HC Deb 16 May 2002 vol 385 cc1009-20
Tim Loughton

I beg to move amendment No.8, in page 31, line 26, leave out "may" and insert "must".

Madam Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Government amendment No. 254.

Amendment No. 19, in clause 54, page 31, line 42, after "adoption", insert— `which shall include all information necessary to fulfil the duty imposed by virtue of section [Disclosure of information regarding a person's adoption] (2),'.

Government amendments Nos. 49 to 52.

Amendment No. 147, in clause 59, page 33, line 37, at end insert— '(7) The provisions in this section relating to access to protected -information shall be applicable to any adopted person, regardless of whether the date of that person's adoption was before or after the coming into force of this Act.'.

Amendment No. 25, in page 33, line 37, at end insert— '(7) This section shall apply to all adopted persons, whether adopted before or after the coming into force of this Act.'.

Government amendments Nos. 53 to 58.

New clause 1—Right to obtain information: adult siblings

  1. `(1) Adult siblings by birth of adopted adults who have been adopted at any time from the enactment of the Adoption Act 1926 shall have the right to make an application to an adoption agency, as specified in regulations, to obtain the information under section 77 relating to his relative who was adopted.
  2. (2) The agency shall make enquiries as necessary to establish the views of the adopted person concerning the disclosure of information to the relative.
  3. (3) The information applied for shall be supplied by the agency to the applicant unless either—
    1. (a) the adopted person has refused consent to the disclosure, or
    2. (b) the agency obtains an order from the High Court which authorises the agency not to disclose the information requested.
  4. (4) The High Court may make an order on an application by the appropriate adoption agency, if satisfied that the circumstances are except6lional.'.

New clause 4—Disclosure of information regarding a person's adoption—

  1. `(1) This section shall apply only to an adopted person who has attained the age of 18 years.
  2. (2) The appropriate adoption agency shall have a duty to inform an adopted person that he was adopted, subject to the regulations referred to in subsection (3).
  3. (3) Regulations may prescribe—
  1. (a) the method by which adoption agencies shall discharge the duty described in subsection (2), and
  2. (b) any categories of adopted persons to whom the duty subscribed in subsection (2) shall not apply.'.

Tim Loughton

We now have all of 44 minutes in which to debate three important amendments and two new clauses tabled by myself and my right hon. and hon. Friends, together with a handful of Government amendments.

The amendments and new clauses in our name are on important subjects. They would provide full information to prospective adopters, giving rights of information to those involved—[Interruption.]

Madam Deputy Speaker

Order. Would Members leaving the Chamber please do so quickly, and would others be a little quieter so that the hon. Gentleman can make his speech?

Tim Loughton

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.

As I was saying, the amendments are intended to give rights of information to those involved in adoption before the Bill comes into force. They would give rights to siblings of adopted people to make approaches to an adoption agency with a view to establishing contact with a long-since adopted brother or sister, and would provide a fundamental right for people to know by the age of 18 that they were adopted if they had not already been told. These subjects were all discussed in Committee, but I think that the Minister may have further comments to make.

Amendment No. 8 would change a single word in clause 52 from "may" to "must". That may seem like a little amendment, but we spent much time in Committee discussing when a "may" should be a "must". That does not make this "may" any less important, although some of the debates in Committee were extremely exasperating.

We have made the case that it is essential for a successful adoption that the provision of as much information as possible is made upfront to prospective adopters to make sure that they are going into the adoption process with both eyes wide open, that they make a fully informed decision that the prospective adoptee is the right choice and that they stand a good chance of being able to provide a stable and successful home environment. That is especially important if the child to be adopted has complex needs—learning or behavioural difficulties, educational problems, challenging psychological experiences from a past home environment or physical disabilities. It is no good finding out about those things after the adoption has been formalised and the court processes have taken place—by that time it is too late. It is also necessary to be able to cope with the special needs of those children after the adoption has taken place. During the witness stages of the Special Standing Committee, Professor Triseliotis told us of children who showed extremely strange behaviour at bath time. It turned out that in their previous family existence sexual abuse had taken place at bath time, so it was engrained on their psyche. There were many other examples that showed the importance of knowing all the information.

