§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 12.35 p.m..
§ Mr. George Forrest (Mid-Ulster)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This Bill is designed to remove uncertainties about the effect in Great Britain of adoption orders made in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. These uncertainties arise in the following way. Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey have adoption laws similar in essentials to the Adoption Act, 1958. Thus, an adoption order made in any of these territories has much the same effect there as an adoption order made in England or Scotland has in Great Britain.
But, save for a few provisions that specifically equate an order made in Northern Ireland with one made in Great Britain, statutes in force in this country are silent on the question of whether adoption includes adoption in one of the other jurisdictions. The existence of specific references could be construed as meaning that, for some purposes in this country, orders made in Northern Ireland are not as effective as orders made here and that for no purpose is an order made in the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands to be equated with one made in Great Britain.
Such judicial decisions as have a bearing on the question suggest that the courts in this country are reluctant to recognise any adoption order made outside Great Britain. An example, perhaps the most important, of the uncertainty that this Bill seeks to remove is the effect of Section 13 of the Adoption Act, 1958. The Section provides:Upon an adoption order being made, all rights, duties, obligations and liabilities"—of the child's natural parents—in relation to the future custody, maintenance and education … shall be extinguished …and transferred to the adopters as if the child were born to them in lawful wedlock.
Here, "adoption order" means one granted in England or Scotland, but a child adopted in one of the other territories ought also to be treated in Great Britain as if he were the legitimate 809 child of the adopters. The Bill would ensure that an adoption order granted in one or the other territories would be fully recognised for all purposes by courts in Great Britain.
Subsections (1) and (2) of Clause 1 bring about the necessary modification in our Statutes by a general modification of enactments. Broadly speaking, subsection (1) provides that, for the purpose of deciding whether, in relation to any situation after the Bill becomes law, the child should be treated under any of our statutes as if he were the legitimate child of the adopters, an adoption order granted in one of the other territories is as good as an adoption order made here. For this purpose, it does not matter if the order was granted before the Bill becomes law.
The need for the two categories in paragraphs (a) and (b) is, as I have explained, that some enactments already apply to adoption in Northern Ireland as well as to those in England and Scotland but others apply only to adoptions in England or Scotland.
Questions of nationality and one or two other matters that are not caught by the general extension are dealt with separately later in the Bill. Thus, subsection (2) provides that, for certain enactments, adoption orders made in the other territories after the Bill becomes law shall have the same effect here as one of our own adoption orders.
For example, Section 14(2) of the 1958 Act, which provides that if a parent has taken out an insurance policy payable on the child's death the rights and liabilities under the policy are automatically transferred on adoption to the adopter, is applied to an adoption in one of the other territories. There are obvious practical difficulties in applying provisions of this kind to adoption orders made before the Bill comes into force.
Adoption in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland automatically confers on a child who lacks it citizenship of the United Kingdom and Colonies if the adopter—or the husband in a joint adoption by spouses—is a citizen of the United Kingdom and the Colonies at the time of the adoption.
Subsection (3) provides that adoption in the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands shall have the same effect—even if adop- 810 tion is before the Bill becomes law—but only with effect from the coming into force of the Bill.
The need for subsection (4), which avoids the disturbance of vested property rights, is best explained by giving an example. An illegitimate child is adopted by his mother, adopting alone. Later—perhaps years later—he is legitimated by the marriage of his parents. In the meantime, he may have inherited property by virtue of the adoption order; for an adoption order confers rights of inheritance. After the adopted person has been legitimated, the adoption order may be revoked, and it would probably be held that revocation of the order invalidated the adoption order for all purposes, so that the title to any property that might have been acquired by the adopted person before his legitimation by virtue of his status as a child of the adopter would be invalidated. The legitimation, on the other hand dates only from when it occurs. The subsection preserves the adopted person's entitlement to any property he has acquired by virtue of his adopted status before the order was revoked, just as Section 1(2) of the Adoption Act, 1960, already safeguards the position where the adoption was granted in the United Kingdom.
