HL Deb 08 November 1989 vol 512 cc727-9

31 Clause 10, page 9, line 21, leave out from 'made' to end of line 23 and insert —

  1. '(ii) who is a parent of the child concerned;
  2. (iii) who is not a parent of his but who has parental responsibility for him; or
  3. (iv) with whom the child is living,'.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do agree with the Commons in their Amendment No. 31.

This amendment extends the range of persons who may be required to comply with conditions included in a Section 7 order so as to include a father who has not been married to a child's mother at any time since the child's conception and any person with whom the child is living, even though that person does not have parental responsibility for the child. I beg to move.

Moved, That the House do agree with the Commons in the said amendment. —(The Lord Chancellor.)

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble and learned Lord a simple question. Would this or any of these amendments which we are currently discussing meet the case of the foster parent who wanted to adopt a child but was unable to do so because the child had to go to parents of a different colour?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I do not believe the mere fact that the colour question may be involved is of itself an absolute bar. It is, of course, a most important consideration. However, as I said, I do not believe that it is an absolute bar, although none of these amendments specifically covers the matter.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, perhaps I may say from a child care point of view that I hope in this country we shall not say that a coloured child must be placed with a coloured family. By so doing we could deprive the child of a home background. One would always hope that the child would be placed in a home where he or she would receive love, continuity and security, regardless of colour; but that if there was a coloured family available, the child could be placed with that family.

Lord Renton

My Lords, there was a case reported recently in the press about this matter. I understand that it may be subject to appeal, in which case we ought not to attempt to discuss the merits of the case now. However, I think that this is a matter which we should keep open so far as is possible.

Baroness Phillips

My Lords, I hope that noble Lords do not think I was suggesting that that should be done. I was concerned that it should be made clearer under the Bill, since this is such an important piece of legislation, that the consideration would be that the child should have care and love rather than it being an issue of colour. As I understood the case in question, it concerned a black child who had to go to black parents.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble and learned Lord thinks that this is properly a matter for regulations?

A noble Lord


Lord Mishcon

My Lords, if I may say so, I wonder whether we ought to be discussing a particular case. I say that because, if reported, our discussion may be misinterpreted outside the House. I believe that we are talking about a concept which is really the fundamental basis upon which the Bill is built. The only consideration —perhaps I ought to use the word, paramount —is the welfare of the child in the particular circumstances which will be considered.

Questions of ruling by legislation or by regulation that a white child must go to a white parent and a black child must go to a black parent is something which this House would not tolerate. The only thing that this House would tolerate is the paramount welfare of that particular child.

Lord Simon of Glaisdale

My Lords, I venture to agree with the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. The amendment which your Lordships have accepted states that in all proceedings the welfare of the child shall be paramount. That is all that it is necessary to say. In my view it would be a profound mistake if one tried to legislate further. Moreover, if one tried to particularise further by legislation I venture to suggest that it certainly ought not to be by subordinate legislation.

3.45 p.m.

Lord Meston

My Lords, it was indeed only a question of time during today's debate before this question arose. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mishcon. The whole question of transracial fostering and adoption is altogether too delicate for primary legislation. We know that some local authorities have certain guidelines which are intended to meet the interests of the child, especially when he or she becomes an adolescent.

However, how the matter is carried out in practice is sometimes a matter of concern, especially when it is carried out by those local authorities which have a coding or categorisation of colour which means that "black" covers almost everything which is not white or pink. It is a matter of concern, but it is not, with respect, something with which this Bill could possibly cope.

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, I should just like to confirm that I believe the Bill sets the framework for, and places supreme emphasis on, the welfare of the child. It largely leaves such matters to be judged in relation to the particular circumstances of the case in question.

Baroness Macleod of Borve

My Lords, mention has been made that some local authorities devise their own guidelines in such cases. I wonder whether my noble and learned friend would think it appropriate in future to ensure that most local authorities should be guided in the same way. Alternatively, perhaps in his wisdom he thinks that there is no necessity for such a safeguard?

The Lord Chancellor

My Lords, it is always difficult to strike a correct balance between individual local responsibility and general guidance. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State would have responsibility for issuing general guidance, but guidance by its very nature is there to be a help rather than a rule. Therefore the ultimate responsibility would be with the authority. In many cases that may be the court. It would have responsibility for the child when determining the application of the principles of law which we are seeking to lay down as regards the circumstances of a particular case.

On Question, Motion agreed to.