The original clause 57 referred to the provision of appropriate information as soon as practicable after the making of an adoption order. To give the Government and Ministers credit, after pressure from the Opposition they rewrote the clause but I still cannot understand why the matter has been left for regulations that would, in effect, make optional the type and nature of the disclosure of relevant information by adoption agencies to prospective adopters. No proper explanation was given in Committee, so we are revisiting that provision. That is why we want to change the word "may" to "must".

The adoption agencies have given us many examples that show the necessity for that change. For example, Barnardo's was effectively challenged in the courts for not providing enough information before an adoption. In other cases, a family's medical history has serious implications for an adopted person later in life—as regards genetic disclosures and so on. It is essential that a full medical history is available at the outset to adoptive parents so that suitable precautionary medical treatment or checks can be undertaken if there is a problem later.

There must be a clear commitment that agencies must provide all the necessary information at the time of adoption. That is a legitimate reason for our amendment. We are still not satisfied with the provisions in respect of information for prospective adopters.

Amendment No. 19 makes an addition to clause 54, which needs to be beefed up to ensure that adoption agencies keep records that are detailed enough to fulfil all their obligations under the Bill.

I want to move on to a much meatier and more important subject—a matter that touched me and many other members of the Committee when we heard representations on it. Amendment No. 25 would add to clause 59 the words: This section shall apply to all adopted persons, whether adopted before or after the coming into force of this Act. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) has tabled a similar amendment so I am sure that ours will receive his support.

The clause deals with the disclosure of protected information about adults and was much amended in Committee—thank goodness. For some extraordinary reason, which we have still not fathomed, the Government actually proposed a retrogressive step: to deny people the right of access to information to which they have been entitled since 1976 under the Adoption Act 1976. No one could understand the reason for that. None of the witnesses who appeared before the Special Standing Committee could understand it. None of the representations that we received could explain it. The proposal caused great distress, but I am glad that again—albeit at the 1 1 th hour—the Government had a change of heart and we achieved some improvements in the Bill.

The lives of an enormous number of people were irreversibly touched by adoption—as far back as the 1940s, in many cases—but the Bill will have little or no effect on them.

It is right that we are putting in place new structures for the future. We need to overhaul the whole process to improve the adoption system and the chances of children in care now and in the future to get a proper start in life, but we must also have some regard to the fall-out from some of the past mistakes and problems in the adoption system. That is what the amendment addresses.

In my involvement with the Bill and the subject of adoption, I have been particularly touched by the approaches from older women especially, including those in my constituency who gave up their children for adoption in very difficult circumstances—often with a high degree of pressure, verging on coercion—to people such as those with whom we are dealing in the Bill.

In effect, we are talking about a past generation who lived under very different social standards. Many people were worried about the original Bill, which would have prevented the contact between adopted children and their birth parents in the future. As I have said, the Government did a U-turn on that, but we need to apply the Bill to the forgotten generation of birth mothers from the post-war years especially.

Many mothers were forced to give up their children for adoption because of social stigma, and adoptive parents were encouraged to pass off the child as their own genetic son or daughter. In many cases, the Bill represents the very last chance for those people, in their twilight years, to establish contact with sons and daughters who were given away for adoption, often reluctantly. However, we contend that contact should be established sensitively, and only with all the proper controls and balances through an intermediary third party and only if the adopted adult agrees. Those must he the absolute minimum requirements, but the demand is there.

We have only to consider the fact that, since section 26 of the Children Act 1975 came into force, 70,000-plus adopted adults in England and Wales have received their birth records, enabling them to establish links with their birth parents if they so wish. Some 90 per cent. of non-searching adopted people agree to have some form of contact with the birth parent who initiates an inquiry.

I fully appreciate that, in practice, all this will be fraught with problems, not least the deficiencies in past record keeping. We will obviously need to prescribe limitations on the level of search undertaken, but such searches are becoming easier all the time, with far greater access to computerised information, electoral registers going online and so on. I contend that, whatever the mechanical problems, the principle is right. I hope that the Government will accept the principle. I should be happy to withdraw the amendment if the Government want to go away and introduce something that may be more workable in practice.

So long as we have a proper balance of rights in favour of those adoptees who do not wish to be found, I cannot understand the objections to the amendment. What we are seeking to do, after all, is to give those women the same rights as those enjoyed by women in Canada, New Zealand and, now, Australia—all of which allowed access to birth records in the 1980s and 1990s. I hope that we can use some of the good practice guidance and continue to apply it to future adoptions. That is the crux of amendment No. 25, but if the Government are not prepared to adopt that suggestion, we have provided an alternative: new clause 1, which deals with siblings. We suggest that siblings should be given rather greater powers to be able to approach adoption agencies with a view to establishing contact with their brothers and sisters from whom they were parted at an early age. Siblings are often forgotten in the adoption process.

