HC Deb 27 January 1977 vol 924 cc1835-53

10.1 p.m.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

I beg to move That this House takes note of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 1796), dated 27th October 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th November 1976 in the last Session of Parliament. The opening words of the instrument which we are considering refer to the Adoption Act 1958. Of course, this instrument implements part of the Children Act 1975, and the regulation itself covers two main points. First, it governs the registration and duties and the operation of adoption societies. The regulations are broadly in line with the proposals which were discussed when the Bill was going through Parliament, and I do not intend to go into them.

The other aspect is that it gives adopted persons access to birth records. Regulations 13 and 14 of the instrument implement Section 26 of the 1975 Act. That is an important aspect of the Act, and it was fully discussed in the Committee stage of the Bill in July 1975. But the implications of the section have not been considered on the Floor of the House, and in the last 18 months more and more people have become aware of what is involved. It was because of this that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I felt it right that the House should have the opportunity to discuss this matter further.

There is a strong case to be made for saying that when an adopted child reaches the age of maturity it has the right to know something of its origins. Only those who have been adopted can know the feelings of the adopted child, but it is not difficult to understand those feelings when a person wants to know who his or her natural parents were. The regulation therefore allows that a child who has been adopted will now have the right at the age of 18 to see his or her birth records.

This right is normally set out in the memorandum, a specimen of which appears as Schedule 3 to the instrument. This is a copy of a document which will be handed to all natural parents who wish their children to be adopted. At the end of the document are the words This means that when he is 18 he will be able to find out his original name as well as your name and the address you were living at when you registered his birth. So when in future a woman gives a child for adoption she knows perfectly well that it is likely that she can in due course be traced.

However, the effect of the regulations is not simply that a child adopted in future can trace its origins but that children adopted in the past should have the same right. In the past some adopted children have been able by some means or another, to trace their parents, sometimes with rather unhappy results. But this is now no longer to be a matter of chance. It is to be their right. When a natural mother hitherto had her child adopted she was told that the transaction was completely confidential and anonymous. She was told that this confidentiality would be protected by law. The effect of the regulations will be that that protection will be swept away.

It is a clear example of retrospective legislation, and it will have a real human impact. There have been cases where children have been adopted in particularly difficult circumstances—children who have resulted from an act of rape or incest or cases where one branch of the family has adopted an unexpected addition to another branch of the same family. Such arrangements were made under an assurance of anonymity. But that assurance is now completely removed.

Far from assisting a child who may take advantage of this new opportunity, may it not be that we shall be administering a cruel blow by allowing that adopted person to find out the truth and to cause distress not only to himself but to others involved?

Even in more straightforward types of adoption, adoption societies say that both sides are normally anxious to retain confidentiality. The essence of adoption is normally the provision of a secure background in the adopted home. This security is inevitably based on confidentiality. It was a Labour MP, Mrs. Leah Manning, who took a particular interest in adoption, who said: The most important thing with regard to adoption is that the book should be closed and the curtain come down absolutely. We are now reopening the book and lifting the curtain.

Of course, it will be said that children have a right to know their origins, but the natural mother also has rights. She has a right to security. There must be many women who, possibly as teenagers, have had brief affairs resulting in children and gave such children for adoption on the understanding that that was the end of the matter. Every woman who has done that no longer has faith in the law, for it has withdrawn that protection. The effects could be very distressing for her and for others.

A woman who has got over some youthful indiscretion and is now happily married with a family and, possibly, some status in the community could suddenly be faced with the result of that indiscretion, perhaps with disastrous consequences. That is not just a hypothetical case. It happens now. I know of a woman who found on her doorstep a young man whom she was surprised to recognise as a person who had made a name for himself in a certain sphere of activity. She was even more surprised when he identified himself as her son. One does not need much imagination to realise the possible outcome of such an encounter. This can happen, and it does happen. In future, it is far more likely to happen.

