HL Deb 30 June 1964 vol 259 cc576-84

6.25 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this Bill was introduced in another place by the honourable member for Mid-Ulster, who was successful in drawing a good place in the ballot for Private Members' Bills. The main object of this Bill is to secure that an adoption order made in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Isles should have effect in Great Britain as if it had been made in Great Britain. I think I am right in saying that before 1926 the process of adoption was not in any way controlled by the Legislature, but in that year an Act dealing with the matter was passed and the law governing adoption is now contained in the consolidating Adoption Act, 1958.

Before the Legislature took a hand in the matter I think the position was that adoptions were made entirely by private arrangement. That was, of course, unsatisfactory. For example, the mother of the child could claim it back, so I understand, even though it may have been under the care of the adopting parents for quite a considerable time. Also, there was no security for the adopted child. All that was changed when Parliament took a hand in the matter, and the present law, broadly speaking, is that the adoption of a child can be effected only by an order of the court, and once a child is adopted it is treated in every respect as a legitimate child of the adopting parents. I believe the law is doubtful as to whether adoption orders made in the Channel Isles, the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland are effective in Great Britain, and this Bill is designed to cure that situation.

My Lords, there was really no opposition to this Bill in another place; nevertheless, it had rather a chequered career there. Noble Lords who have been in another place are well acquainted with the well known Parliamentary device by which the passage of a Bill can be spun out and is made to take a considerable time in passing in order to block another Bill next in the queue. That is what happened in this case. This innocuous, harmless little Bill found itself in the position of being just ahead of another Bill which excited very considerable opposition. The result was that when this little Bill went to a Standing Committee upstairs large numbers of Amendments were put down in order to occupy time. Only one was pressed, but they were all very fully discussed. Actually only two small Amendments of a technical nature were made in the Bill, although the Standing Committee upstairs took two days over the passage of Clause 1, owing to the large number of Amendments. I think the position was that once the Committee had to sit on a third day the other Bill was killed. Consequently, when the Committee sat on the third day Clauses 2, 3 and 4 were rushed through in five minutes. So I imagine the objects of those who wished to kill the other Bill were accomplished.

I now come to the Bill itself. Clause 1 makes general modifications in the law in Great Britain relating to adopted persons or adoption orders. For the purposes specified in subsection (2) the clause applies only to orders made after the Bill becomes law. Otherwise, it applies to existing as well as future orders. But its effect is limited to things done or events occurring after the Bill becomes law, and citizenship acquired under subsection (3) cannot begin sooner than the Bill's commencement. Clause 2 fills a gap in the Adoption Act, 1958, by providing for extracts from the Adopted Children Register of England to be received in evidence as though it was in Scotland, and vice versa. Corresponding extracts from the register of Northern Ireland are also to be received as evidence in England or Scotland.

Clause 3 provides for the Registrar General or the Registrar General for Scotland to annotate his register if he is notified that a child born or adopted in England or Scotland has been adopted or re-adopted in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands, or an adoption order in respect of such a child has been nullified in one of those territories. I hope I have said enough to explain what this small Bill is about, and I now beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Rathcavan.)

6.32 p.m.


My Lords, we are most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, for what he has said about this Bill, and I am sure that he will share with me a mutual relief that neither he nor I are any longer subject to the rapscallion procedure which he described as having once taken place in another place. I recall the last occasion in another place, shortly before I came to your Lordships' House, when I had the privilege of moving a Private Member's Bill. It was supported not only by the Government but enthusiastically by Members in all parts of the House. Everything was thought to be absolutely all right, except that we had not consulted one gentleman whose sole contribution to the affairs of the nation appeared to be that he turned up at 4 o'clock every Friday and religiously called out "Object" when every Private Member's Bill was called. On this occasion the fury of the multitude was such that he was immediately surrounded outside the Chamber, with the result that on the following Friday he sat mute and mum in his place. Perhaps one happy result of that was that the Bill was not discussed on Second Reading, on Committee, on Report or on Third Reading. And perhaps an unfortunate result of that was that only last week I had to admit in your Lordships' House that my own Bill was inadequate. So this sort of discussion on Private Members' Bills is often extremely useful.