Many people argue about whether birth parents were right to give up children for adoption, or whether they had any choice and how much they may have been coerced. Siblings, in all cases, have played no part in the decision-making process, but they have just as much right to make contact with a lost brother or sister, whether they were taken away for adoption while they remained in the family context, or whether children collectively were placed in care and later broken up and adopted individually.

Siblings in care tend to have more complex families than other children. Research reveals a particular lack of contact with paternal siblings. There are placement problems for sibling groups especially—taking on a whole group of brothers and sisters is a much taller order, and they tended to be split up or to stay in care or in separate foster placements. Research shows that, according to self-reports, the loss of a sibling can involve the loss of a lifetime's close and loving relationship, the loss of support in adversity, the loss of a shared history, the loss of a sense of kinship and the loss of a resource for the individual's development of identity.

6.30 pm

This is a poorly researched area of adoption. We lack detailed information about the extent of sibling separations involved in adoptions, and sibling group placement patterns are, typically, not monitored. Surely, however, there is even more justification to give them greater legal standing to try to establish contact with other adopted siblings on an equal basis. That is our case behind new clause 1. This is an important area, and there are many hundreds and thousands of people who have been affected by adoptions in the past for whom the Bill will have no beneficial effect whatever, as it is not retrospective.

New clause 4 deals with an issue for which there was sympathy on both sides of the Committee. It is an issue of great principle, and the new clause is simple and self-explanatory. It is a fundamental right of individuals to be told that they are adopted if they have not been given that information by the time they become adults at 18. Usually, adopted children should have been told that information before they reach the age of 18. sensitively and at an appropriate time, by their adopted parents.

The new clause deals only with a very small percentage of adoptions as, increasingly, the Bill will be dealing with older children who obviously know that their adopted families are not their birth parents as they were not babies when they were taken away. Most of the Bill targets such children. Many hundreds of babies will still be adopted each year, however, and will have no knowledge of their origins unless they are told when they are old enough to understand. We want to protect them from all the angst and complications of such a bombshell coming later in life when they eventually find out that they are adopted, having had no clue, inkling or suggestion for many years.

We have heard of cases, through our research for this Bill, of people who found out that they were adopted only at a very advanced age—in their 60s and 70s—and, in many cases, only after their birth parents had died. Often, that is the trigger to their finding out the information, by which time, of course, they have lost any chance of making contact with their birth parents. It is a fundamental human right for everyone to be told of his or her origins. If that information is not provided by the adoptive parents, the state has a duty to make it available to the adopted person on reaching maturity, through placing a requirement on the appropriate adoption agency. The state, after all, gives legal legitimacy to the status of adoption—a status that is manufactured, for want of a better word—and it therefore has a duty.

Mr. Dawson

In Committee I described the new clause as ghastly, but not because of the intention behind it, which I acknowledge is good. I am sure the hon. Gentleman will agree that the issue of informing adopted young people about their origins should play a large part in social work training and in the assessment of potential adoptive applicants. I am sure he intends the proposal to lie at the back of everything to ensure good practice from authorities. Is not it too crude to say that the state will tell people this information at the age of 18? Should there not be better ways of approaching this issue than the one he suggests?

Tim Loughton

I do not disagree with the hon. Gentleman. I recall the word "ghastly" being flung around the Committee Room when we discussed a similar subject. This is a last resort provision. As I think I have said—and as I want to finish by saying—it is a revelation that needs to be handled with the utmost sensitivity. People do not want to receive-1 think this was the analogy that I used—on their 18th birthday, along with a tax return and a congratulations card from their MP, a letter in an anonymous brown envelope saying, "Dear Mr. Smith, by the way, you're adopted. Congratulations." Obviously, that is not the way we want to proceed. The best way must he for the adoptive parent to give that information when he or she deems it most appropriate.

When that does not happen, as a last resort the 18-year-old is entitled to be told that information. The state has a duty of care to ensure that the manufactured relationship of adoption is maintained in everyone's best interest. It is not a question of the state sticking its nose in. We are talking about the state monitoring something that it has created through the legal resources of the adoption process.