Subsection (5) deals with "provisional adoption orders" of the kind granted in England and Scotland under Section 53 of the Adoption Act, 1958. Orders of this kind may now be obtained in the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. A provisional adoption order may be granted to a person who is not domiciled in England or Scotland but who wishes to take a British child to his country of domicile for adoption there.
A provisional adoption order is granted subject, broadly, to the same conditions as a full adoption order, and it has the same general effect, save that it does not confer British citizenship or rights of inheritance in relation to the provisional adopters. Subsection (5) of this Clause provides, save as regards registration, that a provisional adoption order granted in one of the other territories shall be treated in Great Britain as if it were a provisional adoption order granted here.
In the main, Clauses 2 and 3 are consequential on the provision in Clause 1 for 811 the statutory recognition of adoption orders made in the other territories; but subsection (1) of Clause 2 fills a lacuna in the Adoption Act, 1958, by providing that certified extracts from the English adopted children register shall be received in evidence in Scotland, and vice versa. It also provides that extracts from the Northern Ireland register shall be received as evidence in Great Britain. Proof of extracts from the registers in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands can be dealt with under existing powers in the Evidence (Foreign, Dominion and Colonial Documents) Act, 1933, as amended by Section 5 of the Oaths and Evidence (Overseas Authorities and Countries) Acts, 1963.
I hope the purpose of the Bill will commend itself to hon. Members, and that the House will be ready to give it a Second Reading.
§ 12.44 p.m.
§ Lord Robert Grosvenor (Fermanagh and South Tyrone)
I wish to support my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest). The House will generally welcome any legislation that facilitates adoption in any form. The terms of the Bill are narrow and bring into line Great Britain, the Channel Islands the Isle of Man and Northern Ireland. Certain of our colleagues have contributed to adoption legislation—Baroness Horsbrugh, who is now in another place, and another great friend, Basil Nield, who used to be the Member for the City of Chester.
The rules for adoption generally tend to be a little stringent. When one considers the homes into which so many children are born, the trouble that the authorities take, though quite reasonable, tends to be a little on the strict side, prohibiting more children being adopted than might otherwise be adopted. Particularly in the case of illegitimate children, chances might be taken so that a child might be found a home rather than be left in a public home without the care and attention of a family. I welcome this piece of legislation, and I hope that the House will do so, too.
§ 12.46 p.m.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn (Clapham)
This Measure makes a good addition to our adoption laws, and we all welcome 812 modification and strengthening of the general adoption rules. This Bill extends the existing provisions, and deals with certain anomalies that have sprung up.
I would welcome a relaxation of our present adoption laws. One has to weigh very carefully the chances in regard to suitable homes, a subject beset with very real and great difficulties. The authorities look into most cases very carefully, but at times they may be more stringent than is really necessary. One has to weigh up the advantage of, perhaps, a home that is not exactly perfect compared with having no home at all. Parliament has to be extremely careful before it relaxes rules that are fairly reasonably interpreted.
Is it correct that Clause 1 comes into effect only after the Bill becomes law and cannot begin sooner than the commencement of the Bill? Or are we saying that it can come into effect now, as if the Bill really commenced on its First Reading? I should be very grateful if the slightly complex legal wording could be made clearer and simpler so that the public at large can understand it more easily.
Am I correct in thinking that the reference to evidence in Scotland means that the Registrar General for Scotland is obliged to make an entry in his register, or is that a voluntary act? What is meant by the reference to annotation of the register in Clause 3? I am sure that there is a perfectly sensible and reasonable meaning but, again, is that operation compulsory, or can the person responsible do it without being told? Thirdly, can the register be altered—as it were, backdated—to when the Bill started, or has any alteration to take place only after the Bill becomes law? These are very small points in a very important Bill.