I will quote Brigadier Branwell Pratt, head of the Salvation Army's International Investigation Department. In The Times of 24th September 1975 he referred to the number of inquiries that his Department received from adopted people. He said that such people were told that the Salvation Army does not undertake that form of tracing because it is felt that it might cause embarrassment and grief. He said: There are a great many natural parents who are terrified that the new law is going to uncover their secret … We have received letters and calls from them. He said that he had spoken to some adopted people who were not concerned that their arrival might cause unhappiness. The brigadier added: They are in the minority but they have told me that they could never forgive their mother for 'giving them away', and they do not care if they hurt her now. Brigadier Pratt said that he would have preferred to change the law to apply to people who are adopted now, so that in 18 years' time they could have access to their birth certificates, rather than allow it to apply to people whose birth certificates were regarded as confidential by their natural parents in the past.

I am sure that the Minister will say that the regulations bring the law of England and Wales into line with that of Scotland, where the right of access to birth records has existed for many years. But in Scotland, the mother always knew when she gave a child for adoption that she could be traced. Until now, the English mother has had the assurance that she could not be traced.

I do not suggest that the Government are unaware of these difficulties. They have attempted to meet some of the objections by requiring in Section 26 of the Act that the Registrar-General, local authorities and adoption societies should provide a counselling service and that persons adopted after the date on which the Act came into force will be encouraged to use that service. Persons already adopted who wish to take advantage of the retrospective right to trace their birth records must use the counselling service, but there is no obligation on them to accept the advice that they are given.

The leaflet which is given to counsellors says: The counsellor does not have the right to withhold the basic information which will give the adopted person access to his birth records. This applies even in the exceptional cases where the counsellor is worried about possible consequences. I congratulate those in the Department who are responsible for the literature to be used by the counsellors and by adopted people. It will certainly help in the very difficult task of counselling.

Is the Minister satisfied that there are enough qualified people to perform this important counselling service on the three levels that I have mentioned, bearing in mind that there are likely to be quite a large number of applicants in the next year or two? Obviously, the provision of such staff will cost money, but the Government have chosen to introduce this controversial part of the Act now and we should like an assurance from the Minister that, despite the pressure on public expenditure, the counselling service can be adequately maintained.

I have made clear that my hon. Friends and I have the gravest reservations about the wisdom of implementing Regulation 13 of the Statutory Instrument. However, the Government have done so and we know that local authorities and adoption societies will do all they can to make it work smoothly. We hope that the Government will give them the fullest support.

10.13 p.m.

Mr. Phillip Whitehead (Derby, North)

I shall not detain the House for long, but it is appropriate that the Minister should hear the views of another member of the Standing Committee which considered the Children Bill, particularly since the views which I shall express were the majority views on these matters in Committee.

Listening to the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims), I felt that we were almost having a Second Reading debate on the matters which were ultimately contained in Section 26 of the Act. The view which was a minority within a minority among hon. Members opposite at that time now appears to be elevated to the Front Bench. I do not know what the hon. Member for Wallasey (Mrs. Chalker) feels about these matters, but I seemed to hear echoes of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Edgbaston (Mrs. Knight) in some of the things said by the hon. Member for Chislehurst.

I take the contrary view, that the regulations keep faith with what those of us who introduced the Bill, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Devonport (Dr. Owen) intended—to allow the many people who wish to complete their process of self-identification to have access to the documents concerning their birth. I say to the hon. Gentleman, as has been said several times in the past in the House to those who have expressed the same reservations, that, although it is only in Scotland that there has been access to birth records, it has not been impossible for adopted children to get access to the birth certificate. Indeed, it has not been impossible for them to set out on the long and, as he put it, the sometimes vindictive quest to find the natural mother.

I do not dispute that there may be odd occasions when someone is so psychologically harmed that he may wish to confront the natural mother with feelings of vindictiveness. However, I feel that those are exceptional cases. There is no evidence of anything of that sort in the Scottish practice, which has continued for over 40 years. Nor is there any such evidence from the vast correspondence that I have received that those searching for the records are intent upon such a course. Quite the contrary, they are intent upon finding out for themselves details about their past that will make them feel a whole personality and at one with all the other members of society with whom they move. Their motive is curiosity rather than malice.