The Minister and other Government Members raised practical problems about the keeping of records. The measure is not retrospective and it is not intended to be. Given all the other requirements that are being placed on adoption agencies in the Bill—keeping proper records, providing proper information for potential reunions, the adoption contact register and the need for ongoing monitoring of adoption to gauge the need for adoption support services —if an agency cannot go to the trouble of keeping track of an adoptee's 18th birthday, it is not discharging its many other responsibilities effectively. The issue has other serious implications. For example, adopted 18-year-olds need the information to avoid incestuous contact with siblings who may be brought up in the same area unbeknown to them. I fully appreciate the argument of the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson). Much better mechanisms could be used and the issue must be handled sensitively. It is up to the agencies to devise appropriate ways to impart the information. Hopefully, the knowledge that the revelation about adoption will take place at some stage around the adopted person's 18th birthday should encourage adoptive parents to give information to their adopted son or daughter in the fulness of time, at an appropriate moment of their choosing.

In Committee, the Minister said that she was sympathetic and promised to consider the matter in more detail. Indeed, on 21 March she wrote us a useful and detailed letter, saying that she had taken the point on board and was minded to change regulations as a point of best practice to encourage prospective adoptive parents to sign a form of contract saying that they would impart the information to their children at the most appropriate time. I am encouraged by that and welcome it.

New clause 4 is still necessary, however, because the Minister's letter and explanation gave no indication of how that process would be monitored. Also, as the letter says, no provision has been made for any legal enforcement process. That is why we are revisiting the matter in the new clause today. It is too important to leave aside. We cannot take the risk that certain adoptive parents, for whatever strange reason, will choose not to give that information to their adopted son or daughter. I am not convinced that the monitoring processes are in place. Certainly, the new recommendations lack teeth as they cannot be legally enforced.

I am talking about a fundamental human right. If the adopted person is not informed and they find out at an inappropriate time later in life, it could have the most damaging consequences. That is what the new clause attempts to avoid.

In this group, the Opposition have tabled three amendments and two new clauses, which are well intentioned, and which build on some of the responses that the Minister rightly made to many of the issues that we raised in Committee—I am glad that she has made some positive moves. We want to crystallise those moves and put them more clearly on the face of the Bill to send out the message that that information is an important part of the adoption process.

Kevin Brennan

I will keep my remarks brief, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) having taken up 23 of the 44 minutes available.

I remind the House that amendment No. 147, which I tabled, relates to something that I raised on Second Reading—and I note the conversion of the Conservative Front-Bench spokesmen who have taken up the issue and tabled amendments to the same effect. I welcome that. I hope to persuade the Government to undergo a similar conversion, and I look forward to hearing the Minister's response. I will also comment on Government amendments Nos. 50 and 52.

In addition to raising the matter on Second Reading, I moved a new clause in Committee on 18 December 2001 and spoke on the Government new clause introduced in Committee on 10 January, which is now clause 59. I met the Minister in February, along with representatives of agencies, and subsequently corresponded with her on the issue. The Government's position has shifted, which I welcome, because the Bill now contains clause 59, which allows for a mechanism whereby information on adoption can be disclosed to a birth relative when someone reaches adulthood. However, that will affect only adoptions that take place after the Bill comes into effect. So the day that it comes into law, it will apply to and benefit precisely no one, and will not benefit anyone directly for many years.

If it is right to allow people to have that opportunity in the future, why is it not right to give it to people who have been adopted before the Bill comes into effect, and their relatives? The Government have conceded that legislation can be retrospective. Indeed, that was the case in the 1970s when the original right was given to adopted persons to seek out their birth records. The Government have also conceded that contact is usually welcomed when it has occurred under current provisions.

My amendment would mean only that people would he asked whether they wanted contact rather than having that contact forced on them. The Minister made it clear to me in meetings and discussions that the provision would divert resources and attention away from the Bill's main purpose. Today we debated one part of the Bill that will get a great deal of attention, but the aspect that I am raising—the problem with birth relatives—has not received enough attention.

I remind my hon. Friend about Government guidelines issued by the Department of Health on intermediary services for birth relatives. In the context of Government amendments Nos. 50 and 52, is she minded to introduce regulations that would give statutory force to the good practice guidance? That would be welcome, but the intention is not clear. Although I think that that should be stipulated in the Bill, I am interested to know whether it is in part the reason for the amendments. We have to consider why we are doing something in clause 59 which, because of the nature of modern adoption, will benefit a tiny number of people in 20 years' time, rather than helping people now. If the Bill works properly, we will not need the clause for future adoptions.