We on. this side of your Lordships' House warmly support this small Bill. The noble Lord referred to its being a small Bill, but it is of very large importance to a comparatively small number of people, and that in fact is not a small issue at all. It is a simple and wholly undesirable anomaly that a child adopted in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands does not at present have the same rights of citizenship or, in some cases, of inheritance in the United Kingdom as a child adopted in the United Kingdom, and I am glad that this Bill will rectify that unfortunate position. Clause 2, which provides that extracts from the Adopted Children Register for England shall be received as evidence in Scotland, and vice versa, and the similar provision in respect of Northern Ireland, is also very welcome, if about six years overdue, and the same observation applies to the provisions for the annotation of registers of the respective countries.

If the noble Lord will allow me to say so, in my view the most notable aspect of the Bill is the manner in which, by implication, is underlined the need for a consolidation measure covering in terms of both person and geography the whole law of adoption. The 1958 Act provided a very considerable advance on the personal aspect. There is still room for improvement. But the law now affords such safeguards for the child that there is some justification for the claim that the adopted child has a proportionately better chance of getting suitable parents than is afforded by the natural process. But geographically, the adoption laws are a mess. Reading through the Bill—and I hope the noble Lord again will forgive me for this—one is obliged to ask which country we are living in, because in the three operative clauses of this small Bill I find that Great Britain is mentioned six times and the United Kingdom five times, with various sundry references to England, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Wales is the only country not mentioned, although I appreciate it is included—at least, I thought it was included—in both the United Kingdom and Great Britain. And the Explanatory Memorandum does not help very much, because it tells us, in the first paragraph: The main object of the Bill is to secure that an adoption order made in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands shall have effect in England or Scotland as if it had been made in Great Britain. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, on wisely not saying England and Scotland when he read it out, but "shall have effect in Great Britain" That makes much more sense, so far as I am concerned. I appreciate that the many references in the Bill to Great Britain and the United Kingdom, which are confusing, are probably necessary—and perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, will tell me if I am wrong—because they relate to similar descriptions in other adoption enactments to which this Bill will apply.


My Lords, that is quite correct.


That merely underlines the case for consolidation of the Adoption Acts. I hope the noble Lord will take that point. I do not expect the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, to answer all these points, but I should like his confirmation that I am right in thinking that Wales is included in the Bill.


My Lords, I have been told that England includes Wales for this purpose.


I have been under that impression more or less for a long time, but having read the Bill very carefully I began to have doubts. On the broad aspect about the precise name of the country in which we live and what it comprises, I hope we may be enlightened on Thursday week when, I notice, the noble Lord, Lord Mabane, is to ask a Question on the subject. Meanwhile, I shall continue to believe, and I hope I am right, that "Great Britain "embodies the same countries as the "United Kingdom", and that it is in order to add Northern Ireland to either and mean the same thing. I support the Second Reading, and wish the Bill a speedy passage through its remaining stages.


My Lords, as a Jerseyman, it would be discourteous to your Lordships' House if I did not express my thanks and those of my fellow countrymen to your Lordships for having found time to deal with this simple measure in this Parliamentary Session, and to express our thanks to honourable Members of another place who have got it to this stage, and particularly my thanks to my noble friend Lord Rathcavan for having sponsored the Bill in this House. As is now quite clear from what has been said, the effect of this Bill when it becomes law, as I trust it will, will be that adoption orders made in these other territories— Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands—will be, to put it in simple language, as effective as though they had been made in Great Britain. That is something which is obviously most desirable. I have ascertained—I knew this was the case—that there have been consultations between Her Majesty's Government in this country and the authorities in Jersey with regard to the Bill, and I am able to assure your Lordships that it has the warmest support of those who are responsible for these matters in the Island.