Where there are odd cases where Regulation 13 might be misused by someone who sets out upon the quest to trace his or her natural mother, all I can say is that in the past such people have laboured secretly and obsessively over the years in going through the records. I have heard of people who have spent years in some parish or registration district comparing all the people born in a particular month and year with themselves. They say to themselves "Could this be me? I must test that out. I must find out where that person went. Was that a legitimate birth? Was that person born out of wedlock? Where did he move? What does that mean?" I regard that sort of thing as unhealthy and unrewarding for the person concerned and possibly damaging for others.

The whole point of the counselling procedure is to provide a screen for those who are psychologically harmed. They are a tiny minority of the very few people who seek access to the facility now available to them. Obviously, if there were no such procedure there would be the sort of dramatic confrontation to which the hon. Member for Chislehurst referred. It would take place without anyone knowing, without the possibility of warning, preventive action, advice or recourse to medical assistance if that were considered necessary.

I have gone into that point in some detail purely because I do not want it to be thought that the reservations expressed by the hon. Member for Chislehurst are widely shared within the House in the knowledge of the facts as we know them. All the letters that I have received since this regulation came into effect in November last year have been written by those who are grateful that it has come to pass. They have told me that they have been through the counselling procedure and have the details of their birth certificate. That is all they can get. Not one of those who have written to me, men and women alike, has even mentioned going on to try to find the natural mother. I have evidence of only one person who was searching obsessively before this legislation came about. She went so far as to find her mother. It was a happy reunion, but I accept that it may not have been.

Most of those who avail themselves of these facilities have obtained the facts and statistics. That seems to have been enough for them.

Dr. Gerard Vaughan (Reading, South)

We both served on the Committee, and the hon. Gentleman will recall that we all placed great reliance on the counselling service. What worried us was the quality of the counselling. This is really the crux of the matter. We were concerned that there should be sufficient experienced counsellors to do the work that we all wanted to see done.

Mr. Whitehead

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that constructive intervention. It leads me to the next point —namely, that the quality of the counselling is of the essence. I have in mind where it is done, how it is done, the element of frustration involved in waiting for it, the element of satisfaction and the explanation involved in the advice when it is given, which makes all the difference between this legislation doing harm and doing good.

It was clearly to be expected that there would be a backlog once the regulations came into effect in November. Many people had written to the General Record Office and to hon. Members as well before that time. Therefore, those applications descended upon the General Register Office.

A number of people have written to me several times over saying that they are a little worried about the delay in getting appointments and going through these procedures. I do not have enough evidence to say whether the hon. Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) is right or wrong in his fears about the quality of the counselling. I have no reason to believe, from the letters which I have received, that when the counselling has been given, when a person's turn in the queue has come, it has been other than adequate and satisfactory. The letters that I have had afterwards have come from people who have been emotionally helped and sustained by the advice that they have received.

I have another point to put to my hon. Friend as well as the worrying delay which some people have suffered. From correspondence and, on one occasion, a telephone call in the middle of the night, I have stumbled upon one category of person who cannot easily be helped by the counselling procedure. I refer to persons who were adopted under the previous legislation and have now moved beyond the jurisdiction because they are living abroad.

One case—I have not referred it to the Department; I went directly to the General Register Office—concerns a lady who has moved for good to the United States. She was adopted in Wrexham many years ago. She wrote asking "What happens now?" She is married to an American subject and has no desire to come back to this country. She wants to avail herself of the right to access to her birth record. She is a mature person of 30 years of age and a student of law. She is unlikely to come back to this country on some mission of vengeance, whatever she may be told. She simply has the natural curiosity which many of us have had in the past. She was told that she should come here and an appointment would be made.