Hon. Members will know that about a year ago the National Organisation for Counselling Adoptees and Parents successfully reunited three triplets, Gillian, David and Helena. It had to go to court to do so. Yesterday it issued a press release, which will not be covered by the media because in the glare of perhaps more glamorous events, no one is interested in the issue. However, it is fundamental and serious, and the media should focus attention on it.

The triplets were reunited because they were allowed to gain the information that they needed to find out about their identity. Mr. Justice Sumner, in his judgment on that case, said: We are still faced with an urgent need to review the legislation that impedes birth relatives' opportunities for search and reunion.

Mr. Dawson

I support every word that my hon. Friend has said. Is he aware of the work that is coming from the Registrar-General's office? In a praiseworthy attempt to give people privacy, it would seem to be offering the draconian prospect that in future, people who have been adopted will have a great deal more difficulty in tracing their relatives and birth families over a period of 100 years.

6.45 pm
Kevin Brennan

Yes, I am aware of that, and I am concerned about it. I hope, with my hon. Friend's help, to draw the matter to the Government's attention over the coming weeks and months. What is proposed would be a retrograde step.

People have written to me from all over the United Kingdom, and all over the world. I have received letters from Australia, for example. The issue matters even if the media will not cover it. It has an impact on people's lives. We have the opportunity to end the culture of secrets and lies that has surrounded adoption over the years. This is about justice, compassion and the most fundamental thing of all—family. I hope that the Minister will be able to make some helpful remarks. I also hope that if the issue is not pressed to a vote this evening, there will be further discussion later in another place.

Sandra Gidley

I shall greatly curtail my remarks because I do not want to repeat too much of what has already been said. I support most of the amendments, especially those that seek to provide retrospective permission. The hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) raised the issue in Committee. It seems wrong that someone who is adopted after the Bill is enacted will he able to obtain the information, while someone who was adopted before that will not. However, not everyone thinks in that way.

There is a feeling that if a provision has a retrospective effect, that could be unfair on those who put up a child for adoption before enactment, because they would not have known what the long-term effect would be. Even today, there is a parallel with sperm donation. There was a proposal—I think that it came from Lady Warnock—that in future perhaps it would be beneficial if children born as a result of artificial insemination by donor knew the identity of the sperm donor.

There are other implications, too. I have been struck by the strength of feeling of women—it usually is women, because they live longer—who want to know where they come from. It is important to them to have that information. We are talking about a last chance, and I support the amendments that would provide it.

I am less happy with new clause 4. It is unnecessary and very much a backstop. It is well intentioned, but I would find difficulty in supporting it.

Mr. Walter

I support the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). In an ideal world, the provisions would be unnecessary. However, we do not live in such a world. It is a fundamental right of those who have been adopted, when they reach adulthood, to know what their origins are.

The subject came home to me vividly, as I mentioned in Committee, when I served on the Committee that considered the plight of child migrants in Australia. I am pleased that the Australian Government are now providing some assistance. However, the press reports seemed to be wide of the mark in terms of the number of migrants who went to Australia, which was closer to 10,000 than 3,500.

The one thing that all those people wanted to know was where they came from; even in their 50s and 60s, they wanted to know that. Someone who has been adopted, even in the most appalling circumstances of abuse, as those children were, should have a fundamental right to know why they went through that life-shattering experience. I therefore support the proposals of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham.

Jacqui Smith

This subject has provoked considerable debate, both in Committee and on Report, but until now there has been considerable movement by the Government in response to concerns about the disclosure of information. In the remaining ten minutes, I shall concentrate on the main issues raised this evening: information for prospective adopters, the retrospective aspects of the access to information provisions in the legislation, and people's right to know that they are adopted.

We had a lengthy and probably futile debate in Committee about the distinction between "may" and "must". I reiterate my belief that the amendment is not necessary. I made it clear when we debated the issue that the Government intended to introduce regulations covering the provision of information for prospective adopters, and I accept the contention of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) that it is crucial to provide that information.

