HC Deb 10 July 1978 vol 953 cc1202-5

11.31 p.m.

Order for Second Reading read.

The Lord Advocate (Mr. Ronald King Murray)

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

The Bill is a consolidation measure covering enactments relating to adoption in Scotland together with amendments of a technical nature to give effect to two recommendations of the Scottish Law Commission.

The first recommendation relates to the provisions of the Children Act 1975 dealing with the extraction of parental rights on making an adoption order. The extinction should be extended to the functions of a tutor or curator to the child. There is also reference to a duty arising from an agreement that must be corrected for Scots law where a duty can arise from a unilateral promise as well. Provision should also be made for extinction of any alimentary right or duty between a child and a member of his original family. All these recommendations are given effect to in clauses 12(3) and 12(4).

The second recommendation relates to the provision in the Adoption Act 1958 entitling every person to search the index of the Adopted Children Register. It reflected current practice at the time with other registers. An enactment in 1965 purported to import the modern practice for inspection of registers but left the original provision for adoption unaltered so that the respective provisions were inconsistent with each other. The Law Commission recommendation resolves the conflict so it is now only the person applying who is permitted to search the index personally if he does not wish to rely upon the services of the Registrar General staff. That recommendation is effected in Clause 45(3).

The other place approved the Bill after a report by the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. I hope that the House will give it a Second Reading.

11.33 p.m.

Mr. Daniel Awdry (Chippenham)

I rise to make one point. As I am retiring at the end of this Parliament, this may be my last speech in the House. I am glad to make a few observations from the Opposition Front Bench.

At the end of a long day we are embarking on three important consolidation Bills. The first measure, the Bill before us, has 67 clauses and consolidates the law of adoption for Scotland. It consolidates eight Acts of Parliament that have been passed over the past 20 years.

The second measure, the National Health Service (Scotland) Bill, contains 110 clauses, 17 schedules and consolidates no fewer than 13 Acts of Parliament passed by the House since 1947.

The third measure is the Interpretation Bill, which consolidates the 1889 Act and a number of other enactments relating to the construction and operation of a great number of Acts.

The simple point that I wish to make is that Parliament owes a considerable debt to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. I have been pleased to be a member of the Committee for the past year or two. The Chairman, Lord Russell of Killowen, gives a great deal of his time to the Committee's important work.

Above all, we owe a great debt of gratitude to the draftsmen of these measures, who spend endless hours of labour helping to clarify the law, and thus benefit those like myself who try to practise in the law and need to refer to statute law from time to time.

I pay tribute to the work of the draftsmen and express the hope that the work of consolidation will flourish and expand in the next Parliament. It is a task that receives no publicity. The Joint Committee is, perhaps, the most boring Committee to sit upon. It is highly technical work. We never get a line in the papers, yet we sit every week. But it is work which will be of the utmost benefit to future generations who have to try to understand and to administer the laws which we pass in this place and have passed over the years. I pay tribute also therefore to the draftsmen.

The Lord Advocate

I associate the Government with the tribute which the hon. Gentleman has paid to the Chairman of the Joint Committee and to its members—not least to the hon. Gentleman himself, who has been a distinguished member of the Joint Committee —and to the draftsmen. I share the hon. Gentleman's hope that consolidation will proceed apace in the future, unrecognised and unheralded though it tends to be. If it be any comfort to the hon. Gentleman, I shall not be in the next Parliament, either.

Mr. Awdry

That is an extremely generous reaction. I am very humble. It is very nice of the Lord Advocate to say that. We both agree that the work of consolidation is important, though it receives no publicity. Let us hope that it will continue, with benefit to all concerned.

11.36 p.m.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (West Lothian)

Although I very much hope to be here in the next Parliament, I wish at this point only to ask the lay question which is of some concern to those of us who have to deal with day-to-day constituency cases. Will the consolidation measure which we are now considering make it in any way easier for those at school to protect their privacy?

As we all know, one of the problems is that, when it becomes known at school, particularly at secondary school, that a child is adopted, difficulties often follow. We have all had cases in which this has happened. The fact of adoption has sometimes leaked out in rather odd ways.

I do not know the answer to this question, and I shall value the Lord Advocate's reply. Will what we are now doing make it any easier to protect the privacy of those who are adopted so that it does not become generally known, especially in the case of young children, that they happen to be adopted?

11.37 p.m.

Mr. George Thompson (Galloway)

I welcome these consolidation Bills because I think it important that we consolidate the law, especially when it may be scattered through many statutes. I hasten to say that I am not a lawyer. but I am sure that it must cause headaches to practising lawyers when they have to search for the law in many statutes.

I join in the tribute which has been paid to the Joint Committee which deals with these consolidation measures, and I give a welcome to the three which are coming before us tonight.

The Lord Advocate

By the leave of the House, may I reply to the specific question put to me by my hon. Friend the Member for West Lothian (Mr. Dalyell)? As this is consolidation, with two minimal technical amendments only, I cannot give him much comfort. What I can say, however, is that the amendments to which effect has been given, if anything, slightly tighten the confidentiality of the adoption register.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Bill committed to a Committee of the whole House.—[Mr. Jim Marshall.]

Bill immediately considered in Committee.

[Mr. OSCAR MURTON in the Chair.]

The Chairman

With the approval of the Committee, I shall put the Question on clauses 1 to 67 together.

Clauses 1 to 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedules 1 to 4 agreed to.

Bill reported, without amendment.

Motion made, and Question, That the Bill be now read the Third time, put forthwith pursuant to Standing Order No. 56 (Third Reading), and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed, without amendment.