In the comparatively rare cases of people who have emigrated and are now living in South Africa, Latin America, New York, or wherever it may be, and have heard of this legislation and would like to avail themselves of it, would it be possible for the counselling to be given by Her Majesty's diplomatic representatives abroad? It is not beyond the wit of man to devise a system whereby a legislation or embassy abroad, in exceptional circumstances where the application is bona fide, should be available to give the necessary counselling advice.

I have one final point to make on the regulations which does not relate to Regulation 13. That regulation refers to the preceding Regulations 11 and 12, which provide that adoption agencies shall maintain or otherwise transfer their records and should make available those records to the adopted person or the General Register Office. It also provides that an agency may disclose information relating to the birth record of an adopted person". The layman reading those regulations might feel that he could go directly to an adoption agency and that the agency might, if he were still in touch with it —many people maintain contact with the agencies through which they were adopted—be an appropriate place for the counselling to be arranged. I understand that is not the position. People must go to the General Register Office. I should like clarification whether counselling can be arranged through adoption agencies in certain circumstances. I think that it might be a good thing.

There is an element of understanding here which is typified in the attitude which Miss Jane Rowe and others have taken to the legislation. The adoption agencies at the outset were deeply worried about how the recommendations would be implement. I think that the agencies could in certain circumstances help in the work of counselling.

The last point concerns the schedule of details which are to be required of potential adoptive parents under the new legislation. I wonder whether it is necessary in Part II, page 13, to have question No. 4, "Religious persuasion", as though adoptive parents are still expected to have a religious persuasion. Of course, many do not. Many potential adopters in the past, who have been very good and worthwhile people, have had mortifying experiences of being turned down by some adoption agencies that have a religious base. One does not blame the agencies for acting in accordance with their principles, but one does not want any people to be put off from going forward with an application to adopt because they must state that they have a religious persuasion in answer to question No. 4.

10.26 p.m.

Mr. Ted Leadbitter (Hartlepool)

The work that has been done here in connection with the provisions of the Adoption Act 1958 and the many matters that have come to the attention of the House since then is to be welcomed. It will be a great relief to find that a piece of legislation will be very much appreciated throughout the country—unlike, perhaps, the normal run of wearying economic problems that we are prone to discuss to the point of boredom.

However, I am still rather interested in why there is some reticence about this matter. We are living in a different age. It is an age of considerable frankness. I should have thought that if there had been any doubts at all, we could have drawn from the experience of Scotland with a great deal of confidence. I cannot recall many complaints being brought to my attention during discussions on this matter, by hon. Members in the House or by constituents, which have persuaded me that in Scotland there were any worries about consequences of the kind that the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) mentioned. Therefore, I take it for granted that he has deduced a worry that is consequential on something new in England and Wales.

Form personal experience, however, I can say that it is at the time of the discussion taking place with the natural parents and others involved about the need, perhaps, for adoption, at that point —never mind the years that follow—that there occur the most tragic suffering and experiences for parents, or a parent. I was not so much aware of the poignancy of that kind of situation until I met mothers, and others involved, recently.

It occurs to me that, while it might be considered that the curtain should be drawn and that, once decided upon, the matter would be better closed, there may be occasions, even from the parents' point of view, when in years to come some would like to have the curtain pulled aside a little, because the law of nature is still very much present.

Nevertheless, when a person reaches majority and at the age of 18 seeks to know where his natural parents are, it is not a question whether or not, on balance, that right should be exercised. I consider that it is a right. The few areas of difficulty that might occur are over disappointment at discovering that parents are not really what it was thought they would be like, or, on the other hand, that parents had closed the curtain 18 years previously feeling that the truth of the situation ought not to be known. These regulations, which have now been brought up to date, have made a sufficient contribution to producing a higher standard of counselling that in this kind of situation the consequential problems envisaged and expressed by the hon. Gentleman will not arise to the extent that he might think. The process would be so minimal that the counselling should remove any doubts.

On the point of disclosure of information, the House should feel proud that it has caught up with public opinion, because we have lagged behind on this matter for some years.

