§ '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. 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 1382 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 1383 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 matterif, 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.
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 1384full 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 tosubstantial 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 1385 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 188.1387
|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.