I am sure that hon. Members who served on the Committee will remember that we gave a commitment to introduce regulations to ensure that information is made available at three important points. First, there should be a summary about the child at the linking stage; secondly, there should be a full matching report on the child before the matching recommendation by the adoption panel and the decision by the agency; thirdly, after time to consider the full matching report, the prospective adopters, if they wish to proceed to preparations for the placement, should be provided with a written proposal setting out its terms.

I assure hon. Members that those regulations will oblige agencies to disclose information in prescribed circumstances, as I have spelled out. We shall therefore ensure that the current position is improved; I agree with hon. Members that it is unsatisfactory that potential adopters are not provided with the information that they need.

On retrospection, I accept that the intention of amendments Nos. 25 and 147 is to enable someone to apply for information about a protected adult, irrespective of whether they were adopted before or after the commencement of the relevant provisions. I shall explain the Government's difficulties with those proposals, but I shall also outline the positive steps that we can take to create better opportunities for people to access information, regardless of whether the adoption took place before or after the Bill became law.

If the legislation was retrospective there would be massive problems. In many cases, adoption agencies would be required to trace people who were adopted many years ago, and were thus difficult to trace. There would be a huge volume of potential applications; 875,000 people have been adopted since the Adoption of Children Act 1926. I thoroughly concur with the claim by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) that he has pressed extremely hard on that issue. He was one of the first hon. Members to raise the issue and he has been diligent in pursuing it. However, I disagree with my hon. Friend when he suggests that the Government's concern for balancing priorities for adoption agencies is wrong.

In the context of past adoptions, I have every sympathy for the feelings of those who want to open up contact with a birth relative, but our principal policy aim, as many hon. Members have said, is to help the vulnerable and in some cases damaged children who need adoptive parents now. If the proposals were enacted, I would be concerned about the priorities of adoption agencies being shifted, and the possibility that that might draw resources away from our primary aim.

As I said, I am sympathetic, but I do not share the view of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham that changing the legislation would necessarily achieve the heartfelt aim that many people seek. There is the dilemma of raising the hopes and expectations of so many siblings and birth parents, and there would be considerable practical difficulties for agencies to face.

Before 1984, the obligations for adoption agencies to keep and record information were not as comprehensive as they are now. Many records exist only in part and others have been lost. Many adoptions were arranged privately, and in those cases there are often very few records, other than the report about the placement, which the adoption agency may or may not hold. I would not want to hold out to people whose wish I understand, a potentially false hope that legislation will be made retrospective.

I now come to the practical steps that we as a Government can take. Stakeholders have acknowledged that under existing regulations, adoption agencies already have wide discretion to disclose information in their records, where that is consistent with their functions. The problem is that existing practice is inconsistent, and guidance on disclosure of information has been criticised by some stakeholders as being ambiguous. In the light of those views, the Government will issue new guidance to encourage adoption agencies to take a more constructive approach to helping both birth parents and adopted people.

There has been criticism of the adoption contact register, which provides scope to bring together adopted people and their relatives. Since the launch of the register there has been only one further attempt to promote it. I undertake to engage in more proactive and frequent promotion of the register through adoption agencies and key stakeholders, and through the media at times of public interest in adoption. We are considering ways to achieve that, and will consult adoption stakeholders.

Hon. Members have referred to the guidance issued by the Department of Health on the role of intermediary services, which can provide sensitive support and counselling to those seeking to make contact with a relative. In August 2000 we issued guidance on the role of intermediary services, and we are actively considering how further to foster best practice among those services. Under section 64 of the Health Services and Public Health Act 1968 we will supply funding from April 2003 for one leading provider to act as a national focal point for intermediary services and to offer a resource for adoption agencies.

I hope that in the light of those comments on the difficulties of making clause 59 apply to past adoptions, and my commitment to help improve the current arrangements, hon. Members will not press their amendments.

Finally, in Committee we discussed the right to know, and I expressed my sympathy then for the intention behind a similar amendment. I have no doubt that the adopted person should be informed of his adoption. The essential questions are who is best placed to inform the adopted person, and how and when that should happen.

Once again, there would be considerable practical difficulties in giving an adoption agency a legal duty to trace, track down, make contact with and make arrangements to talk to all adopted people—if it were a legal duty, it would have to cover all adopted people—at the age of 18. But as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, there are practical things that we can do to help—

It being Seven o'clock, MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER, pursuant to Order [this day] put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment negatived.

MADAM DEPUTY SPEAKER then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

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