We must address our minds to one or two outstanding matters. One of them touches the subject of religious persuasion. I hope that the Government will examine that problem, and pay particular attention to the effect of the word "persuasion".

We should also examine the situation involving transfer of documents when an agency closes. Because there is not yet a sufficient background of case work, I am not satisfied that a transfer will carry with it automatically the certainty that when an agency closes counselling will follow.

I believe that the House, the Government, and members of the Standing Committee should be congratulated on catching up with public opinion. It is a pity so few hon. Members are present for this debate since this is an important measure which I am sure the public will appreciate.

10.31 p.m.

Miss Joan Lestor (Eton and Slough)

I apologise for having missed the early part of this debate, but I was unavoidably delayed elsewhere.

I wish to make two main comments. The first relates to the question of religion, which always worries a large number of people. I believe that the problem should be approached from the angle of considering the age of the child. To what extent does the question of religious persuasion apply when one wishes to adopt a child soon after its birth or at a very early age? Is the lack of religion to be a deterrent to adoption? I should like to have some assurance on this matter. At one time one had to produce evidence or religious or a testimonial from a religious person, and lack of religion was regarded as a barrier to the adoption of a child. I should like to know why religious persuasion should be part of the procedure of adoption.

I appreciate all the difficulties involving knowledge about a person's real parents. However, I believe that many of the fears of parents of adopted children flow from the very fact that they have kept from their adopted children some of the truth—in other words, they could have told the children the truth at an earlier stage. There is a fear among parents that they might lose their adopted children. I heard a television programme recently in which mothers expressed their fears when they discovered, having at first thought that their adopted child belonged to them, that the child in reality belonged to somebody else.

I have two adopted children. I have no fear that when they grow up and want to know about their background their relationship with me will be damaged. It will be part of their natural curiosity. The safeguard is to tell children as much as they can understand as they grow up, and that should be explained in the counselling given to people who adopt children. Our children are not our property, be they adopted or natural children.

I hope that adoptive parents tell their children that they are special and have been chosen. If children are told as much as possible about their real parents their curiosity is lessened. The evidence shows that some adopted children will want to know who their real parents are. If counselling is done properly at the beginning and if adoptive parents have access to counselling later, there is no reason why as much information as possible should not be given to the children with sympathy and understanding and without rancour on either side.

When they reach the age of 18 children go through a period of rejecting their natural parents, but they go back to accepting them on a different level. The concept that the child is the property of the parent and can be directed in the way that the parent wants him to go is wrong. The adoptive parents sometimes fear that they will be diminished in the child's eyes if they tell him what his real mother and father were like. Adoptive parents should be generous when speaking about their adopted child's natural mother and father and try to ensure that the child does not feel he has been thrown away because he was unwanted. If that is done, there will be few occasions when the young adult will be damaged by being told about his origins.

10.36 p.m.

Dr. Gerard Vaughan (Reading, South)

I should like to ask the Minister one question before he replies to the debate. It is related directly not to the contents of the regulations but to their background. The regulations implement part of the Children Act 1975. Since they were laid, we have learned that the Act is in error and does not accurately reflect the Bill as passed by the House. I have a letter from the Leader of the House confirming that there is an error in the Act.

Does the mistake in the Act in any way invalidate the regulations, or will it affect the introduction of future regulations based on the Children Act? The error, though a minor one, affects the wording in the Act relating to the adoption of children.

10.37 p.m.

The Minister of State, Department of Health and Social Security (Mr. Roland Moyle)

We should all be grateful to the hon. Member for Chislehurst (Mr. Sims) for having raised this matter. As my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) said, we have been over the territory exhaustively during the passage of the Children Bill. A certain amount of disquiet has been expressed in the Press in recent weeks, and it is, therefore, helpful to go over the course and air some of the problems again to give the House a chance to reconsider some of the ideas.