These rules have a long history. It has sometimes been the history of adoption legislation in this Chamber, as introduced by private Members, that there has been considerable difficulty, but I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing forward what I am sure we all agree to be a completely non-controversial Bill. Although I have not yet heard the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), he looks as though in principle, as on the last Bill, 813 he will lend his support to the Bill. I must not prejudice the issue, but I know his feelings on these problems. I hope that we shall give an unopposed Second Reading to this very interesting and extremely useful piece of legislation.
The number of children who would have been affected in 1960 by the Bill is about 16,000. It is interesting that the increase in the number of adopted children took place during the war. This is a natural consequence of children being left without parents. This is illustrated by the fact that during the years 1941–46 and just after the war the numbers covered by the Bill would have been 58,000 to 66,000 as against 16,000 today. I refer to this only in passing, because it illustrates the point brought out by my noble Friend, that the authorities may have to look a little more carefully into the whole question of homes regarded as suitable or not suitable for adopted children.
When my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State intervenes, will she tell us how many of the applications for adoption result in adoption orders being made? She may not have the figures at the moment, but perhaps we might have them later, because they would be interesting not only in the context of the debate but in the context of adoption generally in this country. I have no hesitation whatever in welcoming the Bill in its wider application, and I hope that the House will give it an unopposed Second Reading.
§ 12.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
I am sure that the whole House wishes to join in congratulating the hon. Members for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest) and Fermanagh and South Tyrone (Lord Robert Grosvenor) on having used their good fortune in the Ballot to promote this very desirable Bill.
I think that I am right in saying that historically the conception of adoption came relatively late in English law. During the last generation or two Parliament has given considerable attention to the conception of adoption. The first Act was in the 1920's. Since then, experience has shown how valuable the process of adoption has been. It is designed to remove the hardships to children, not only to illegitimate children 814 but to those who are left fatherless or orphans or who are neglected by their parents. As a result of experience and gradual modifications in the law, additional benefits have been given to children in respect of whom adoption orders have been made.
The object of the legislation has been as far as possible to give adopted children the same security, the same benefits and the same legal position, as far as we can by Act of Parliament, as the vast majority of children who are brought up in the happy homes of their own parents. I am therefore sure that the whole House welcomes a Bill which is promoted to carry one stage further this very desirable process.
Something has been said about whether the existing requirements imposed before an adoption order are too stringent or should be relaxed. My own view is that it is important, in the interests of adopted children, to secure that very necessary inquiries are made and that safeguards are observed before an adoption order is made. In my experience the law on that subject is about right at present, but it is a subject which should be continually reviewed.
Looking at the Explanatory Memorandum, I see that the object of the Bill isto secure that an adoption order made in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man or the Channel Isles shall have effect in England or Scotland as if it had been made in Great Britain.That seems to be quite unexceptionable. I hope that we can regard adoption as part of the law of status. Surely it follows that in this country we wish to give recognition to an adoption order made in any other part of the United Kingdom.
I am not sure that I follow why we should necessarily stop there. I hope that the same principle would apply in respect of adoption orders made in other civilised countries. It may not be that there is much necessity, if any, to legislate on this subject, but if the question arose I hope that our laws would give the same kind of recognition to a child adopted in France or the Irish Free State, for example, as to a child adopted in the Isle of Man or the Channel Isles. Whether we do so or not I am not quite sure, and it does not arise directly on the Bill, but it 815 seems to me that the principle is right that where the laws of any other country, with whatever safeguards and protections they think are appropriate, make an adoption order, we should recognise it.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
Would it not mean that before we did this we should have to look rather more carefully into the the laws of adoption in the particular country and the circumstances in which adoptions were allowed? In the Bill we are dealing with substantially the same circumstances as adoption, whereas we might not be doing so in a foreign country.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. I am always somewhat modest on these occasions about the rules of order, but I think that this point is a little wide on this Bill.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am obliged. I will not pursue the point. I was saying that the principle embodied in the Bill was right and that where a country makes an adoption order we should regard it as part of the law of status. We should regard it in much the same kind of way as we do matrimonial jurisdiction. The laws of Scotland on divorce differ from the laws of England, but once a divorce has been granted in Scotland it is recognised in England.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
This is a very important differentiation. A divorce which takes place in a country such as Mexico certainly is not recognised here.
