamilton, Michael (Salisbury) Page, John (Harrow West) Mr. Adam Butler and
Harrison, Col Sir Harwood (Eye) Page, Rt Hon R. Graham (Crosby) Mr. Richard Luce.
Harvie Anderson, Rt Hon Miss Parkinson, Cecil
Allaun, Frank Bagier, Gordon A. T. Beith, A. J.
Anderson, Donald Bain, Mrs Margaret Bennett, Andrew (Stockport N)
Armstrong, Ernest Barnett, Guy (Greenwich) Blenkinsop, Arthur
Atkins, Ronald (Preston N) Bates, Alf Boardman, H.
Atkinson, Norman Bean, R. E. Booth, Albert
Bottomley, Rt Hon Arthur Harper, Joseph Roberts, Albert (Normanton)
Bray, Dr Jeremy Harrison, Walter (Wakefield) Robertson, John (Paisley)
Brown, Hugh D. (Provan) Hatton, Frank Roderick, Caerwyn
Brown, Robert C. (Newcastle W) Hayman, Mrs Helene Rodgers, George (Chorley)
Buchan, Norman Heffer, Eric S. Rooker, J. W.
Buchanan, Richard Henderson, Douglas Roper, John
Callaghan, Jim (Middleton & P) Hooley, Frank Rose, Paul B.
Campbell, Ian Hooson, Emlyn Ross, Stephen (Isle of Wight)
Canavan, Dennis Howells, Geraint (Cardigan) Ross, Rt Hon W. (Kilmarnock)
Cant, R. B. Hoyle, Doug (Nelson) Rowlands, Ted
Carter-Jones, Lewis Huckfield, Les Sandelson, Neville
Castle, Rt Hon Barbara Hughes, Rt Hon C. (Anglesey) Sedgemore, Brian
Clemitson, Ivor Hughes, Mark (Durham) Shaw, Arnold (Ilford South)
Cocks, Michael (Bristol S) Hughes, Robert (Aberdeen N) Silkin, Rt Hon John (Deptford)
Cohen, Stanley Hughes, Roy (Newport) Skinner, Dennis
Colquhoun, Mrs Maureen Hunter, Adam Small, William
Concannon, J. D. Irving, Rt Hon S. (Dartford) Smith, Cyril (Rochdale)
Cook, Robin F. (Edin C) Jackson, Colin (Brighouse) Smith, John (N Lanarkshire)
Corbett, Robin Janner, Greville Spearing, Nigel
Cox, Thomas (Tooting) Jenkins, Hugh (Putney) Spriggs, Leslie
Craigen, J. M. (Maryhill) John, Brynmor Stallard, A. W.
Crawford, Douglas Johnson, Walter (Derby S) Steel, David (Roxburgh)
Cryer, Bob Jones, Alec (Rhondda) Stewart, Donald (Western Isles)
Dalyell, Tam Jones, Barry (East Flint) Stewart, Rt Hon M. (Fulham)
Deakins, Eric Jones, Dan (Burnley) Stoddart, David
Dean, Joseph (Leeds West) Kaufman, Gerald Swain, Thomas
de Freitas, Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Lamond, James Thomas, Dafydd (Merioneth)
Dell, Rt Hon Edmund Litterick, Tom Thomas, Ron (Bristol NW)
Dempsey, James Loyden, Eddie Thompson, George
Doig, Peter Mabon, Dr J. Dickson Thorne, Stan (Preston South)
D-ormand, J. D. McCartney, Hugh Tierney, Sydney
Duffy, A. E. P. MacCormick, Iain Tinn, James
Dunnett, Jack McElhone, Frank Tomlinson, John
Dunwoody, Mrs Gwyneth MacFarquhar, Roderick Tomney, Frank
Eadie, Alex McGuire, Michael (Ince) Urwin, T. W.
Edge, Geoff Mackenzie, Gregor Wainwright, Edwin (Dearne V)
Evans, Gwynfor (Carmarthen) McMillan, Tom (Glasgow C) Wainwright, Richard (Colne V)
Evans, Ioan (Aberdare) McNamara, Kevin Walker, Terry (Kingswood)
Evans, John (Newton) Marks, Kenneth Ward, Michael
Ewing, Harry (Stirling) Marshall, Dr Edmund (Goole) Watkinson, John
Ewing, Mrs Winifred (Moray) Marshall, Jim (Leicester S) Watt, Hamish
Faulds, Andrew Millan, Bruce Weitzman, David
Fernyhough, Rt Hon E. Miller, Mrs Millie (Ilford N) Welsh, Andrew
Fitt, Gerard (Belfast W) Mitchell, R. C. (Soton, Itchen) White, Frank R. (Bury)
Flannery, Martin Morris, Alfred (Wythenshawe) White, James (Pollok)
Fletcher, Ted (Darlington) Morris, Charles R. (Openshaw) Whitehead, Phillip
Ford, Ben Murray, Rt Hon Ronald King Whitlock, William
Fowler, Gerald (The Wrekin) Noble, Mike Willey, Rt Hon Frederick
George, Bruce Oakes, Gordon Williams, W. T. (Warrington)
Gilbert, Dr John O'Halloran, Michael Wilson, Alexander (Hamilton)
Ginsburg, David Orme, Rt Hon Stanley Wilson, Gordon (Dundee E)
Gould, Bryan Ovenden, John Woodall, Alec
Gourlay, Harry Owen, Dr David Woof, Robert
Graham, Ted Palmer, Arthur Wrigglesworth, Ian
Grant, George (Morpeth) Park, George Young, David (Bolton E)
Grant, John (Islington C) Pendry, Tom
Grocott, Bruce Penhaligon, David TELLERS FOR THE NOES:
Hamilton, James (Bothwell) Prescott, John Mr. Donald Coleman and
Hamilton, W. W. (Central Fife) Reid, George Miss Margaret Jackson.

Question accordingly negatived.

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