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Volume 549: debated on Monday 3 September 2012

In May, my Department published scorecards for local authorities to enable them to identify and tackle the causes of delay in the adoption system. My Department will shortly launch a consultation on changes to speed up processes for prospective adopters, and we plan to introduce legislation thereafter.

I thank the Secretary of State for his answer. Will he confirm that he is looking at all the barriers to adoption that prospective parents can encounter—including, on occasions, their religious faith?

My hon. Friend is quite right to raise that issue. There have been a number of occasions in the past when, for the best of motives, social workers have felt it inappropriate to match children with prospective adopters because faith might have been seen as a barrier. I do not believe that faith should be a barrier to ensuring that children find a loving home.

We know that some 5,000 children have placement orders, but the number of approved parents is less than a third of that figure. Does not this highlight the importance of hammering home to social services authorities the need to welcome prospective adopters and push the process through so that they can adopt children today?

I absolutely agree. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of my job is reading about parents who want to adopt children but who have found that, for understandable reasons, the system has been far too bureaucratic and slow in allocating children to them. Working with the best in local authorities, I am sure that we can all do better.

It is welcome that the speed of adoption is being looked at, but will the Secretary of State confirm that the safeguards of the Hague convention will still apply to inter-country adoptions, and that the adoption panels’ functions will not be watered down?

It is vital that we ensure that international safeguards are present in respect of inter-country adoptions. When we come to look at the adoption panels, we will want to strike a balance to ensure that the right people are coming forward and being scrutinised appropriately with the minimum of delay.

We can do that by making it clear to all local authorities that age should not be a barrier. I understand the pressures on social workers, and I empathise with them, but in the past local authorities have sometimes made the best the enemy of the good. Notwithstanding the fantastic work that is done in children’s homes and by foster carers, we know that adoption is for good, and that the sooner we can place a child permanently in a loving home, the better it is for all concerned.

One of my constituents, who is here today, has spoken to me about her continued grief at having been forced to give up her son for adoption in the 1970s. Will the Secretary of State take a moment to read about the experience of my constituent, and give her the recognition that she is seeking of the fact that the forced adoption practices that used to exist in this country were traumatic and absolutely wrong, and should never have been allowed to exist by any Government?

The hon. Lady makes an effective point in a very effective way, and I absolutely agree with her. It is one of the blessings of the past 30 years that attitudes towards adoption and conception have changed so much, and that the stigma that used to be attached to children who were born out of wedlock is, mercifully, no longer there. It is quite wrong to force a mother to part from her child when she is capable of providing that child with a loving home. Anxious as we are to ensure that children in need are adopted, we must be equally anxious to ensure that single parents are supported.