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Adoption (Scotland)

Volume 978: debated on Tuesday 12 February 1980

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3.34 pm

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the law relating to adoption of children in Scotland; and for connected purposes.

Order. I think that it would be fairer to the hon. Gentleman if I asked him to wait for a moment. Will hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber please do so as quickly and quietly as possible?

Let me say at the outset that this is not a party political matter. Indeed, I have received support for the Bill from hon. Members on both sides of the House. I am sure that men of good will, irrespective of their political views, would give support to easing the plight of so many children who are in the care of local authorities.

A colleague of mine in Glasgow once said that in order to adopt a child in Scotland one needed the wealth of Onassis, the wisdom of Solomon and the strength of Hercules. That was an exaggeration, but it is no exaggeration to say that there are many obstacles in the path of prospective adopters in Scotland. That is a tragedy when we consider how many totally innocent children, especially older children aged between 8 and 15, we have in the care of local authorities in Scotland.

The object of the Bill is to remove one small obstacle from the path of prospective adopters. I do not pretend that the Bill will change the world or remove all the obstacles in the path of prospective adopters, but I hope that it will remove one small one.

I also hope that the Bill will bring to the attention of the House and the public the plight of so many unfortunate children. In Strathclyde alone, with a population of 2½ million—representing about one-half of the population of Scotland—we have 5,000 children in the care of local authorities. That figure is not untypical of the figures in the rest of Scotland and Great Britain. Of those 5,000 children, about 3,000 are in residential establishments—children's homes. That is a terrible indictment of contemporary society and of the uncaring, un- feeling and selfish attitude that is abroad in society.

I hope that the House will support the Bill to show that we care about those children and firmly stand by the principle that they, like all other children, have the right to enjoy the love and affection of parents and the stability of a normal home background.

There are three basic and, I hope, simple points to make in connection with the Bill. First, I want to remove the financial burden put on prospective adopters by the legal costs of adoption in Scotland. Most lawyers in Scotland, like those in other parts of the United Kingdom, are reasonable people and legal costs generally amount to £100 or £150. However, as a former chairman of the Strathclyde adoption committee, I know of instances where lawyers have charged £400 or £500 to present a petition to the sheriff court on behalf of prospective adopters. Clearly, that must be stopped.

In addition, a couple wanting to adopt a child are not covered by the National Health Service. They have to pay a fee of £25 or £30 to their general practitioner, although, again, there are one or two rogues who charge as much as £100. That must also be stopped. A petitioner must also pay the statutory fee of about £25 to the curator ad litem.

While the average cost of adoption in Scotland is probably £150 to £200, there are many instances in which costs can go as high as £500 or £600. There are many examples of that. Clearly it is a barrier, a break, an obstacle to ordinary people who apply to adopt a child. One could go down any street, in any of the cities, towns and villages of Scotland and ask people whether they thought that adoption was cheap, or whether it was reasonable, or whether they could afford it. The consensus would be that the average person could not afford adoption.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. There are still 3,000 children in the care of local authorities in Scotland who have not seen the outside of a children's home for five or 10 years. That is intolerable. The House must rule that adoption should be available to all people, irrespective of their means.

I hope that the House will adopt the Bill and not simply make noises about it. I hope that we are determined enough to stretch out a hand to those 3,000 children in Strathclyde and to the 2,000 or 3,000 children in other parts of Scotland. I hope that we shall not merely talk about it. I hope—unlike what happens in the case of most Ten-Minute Bills—that we shall give some weight and time to this important legislation and ensure that it is enacted. At the end of the day, if it takes only one child out of care it will be worth it.

I specifically propose that there should be a £50 limit on the fees charged by solicitors. In other words, there should be a charge of not more than £50 for presenting a petition to the sheriff court.

I also suggest that medical fees should be borne by the National Health Service. At present, a person has to pay a fee to a general practitioner when he is examined as a prospective adopter. I should also like the local authority to bear the cost of the curator ad litem.

Those are three basic, simple points. They will not change the world, but they will make life a little easier for one or two children.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Allen Adams, Mr. Raymond Ellis, Mr. Ron Brown, Mr. Harry Greenway, Mr. William McKelvey, Mr. Michael Ancram, Mr. Ernie Ross, Mr. John Maxton, Mr. Norman Buchan, Mr. Andy McMahon, Mr. Michael Martin and Mr. Norman Hogg.

Adoption (Scotland)

Mr. Allen Adams accordingly presented a Bill to amend the law relating to adoption of children in Scotland; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time upon Friday 14 March and to be printed. [Bill 145.]