§ Mr. Fletcher
Yes, it is. A law in respect of parties domiciled anywhere in the world is recognised here.
§ Mr. Fletcher
The Bill, as I understand it, applies to children wherever they are domiciled, provided that the adoption order is made in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man, or the Channel Islands. I imagine this is the intention of the Bill. I suppose this is one of the subjects which should be considered in Committee. For example, if a child had to be adopted in Northern Ireland and he was of English domicile or Scottish domicile, I hope it would not 816 be the case that some issue could be raised as to whether the courts of Northern Ireland had jurisdiction to make the adoption order. I do not know off-hand—perhaps someone will be able to tell us—whether the jurisdiction of the courts in Northern Ireland to make an adoption order depends upon the domicile of the child, or the domicile of the adopter, or follows from the mere residence of the child in Northern Ireland. It might well be said that there should be some distinction between a child whose domicile is in Northern Ireland and a child whose domicile is in England. That could be argued.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills (Belfast, North)
The hon. Gentleman has put his finger on a point in broad terms which is not adequately covered by the Bill. Later I will quote an example to the House which is not covered.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I am obliged. This is a matter which is worth pursuing to ensure that we get the Bill right before it is enacted. If the law of divorce is any analogy, the courts of a country have jurisdiction to pronounce on the validity of a marriage, or to dissolve it, in the case of parties domiciled in the jurisdiction. The courts of Northern Ireland or the courts of Scotland could not divorce two persons who were domiciled in England. I am not clear at the moment in respect of what children the courts of the Isle of Man have power to make adoption orders. Is it limited to children resident in the Isle of Man, or children who were born there, or children who are domiciled there? Provided that the courts have proper jurisdiction, it would seem to be quite proper, as the Bill provides, that recognition should be given everywhere to such an adoption order.
I hope that at some stage of the Bill any doubt there may be about the jurisdiction of the places where adoption orders could be made will be cleared up. If there is an illegitimate child living in Northern Ireland whose mother is in England, the paternity of the child being unknown, it might be a matter of some doubt whether the courts of Northern Ireland have jurisdiction to make an adoption order. I would not like to find that, as a result of some legal doubt about particular cases, 817 doubt arose under the Bill as to whether that adoption order in Northern Ireland should be recognised in this country.
I have been able to make only a cursory examination of the contents of the Bill, although I listened very carefully to what the promoter said about it. Although there is no doubt whatever that hon. Members on both sides of the House cordially support the intentions of the Bill, there may well be some problems of detail which can be clarified during subsequent stages with a view to improving the Bill.
§ 1.5 p.m.
§ Captain L. P. S. Orr (Down, South)
The hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) has raised a very interesting question, which had not occurred to me, about the jurisdiction of the courts in Northern Ireland in relation to domicile. I hope that the matter will be cleared up as the Bill proceeds. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will tell us about it when she replies. The point obviously should be clarified. I should be in favour of having it clarified in the most liberal fashion. I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman that we want to be as flexible as possible and have equal standards throughout the whole United Kingdom.
I join in the congratulations which have been tendered to my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest) upon the lucid and able way in which he adduced the arguments for the Bill. It is a comparatively narrow but extremely important Bill which affects the future of many children. It is right that the House should give it a fair wind.
Almost every argument for the Bill has been used. I do not wish to labour the point. It is a very hopeful thing that nowadays, as the adoption societies will confirm, there are more families wishing to adopt children than there are children waiting for adoption. I am all in favour of facilitating this admirable trend. There is an argument to he made for some relaxation of the rules of adoption, but it does not come within the scope of the Bill, which deals with a comparatively narrow point.
The hon. Member for Islington, East pointed out that legislation on adoption 818 is comparatively recent. The first Measure was in 1926. I have always been puzzled as to why this has always been left to Private Members' Bills. Why have not Governments legislated on adoption? The Adoption Act was passed in 1958. This change is being made five years later. I should like to know why even this Bill had to be left to the caprice of the Ballot and a Private Member's Bill.
