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House of Lords Hansard
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18 January 2001
Volume 620

3.24 p.m.

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asked Her Majesty's Government:

What action they are taking to implement Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in view of the involvement of Britons in child trafficking by Internet.

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My Lords, the rights enshrined in Article 7 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child have long been recognised in the law of England and Wales. Clearly the details of the case currently being reported in the media are of great concern to the Government and to the general public. It is deplorable to see children apparently bought and sold for adoption over the Internet. It is already an offence to buy children in the United Kingdom for adoption or to make transactions to pay for children in this country. It is also an offence to advertise children for adoption in the UK unless this is done by an approved adoption agency or by a local authority. The Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 will be brought into force later this year. This will make it an offence to bring children into the UK for adoption unless the requirements to be laid down in regulations are met.

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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his excellent and timely reply. Is he aware that, under the name of "international adoption", child trafficking, sexual exploitation, child slavery and the sale of children for 50,000 dollars for involuntary organ donation, and such like, are on the rise and are wholly unacceptable to everyone everywhere, other than paedophiles and pornographers? Therefore, does the Minister agree that not only review of our own legislation is appropriate but also that hard, tough pressure should be placed on other nations, such as the USA, and on the organised crime rings coming out of eastern and central Europe—Russia and the Gulf? In other words, should not the countries that are the buyers and the sellers also benefit from our wisdom, our advice and our very strong and powerful statements globally?

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My Lords, I thoroughly agree with the noble Baroness that the practices to which she referred are absolutely abhorrent. Indeed, it is essential that we should do everything that we can to ensure that they do not happen. I believe that the Hague convention on the protection of children and co-operation in respect of inter-country adoption will enable, internationally, many of these practices to be put aside and stopped.

As a result of the convention, home countries must ensure that a child has been freely given up for adoption and that this has not been induced by payment or compensation of any kind. I should add that an adoption can take place only if the adopters have been approved as suitable to become adopters in the receiving state. This country will ratify the convention on 1st January 2002. Other countries are ratifying the convention. I am sure that that is the best way forward.

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My Lords, we have been pressing for an adoption law in this country for many years but the Government have constantly prevaricated. The Minister said that the adoption Act 1999 will be brought into force "later this year". However, in the other place yesterday the Prime Minister said:

"We are committed to making adoption easier … We shall press ahead, and intend to introduce legislation on it in this Session".—[Official Report, Commons, 17/1101; col. 336.]
Therefore, as it is to be introduced this Session, can we see the programme? Further, can the Minister tell us when it will be coming to this House?

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My Lords, I can tell the noble Baroness that we shall introduce the adoption legislation as soon as possible. I must point out to the noble Baroness that this Government have shown enormous commitment in looking at how we can improve current adoption procedures. The intention is to align the adoption Act with the Children Act: it is to make the needs of children paramount when making decisions about their future; and it is to provide adopted people with much more consistent access to information and services. We are very committed to bringing it to this House.

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My Lords, I join the Minister and my noble friend Lady Nicholson in deploring these practices. Perhaps I may remind the Minister that the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act was a Private Member's Bill sponsored by my honourable friend Mr Oaten in the other place. Clearly we have a great interest in seeing such regulations brought forward at a very early stage. In the light of tills recent case, can the Minister say whether he has considered bringing forward those regulations at the earliest possible date?

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My Lords, I am happy to be able to tell the noble Lord that we are reviewing the timetable for the regulations in the light of the disturbing case that has recently arisen. I cannot give him a definite date in that respect, but we are clearly committed to ensuring that the regulations are available as soon as possible.

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My Lords, am I not right that under Article 1 of the convention the child is defined as a human being under the age of 18? As a result of the Sexual Offences (Amendment) Act of last year, have not men of mature years, other than men in positions of authority, been given the legal right to commit buggery on children? Is that not a truly extraordinary state of affairs?

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My Lords, I do not have Article 1 before me. However, that question is certainly wide of the original Question. As I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, the Government consider that Article 7 is the relevant article. It is concerned with the registration of a child immediately after birth; the right for him or her to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents. I reject completely the issue raised by the noble Lord.