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Descendants of Deceased Adopted People (Access to Information)

Volume 569: debated on Tuesday 22 October 2013

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend the Adoption and Children Act 2002 to allow access to information for the descendants of deceased adopted people; and for connected purposes.

The direct descendants of deceased adopted people continue to face significant difficulty when they attempt to access information about their biological, rather than adopted, family. For example, the child of a deceased adopted adult often finds it impossible to trace any information about their biological grandparents. That difficulty is heightened when the adopted individual has made no efforts to trace their biological parents before they die. Information about the biological relatives of deceased adopted people can be fundamentally important, especially in relation to medical conditions.

If an adopted person dies suddenly, their direct descendants often need to inquire into the condition from which they have suffered to discover whether what they died from is hereditary. For example, familial breast cancer typically occurs in people with an unusually high number of family members who have been affected by breast, ovarian or a similar cancer. Those who have a family history of breast cancer often need different medical management from those without such a history because of the clear differences in the potential for developing such cancers.

While it is important that everyone is able actively to look after their own health, the descendants of deceased adopted people are prevented by procedural barriers from doing so. For all they know, a hereditary condition is sitting within them like a ticking time-bomb, and the current legislation prevents them from attempting to defuse it. Particularly in an era when we ask everyone to take more care of their own health and inject some personal responsibility into their well-being, it is crucial that the descendants of deceased adopted people are granted access to the medical information required to undertake preventive measures.

The solution to such a quandary is relatively simple but, as I have learnt in the few years I have been in this place, the simple solutions often appear to be the most difficult to implement. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I welcome the House’s enthusiasm. If we simply insert the term “their direct descendants” into specific clauses of the Adoption and Children Act 2002, the direct descendants of deceased adopted people will be granted access to information to which, I believe, they are rightfully entitled. Such an amendment has the support of the descendants of deceased adopted persons group and the British Association for Adoption and Fostering. Some people have expressed concern that that will lead to a rush of claims, but there is no evidence to show that the proposed measures will open the floodgates to unmanageable numbers of descendants of deceased adopted people wishing to access information through intermediary services.

I welcome the support expressed by Julia Feast of the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, who has been a committed advocate of this important matter. In Julia’s own words, the

“descendants of deceased adopted people should have been included when a description of a birth relative was defined in the Adoption and Children Act 2002. I welcome the measures being put forward in this Bill, and hope that they will pave the way for meaningful change.”

I am also particularly grateful for the advice and support of my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), who raised the prospect of the increased numbers the Bill would benefit because of forced adoptions.

I can assure the House that these measures will not be problematic and complex. The agencies that would provide intermediary services for descendants of deceased adopted people already have the skills, knowledge and experience to process applications received. The sensitivities and complexities would be dealt with in the same way as they are at present for a birth family seeking information about contact with an adopted person.

It must be noted that in 2010 the Law Commission looked at introducing such an amendment via the other place, and there is still the potential for such an alteration to be made in that way. However, given the limits on Government time, of which we in this House are all too plainly aware, such potentially wide scoping currently remains unlikely. Therefore, a small amendment could be made which grants the direct descendants of deceased adopted people access to medical records. I hope the Bill will proceed through the House with the support demonstrated by many Members across the House, for which I am grateful.

Question put and agreed to.


That Nick de Bois, Tim Loughton, Mr David Blunkett, Mark Durkan, Sir Bob Russell, Bob Blackman, Mr David Amess, Stephen Phillips, Caroline Nokes, Mark Field, John Robertson and Mr Dominic Raab present the Bill.

Nick de Bois accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 22 November and to be printed (Bill 116).