I welcome the Bill, and I am glad that it has been welcomed on both sides of the House. Perhaps my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary, in addition to replying to the question about domicile raised by the hon. Member for Islington, East, will tell us when the two Governments between them became aware of the need for this legislation and why it has been left for so long, and then to the caprice of the Ballot?
§ 1.9 p.m.
§ Mr. Straitton Mills (Belfast, North)
As has been pointed out, this is not one of the most shattering Bills to come before the House this Session. It has a comparatively narrow purpose, but that in no way detracts from its importance. I, too, congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest), and, as one of the cosignatories to the Bill, I can testify to the tremendous amount of hard work my hon. Friend has put in on it.
I welcome the Bill and the fact that it has an Explanatory Memorandum which makes it easier for hon. Members to understand its purpose. I regret that it is not always the practice to have Explanatory Memoranda in Private Members' Bills and I hope that more hon. Members will follow the example given by my hon. Friend in this Bill.
As my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Down, South (Captain Orr) said, it is curious that the four main pioneering Acts on this subject were all introduced by Private Members. Unlike him, I would make no complaint that this Bill has been introduced by a Private Member, because it is obviously the kind of Measure which Private Members should endeavour to introduce. However, the earlier Acts were of a very major nature, setting down the guide lines following the scandalous state of affairs at the time of the Great War, when the whole system of adoption 819 was entirely informal. It was following the Great War that this House took an interest in the subject and legislation eventually took place in the 1920s and 1930s.
I am not altogether certain that I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) that adoption should be even more informal than it is today. I agree more with the approach of the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher), who said that this was a matter of some balance between what is best for the parties adopting the child and what is best for the child itself.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
I think that my hon. Friend has missed the point I was making. We do not say that it should be more informal; merely that constant review should be made into present circumstances under which it is considered right that adoption should take place.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Perhaps I was being unfair in using the word "informal", but that does not invalidate the point I was making; that this is a matter of very fine balance. From my experience as a solicitor of the question of adoption I can assure the House that the present balance is about right. The adoption societies and local authorities trying to place a child take great pains to see that they are putting the child into a suitable family. These organisations then pay extensive visits throughout the probationary period to ensure that the child is getting every chance and is being thoroughly cared for. It would not be right to say that they are too careful and I believe that Parliament has got this balance about right.
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
I agree with my hon. Friend that this balance must be preserved but, as the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher) indicated, we should continue to keep this balance under review so that the whole process is kept up to date. I am merely pointing out that the subject should be kept constantly under review.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
All Governments keep all subjects constantly under review. In any case, I hope that my hon. Friend's remarks apply merely to detail 820 and not to the essential balance which now exists. I hope that he is thinking solely of detail.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
I am not altogether clear, from the wording of Clause 1, whether this legislation will cover orders made before the Measure comes into force. I understand the intention of my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster, but the extent to which it will cover such orders should be carefully looked into in Committee to see if a better formula might not be found. I hope that my hon. Friend the Joint Under-Secretary will give her interpretation of the Clause on this point when she speaks later.
I hope that the next point I intend to mention—and this was touched on by the hon. Member for Islington, East—will be carefully considered in Committee because it does not appear to be covered by the Bill. I have recently come across an example which might be of interest to hon. Members because it is the sort of complication which exists, as Northern Ireland is viewed for domicile and residence as an entirely separate area from other parts of the United Kingdom. This can give rise to great problems.
I came across the example of a soldier who was domiciled in England but who was residing temporarily—how temporarily one could not say because these things are always uncertain with Army personnel—in Northern Ireland. Just before he came to Northern Ireland he and his wife had been given a child for adoption by a local authority. The child, of course, was domiciled in England. This soldier had to leave England right away, immediately after having been given the child, and come to Northern Ireland. The question of where the adoption proceedings should be taken then arose. It was felt, upon looking into the matter carefully, that as the child and the adopters were actually domiciled in England but were both resident in Northern Ireland, the proceedings could not be brought in the Northern Ireland courts. Since they were resident outside England it was agreed that there would be practical difficulties in bringing the proceedings in the English courts.