I thank the hon. Member for Chislehurst for his kind words about the DHSS leaflets. The Department has been taking a hammering in recent days over its propensity to produce leaflets. To be told that these leaflets are attractive and useful will help to sooth any raw wounds. Until my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North started to ask questions, I had wondered whether my presence was superfluous because he so expertly summarised the existing regulations.

The hon. Member for Chislehurst referred to retrospective legislation being the main problem with the regulations. That is not technically true. Retrospective legislation has an operative date in advance of the date when the legislation is adopted in Parliament. In effect, although applications for details of ones birth certificate will operate only from the date of the application of the Act, people who were born some time ago under a different set of circumstances now have this right. There is just a balance of advantage in this.

We have heard a lot recently about the difficulties of mothers who have had their children adopted and who are suddenly confronted with them. My hon. Friend the Member for Eton and Slough (Miss Lestor) talked about the difficulties faced by people who had adopted children and suddenly found them taking an interest in their natural parents.

On the other hand, there is a substantial argument that some adopted children do feel inadequate and incomplete personalities until they have found out the truth about their origins. But, as the Scottish experience shows, I do not think that many really follow up the information once their curiosity has been satisfied.

I always remember the time—I had been an hon. Member not very long—when someone with the same surname as myself asked to see me in the Central Lobby. After a few minutes it was quite clear that he was trying to find out what his origins were. He hoped that I was a relative of his parents and that I might be able to tell him. Of course, I could not. But that young man was obviously going to considerable lengths to find out who his natural parents were. The sense of sympathy that I had with him has remained with me over the years.

Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North said, the change in the law in 1975 was not as fundamental as some people seem to think. Access to information about the natural parents of adopted children was possible through every adopted person's adoption order.

Under the law of England and Wales, as it stood before Section 26 and its attendant regulations came into force, an adopted person had only to get hold of a copy of the adoption order to get access to his birth records. So long as the person knew his original name he could obtain the birth certificate and all the information contained on it about his natural parents. There was ample machinery for someone who was really determined to get the details of his natural parents even under the law as it stood before we had a statement of right in Section 26 of the Act.

Several hon. Members, including the hon. Member for Reading, South (Dr. Vaughan) and my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North, were worried about the operation of the counselling system. That is a legitimate ground for the House to take an interest, since it was the assurance during the Committee stage of the Bill that there would be compulsory counselling which persuaded the Committee, and eventually the House, to accept what has been called the "retrospective" operation of the Act.

A counselling system is now in existence for counselling people who are seeking details of their natural parents. There are two counsellors at the General Register Office in London, and, of course, as all inquiries come into that office eventually, counselling is guaranteed from that particular source. But, in addition, the adopted children can obtain counselling from their local authority social services department and also from the social services department, of the local authority for the area where the adoption order was made.

All the counsellors concerned are social workers. The counsellors of the local authorities tend to be social workers who take a special interest in this particular work rather than social workers who are entirely devoted to working in this sphere. But they have guidance on the system and copies of leaflets, and they are aware of the problems. These are early days, but so far we have had no problems with inadequacy of experience and advice given by counsellors. No doubt we shall have a better picture of the situation as time goes by, but the counsellors will be acquiring experience and expertise at the same time.

The physical provision in terms of numbers of counsellors, in which the hon. Member for Chislehurst was particularly interested, is adequate. Since the provisions came into operation the General Register Office has-received about 2,500 applications to know the adopted child's natural parents. I do not know whether the debate will stimulate more inquiries, but the present evidence is that they are beginning to fall off. The figure represents less than 1 per cent. of the total number of adopted children entitled to apply for the information. About 11 interviews with social workers have taken place, the majority at local authorities.

The system is not under strain. About 25 mothers who do not wish to be traced have written to the General Register Office, and a few more letters have been received from mothers anxious to be contacted. The system which the House saw introduced by Section 26 is standing up to the problem quite well.

My hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North possibly put his finger on a gap in the arrangements when he talked about those who are now living abroad and want counselling. Obviously, counselling by telephone or letter is inadequate. But as the General Register Office has no jurisdiction abroad it is unlikely to be able to delegate the counselling function to diplomatic representatives of this country who are in the country of those seeking assurance.

The question of the religious persuasion of adopting parents was raised by all three of my hon. Friends and is obviously a matter of concern. In days gone by parents could make a condition that their child was adopted only if a certain religious instruction or upbringing was followed. It was against that background that the problem was debated by the House when the Act was going through. The solution chosen was that every effort should be made to follow the religious persuasions of the natural parents so far as that was possible. Therefore, there is a great deal of flexibility to deal with individual circumstances under the law as it stands.

I foresee no prospect of the law's being amended in any way in the immediate future. It was altered to its present form as a result of strong representations from a number of religious bodies, including in particular the Roman Catholic Church.

Mr. Whitehead

My hon. Friend is stapling together two requirements. The requirement which we accepted in Committee—I think rightly, in view of the pressure from the religious organisations—was that a child could be put into the care only of adopted parents of a particular religion. I do not think that it is necessary, because of that, to state in quite this way that any potential adopter must state a religion. I believe that many will be put off by this. We do not need to know the religion of all prospective adopters. We need to know the religion only of those who wish to state it and might well wish to adopt a child of the same religious persuasion.

Mr. Moyle

I had not misunderstood my hon. Friend's point: I was coming to it next. Some people might think that the statement "I have no orthodox or traditional religious persuasion" was in fact a statement of a religious persuasion. But many people might be put off by a question in this form. In the circumstances, I will look into the problem.

The hon. Member for Reading South mentioned the validity of the Children Act. I answered a parliamentary Question from my hon. Friend the Member for Brent South (Mr. Pavitt) the other day on this problem. This little mistake does not say a great deal for the revising powers of the other place. It is that Chamber which made the mistake, not only this time but on another occasion. It seems that the House of Commons can adequately draft its own legislation if it is left alone.

Although it is not strictly relevant to this debate, perhaps I might be allowed to give the background to the matter. The mistake occurred when the 308 amendments made by this House to the Bill were transmitted to the other place. Unfortunately, the Bill Office listed an earlier version of an amendment tabled to Section 34A(3) of the Adoption Act 1958 instead of a later version of the amendment agreed by this House. The purpose of this subsection is to prevent a local authority, except with the leave of the court, from removing a foster child from prospective adopters who have looked after the child for at least five years before the court has heard their application. Whereas the amendment approved by this House would have applied to a child who had been in the care of one local authority and was subsequently taken into care by another authority, the verson now in Section 29 of the Children Act may—we are not quite sure—restrict only the local authority which first took the child into care. Although the version which is now in the Act is slightly less flexible than we would like, it will cover most of the very few cases in which it is likely to be invoked. As the section as it stands is workable, we do not think it necessary to propose amending legislation.

Mr. Leadbitter

Before the Minister sits down, perhaps I might refer again to the question of religion. He said that there is little likelihood of amending legislation, but he assured my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead) that he would do what he could to be helpful. Regulation 8(a) says that an adoption shall not proceed until the adoption agency has, so far as is reasonably practicable, ascertained the particulars set out in Schedule 4". One knows from past experience that in these circumstances it is important to communicate the will of the House that there should be flexibility, and that if the religious persuasion cannot be determined the adoption should not be allowed to fall on that account. Otherwise, those who are seeking to comply with the regulations might confound the will of the House. Could the Department, perhaps by an advice note to the adoption agencies, make clear the general feelings of the House or in some other way as I have suggested?

Mr. Moyle

My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Leadbitter) has further succeeded in illuminating another corner of this problem. I think he has merely confirmed the position explained by my hon. Friend the Member for Derby, North. I will take on board all these points in considering the form of any future questions.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That this House takes note of the Adoption Agencies Regulations 1976 (S.I., 1976, No. 1796), dated 27th October 1976, a copy of which was laid before this House on 5th November 1976 in the last Session of Parliament.