Adoption in Jersey was, as it was in this country, entirely a matter of private arrangement between the parties concerned. We used to call them "de facto adoptions ". That was the position until 1947. As recently as that, the first adoption law in Jersey was passed. It has now been replaced by another law, passed in 1961, and I am able to assure your Lordships that the methods adopted in the Island, and I am sure in the other territories, too, are thoroughly efficient. It has been my privilege, as Bailiff, to preside many times over the adoption court, and I can assure your Lordships that the greatest care is taken to see that the interests of the child and of everybody concerned are fully safeguarded.

There is only one comment—rather a personal one—that perhaps I may be allowed to make. It was during the occupation of the Island by enemy forces that my friends and I had time to consider the various phases or spheres of law in which we were lagging behind and what should be the position, and soon after our liberation—we were liberated only in 1945–in 1947, the first Statute was put upon the Statute Book. It has proved a most worthwhile endeavour. If I may terminate on a happy personal note, it has been of great personal satisfaction to me to be in your Lordships' House to-day to witness one further stage of what I am confident will result in the enactment of a system of law with the initial stages of which I was concerned twenty years ago in another capacity in my own Island. I am sure your Lordships will give this Bill a favourable reception. Once again, as a Jerseyman, I express my gratitude to everybody concerned in bringing it to this happy stage.

6.42 p.m.


My Lords, may I just briefly give some indication of the Government's attitude towards the Bill and, in view of the criticism of the noble Lord, Lord Stonham, about the consolidation of the adoption law, I will go just a little further and tell him what is happening as regards adoption generally. It may be that we shall do better to wait a short time before consolidating. I will explain why. Legislation over the past thirty or forty years has defined in English and Scottish law the rights and liabilities of a person adopted in Great Britain and of people who are connected with him in one way or another. The position in English and Scottish law of a person adopted outside Great Britain is not so certain. Statute law at present goes no further in this direction than to recognise adoption orders made in Northern Ireland, and then for certain purposes only; and such judicial decisions as there have been on the question suggest that, in general, our courts have. not found their way clear to recognise an adoption order made overseas.

The Government acknowledge that this is not a satisfactory state of affairs, especially in relation to orders made in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Now that the law in operation in each of these territories regulating the making of an adoption order and its consequences is to all intents and purposes on the same footing as corresponding law in Great Britain, there seems no obstacle to treating an adoption order made in any of those places in the same way as if it had been made here. The Bill therefore takes the modest, though not negligible, step of removing the uncertainty about the effect here of orders made in territories within, so to speak, the immediate family. I think we should also recognise that this is a notable advance towards what I am sure most of us hope will eventually become a much wider recognition of adoption orders made overseas. The Government are anxious to see removed doubts about the validity in this country of orders made in other Commonwealth countries and in foreign countries and in the Irish Republic. But this is a complicated business—this is the point which I mentioned to the noble Lord, Lord Stonham—and the ground needs thorough preparation.

The best way of making progress is, we believe, by international discussion and agreement. Such discussion is going forward before two international bodies in whose deliberations we are taking an active part. A draft Convention now before the Social Committee of the Council of Europe will, we hope, bring into closer harmony the internal laws of each member State relating to adoption. Another draft Convention which is being considered by the Hague Conference on Private International Law aims at regulating conflicts of law and jurisdiction in adoptions where the adopters and child are of different nationalities or of different places of habitual residence. While these longer-term aims are being pursued, I am sure that few would dissent from the view that it is right, within the immediate family of the United Kingdom and Islands, to put our affairs in order. I should like to take this opportunity of congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Rathcavan, upon making himself responsible in your Lordships' House for such a useful measure. I commend it to the House.

6.46 p.m.


My Lords, I do not think there is anything more I need say except to thank the noble Lords, Lord Stonham and Lord Coutanche, and also the noble Lord, Lord Derwent, speaking for the Government, for the support which they have given to this Bill.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.