821 This is the sort of difficulty the hon. Member for Islington, East had in mind. There are others, and I hope that the Home Office will look at this matter extremely carefully before the Bill is considered in Committee. If the long title is sufficiently wide, perhaps the Home Office could help my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster to cover these cases in the Bill, for the law on this is not at present entirely satisfactory. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster for sponsoring this legislation and I hope that the House will give the Bill its Second Reading.
§ 1.17 p.m.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Miss Mervyn Pike)
It might be helpful to hon. Members if at this stage I gave some indication of the attitude of the Government towards the Bill. As has been obvious from the speeches, all hon. Members welcome the Measure and wish it well. We recognise that some points will need to be cleared up in Committee and possibly we shall be able to discuss them at greater length at that stage.
Legal adoption in Britain has a comparatively short history. In England, the first Act regulating the conditions under which adoption orders may be made by the courts and the consequences that follow from the making of an order was passed in 1926. A similar law applying to Scotland was enacted in 1930. For many years before this, of course, de facto adoptions had taken place to a considerable extent; but I need not expand on the defects and dangers in haphazard arrangements of that kind.
As often as not the interests of the de facto adopters took precedence over the interests of the children, who were taken into a family on this informal basis. Apart from the unsuitability of a good many arrangements, there was always the risk that a child would be claimed by his natural parents or other relatives or guardians and the child had no legal standing in relation to its de facto adopters. Unless they specifically provided for the child it had no right to succeed to their property.
The 1926 Act in England, and the 1930 Act in Scotland, largely put an 822 end to that unsatisfactory state of affairs. Subsequent legislation, applying since 1939 to both England and Scotland and culminating in the Adoption Act, 1958, has made further improvements to bring us to a position where I think we can fairly claim that a child adopted here and his adopter are protected by the best safeguards that we can reasonably devise. This goes some way towards answering the point made by the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. Fletcher)—who has unfortunately had to leave the Chamber—when he spoke about the rights of children from other countries. We can fairly say that our safeguards are, possibly, the best that can be devised.
I should like to turn to the position concerning adoption orders made in other territories with which the Bill is concerned. Similar advances have been made in the Isle of Man, where an adoption law based on the English Act of 1926 was passed as long ago as 1928. A similar Act was passed in Northern Ireland in 1929. Jersey followed suit in 1947 and Guernsey in 1960, although, of course, their law was based on later legislation in Great Britain. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, the situation is that in each of these territories a law is in force which is similar in essentials to the Adoption Act, 1958.
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Can my hon. Friend say why there are no adoption laws in either Alderney or Sark and whether there is any prospect of this kind of legislation being introduced?
§ Miss Pike
I should not wish to give an answer off the cuff, because there are many reasons why legislation in other places does not immediately fall into line with ours. I will, however, let my hon. Friend have a full answer in due course.
The existing position concerning a child adopted in the Isle of Man, in Scotland and in Great Britain is that his adopters would have to satisfy similar conditions as to suitability. There would be no doubt, for example, that in the Isle of Man all rights, duties, obligations and liabilities of the child's natural parents in relation to his future custody, maintenance and education were extinguished by the adoption order and those rights, duties, etc., transferred to the adopters. In short, laws in force 823 in Great Britain, Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands leave no doubt as to the respective positions of the adopter and the adopted person within each of the separate jurisdictions.
What there is doubt about—and this is the doubt that the Bill seeks to remove—is whether a person adopted in Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man enjoys the same position under the law in England or Scotland as a person who has been adopted in Great Britain. My hon. Friend and other hon. Members have given examples of the kind of doubts that can arise. Perhaps it would help if I gave another example.
The Matrimonial Proceedings (Magistrates' Courts) Act, 1960, enables a magistrates court to make orders providing, among other matters, for any child of the family who is under the age of 16. Here, "child of the family" includes an adopted child and "adopted" is defined as meaning adopted in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland. It is, consequently, doubtful, to say the least, whether a court may provide for a child who is adopted in, say, the Isle of Man.
I agree with my hon. Friend that the specific inclusion in some Statutes of references to adoption in Northern Ireland tends to lead to the conclusion that when there is no such reference, a statute does not apply to adoptions in that territory. As far as I know, no enactment in force here refers specifically to adoptions in the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands. There is, of course, a continual movement of people between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. For example, there is nothing unusual in persons who have adopted a child in, say, the Isle of Man removing with their family to England.
We must accept that at some time or other the question is bound to arise of the adopted person or his adopter being entitled to some benefit under the law here or being subject to certain liability. Sometimes there would be an awkward question of the child's right to succeed to property. It is always possible that the adopter may die domiciled here, leaving no will or one that 824 provides for his children but makes no specific reference to the adopted child. As matters stand, it is uncertain whether —again, to use the Isle of Man as an example—a child adopted there would be able to share in the estate or to be provided for as if he were a legitimate child of the adopter.
Perhaps I can give the House an idea of the extent of the problem with which the Bill seeks to deal—
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
Is is correct to say that if Alderney and Sark, where at present no adoption machinery exists, were subsequently to pass such legislation, the Bill would apply to them and legislation which is introduced there can be made effective under the Bill?
§ Miss Pike
On the whole, we have been talking about Northern Ireland because the interests of Northern Ireland Members are paramount; it is a Northern Ireland Member who has introduced the Bill, the purpose of which is to regularise the position over the whole field.
I should like to give an idea of the extent of the problem with which the Bill seeks to deal by quoting the number of adoption orders made in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. Last year, a total of 423 orders was made in those territories. Admittedly, this is a comparatively small number compared with the numbers made in this country.
At present, adoption orders are made in England at the rate of about 16,000 a year and in Scotland at about 1,600 a year. But adoption in the other territories is on a not inconsiderable scale. In any event, I am sure that as we have seen today, the House accepts that it is right to put an end to the uncertainties which my hon. Friend has described.
I should like, therefore, to make it clear that the Government take the view that the Bill would make a most useful reform in the existing law. Before concluding, however, I should like to deal with some of the more specific problems which hon. Members have raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid-Ulster (Mr. Forrest), who spoke first, asked whether adoption orders made in this country were too strict. We do not think so. This is a serious problem and one 825 in which tremendous care must be taken. In any event, as my hon. Friend recognised, the Bill does not touch that question. It merely tries to regularise the whole situation.
My hon. Friend the Member for Clapham (Dr. Alan Glyn) asked a series of questions. Statistics of the numbers of adoption applications which fail are not available. The Home Office hopes to put in train a statistical inquiry that will throw light on this question. When we have information that would be useful to my hon. Friend, I will ensure that he gets it.
Another point which concerned the House and which was raised by the hon. Member for Islington, East and other hon. Members is the question of domicile. This is something that we shall discuss more fully in Committee. But the jurisdiction of the court to make an adoption order in Northern Ireland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands, as in this country, depends upon the domicile of the adopters, who must be domiciled in the territory of the court, and upon the residence of the child, who must be resident within the territory of the court. Residence means only a comparatively short stay. There would not, therefore, be any particular difficulty in this respect.
Several hon. Members have had difficulty with parts of Clause 1—
§ Mr. Stratton Mills
Before dealing with something new, I do not think that what my hon. Friend has said meets the last point. The problem arises that someone who is domiciled in England, who comes to Northern Ireland and who is resident there temporarily is unable to adopt a child in Northern Ireland, and vice versa. Perhaps this wider point might be considered.
§ Miss Pike
These are matters which will be considered in Committee, because to a great extent they flow from the original enactments.
I should like to say a word about when Clause 1 will begin to apply. Subsection (1) applies only to Acts already passed and only as regards things done or events occurring after the Bill becomes law, but it applies to adoption orders made before as well as after the Bill becomes law. The need for the two categories in paragraph (a) and (b) is that some enactments already apply to adoptions in 826 Northern Ireland as well as to those in England and Scotland—for example, Section 63(4) of the Superannuation Act, 1949—but others apply only to adoptions in England and Scotland. For example, there is Section 21(4) of the Family Allowances Act, 1945. All the enactments are extended to the rest of the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. There are other matters which I am sure are of interest to the House and which have been touched on by hon. Members in the course of the debate—
§ Captain Orr
Could my hon. Friend expand a little on the reason why it is not possible to be retrospective in Clause 1 and go back to validate an order made from the time of the Adoption Act, 1958?
§ Dr. Alan Glyn
I understood my hon. Friend to Say that the provisions in Clause 1 were designed to overcome certain legal difficulties. An assurance on this point would be of interest, because the Clause is a rather complicated one for the ordinary person to read.
§ Miss Pike
Yes, the Clause is designed to overcome certain legal difficulties which have been discovered in the working of the Act. This brings me to the point made in the debate about there having been a delay. These matters have come to light with the working of the Act. They do not normally come to light until children reach a later age, and it is not that long since we passed the 1958 Act. Something has also been said about his matter being left to a private Member, but I would say that this is the sort of subject that generally commends itself to private Members and it is a very useful field in which private Members can concern themselves with legislation.
I should like to say something about citizenship, a subject which has been already touched upon in the debate. Clause 1(3) extends Section 19 of the Adoption Act, 1958, which relates to the nationality of an adopted child, to 827 adoptions in the Channel Islands or the Isle of Man. It already applies to adoptions within the United Kingdom. Section 19 of the Act provides that where a child who is not a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies is adopted by a person who is, or by a married couple of whom the husband is, a citizen of the United Kingdom and Colonies, the child acquires that citizenship. The subsection will apply to adoption orders made after the Bill becomes law. It will also apply to adoption orders made before the Bill becomes law, but only with effect from the coming into force of the Bill.
As for legitimacy, which is dealt with in Clause 1(4), Section 26(1) of the Adoption Act 1958, Section 1(1) of the Adoption Act, 1960, provide that where a person adopted by his father and or mother is subsequently legitimated by the marriage of his parents, the adoption order may be revoked on application to the courts that made it. There are similar provisions in the law of the other jurisdictions of the British Islands. Subsection (4) avoids the disturbance of vested property rights where an adopted person has inherited property by virtue of the adoption order before he has been legitimated and the order revoked. But for this subsection, the courts would probably hold that the revocation of the adoption order invalidated the adoption for all purposes, so that the title to any property that might have been acquired by the adopted person before his legitimation by virtue of his status as a child of the adopter would be invalidated.
A similar provision in Section 1(2) of the Adoption Act, 1960, safeguards the 828 position where the adoption order was granted in Great Britain. This subsection will prevent the Clause from affecting a distribution made, under English or Scottish law, before the revocation of an order upon the legitimation of the adopted person in one of the other parts of the British Isles.
Section 53(5) of the Adoption Act, 1958, enables a court in England or Scotland to grant what is known as a provisional adoption order "to a person who is not domiciled in either country, and so is not eligible for a full adoption order, but who wishes to remove the child from Great Britain for adoption in the country in which he is domiciled. The order authorises the removal and gives the adopter custody of the child in the meantime. A provisional adoption order does not confer citizenship or rights of inheritance, but otherwise has the same effect in England or Scotland as a full adoption order. There are corresponding provisions in Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man but not, so far, in Northern Ireland.
I am sure that the House will not wish me to go further into the Bill at this stage. I hope that I have said enough to convince hon. Members of the usefulness of the Measure and to underline the hope that in its passage through Committee it may be improved, that it may have a speedy passage through all stages and may play the useful part which we all hope for it.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).