WhodoyouthinkyouarelogoIt is so satisfying when the Parliamentary process works well.  Last week it did for me, and more importantly for a group of people to whom the Children and Families Bill is now to extend new rights.

A few months ago, as a member of a select committee looking at how adoption legislation is operating, the chair and I were contacted about an anomaly in the law.  Adoption has become a much more open process over the years, and in 2002 most relative were given information rights (through an agency which both counsels and assists) – but not the descendants of people adopted before 1975.  This is not just a technicality.  The lady who has campaigned for a change to the law, including with an unsuccessful court case, discovered after her father’s death that he had been adopted, and things began to fall into place about his moods and his reticence as regards his parents and wider family.  The mix of her emotions included a real need to know more.

“Who do you think you are?” is an aptly-named programme.  As well as the importance for health reasons (the part genetics plays), most of us want, and need, to understand where we come from: our very identity.

I asked Parliamentary questions and raised the issue in debate.  At the same time a Conservative MP was pursuing the issue (a constituent was trying to find information relevant to a medical condition).  The responses were: too complicated, too sensitive, too many people affected (alongside: we don’t know how many people are affected); the Law Commission should investigate.  And when I moved an amendment at the committee stage of the Bill, this was pretty much the answer, despite my having written beforehand saying that I would ask what the sensitivities and complications were, and with a careful explanation of the issue.  In frustration I asked to meet the Minister.

We had the meeting: I took along the senior and influential peer who had chaired the select committee, an extremely expert social worker, the solicitor who had acted for the campaigner, and … the Law Commissioner who deals with family law and who wanted to tell the government they should just get on with correcting the law.  After listening very carefully, following it through with the aid of a diagram and making notes, the Minister, Lord Nash (a Conservative) said “So that’s what it’s all about”. He deserves a lot of credit for insisting on getting to the bottom of the issue, and not just repeating the answers his officials gave him.

And the upshot, last week, after consultation with me on the precise wording, was an amendment proposed by the Government to change the law.

Job done.

* Sally Hamwee is a Liberal Democrat member of the House of Lords, and the Co-Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party Committee on Home Affairs, Justice and Equalities.

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  • Eddie Sammon 17th Dec '13 - 2:24pm

    Good work, making more information available and helping people mentally and physically.

  • It is so satisfying when the Parliamentary process works well.

    I get the impression that Sally is also telling us that her example is an exception to the rule and that usually the Parliamentary process does not work well.

    But then we should not be surprised as she sits in the House of Lords along with around 800 other unelected people, described by The Mirror as follows –
    They are all eligible for a £300 attendance rate.

    The House of Lords costs taxpayers more than £100million per year.

    More than £2million of public money goes on subsiding peers’ restaurants and bars alone.

    Annual accounts for 2012-13 show the Lords cost a total of £101,896,000. This covers Members’ expenses and allowances, staff salaries, pension and admin costs, as well as security for the House.

    More than one fifth, roughly £21million, is paid out to cover the expenses for the 760 Lords, bishops and baronesses.

    They can also dine in their fancy restaurants on a subsidised rate, costing the taxpayer £2,361,437 per year, or £63,823 for each of the 37 weeks the Lords were sitting.

    Each of the House of Lords’ 760 peers benefits from an £84 discount on their food every week so they can eat foie gras and steak on the cheap.

    That is on top of the £300-a-day “subsistence” allowance to cover food and accommodation for each day they attend.

    Read more –

  • Paul Pettinger 18th Dec '13 - 1:39pm

    I wrote to Sarah Teather before the Children and Families Bill was tabled to ask if she would seek to amend the law so that adoptees could be given a mechanism to regain their legal connection to their natural family, but she sadly declined – adoptees are legally severed from their natural family and often commodified, often without their consent. Giving more people the right to know personal information is a very welcome step, but in a civilised society is a small one.

  • nvelope2003 21st Dec '13 - 4:12pm

    Why not just abolish the House of Lords as its composition is so controversial and beef up the Commons Committee system to scrutinise legislation. If Scotland votes to stay in the UK there might be a case for a very small Federal Chamber of about 50 members to deal with UK issues not covered by whatever Devo Max produces. The raison d’etre for the Lords ceased when people decided that the wealthy landowners etc should not have a House of Parliament all of their own with powers of veto and since then it has just been an expensive and embarassing anachronism with endless attempts to reform it failing because no one can think of a reason for its continued existence. If there was a reason then its composition would be obvious.

    If we feel we must retain an Upper Chamber then election of the members is not the answer and we should simply allow those who are peers to sit there and debate matters as they think fit but without any attendance allowances or subsidised meals or drinks but possibly re imbursement of legitimate travel expenses upon proof of purchase or receipts, subject of course to a reasonable maximum amount. Their powers should be confined to suggesting amendments or improvements to legislation. Possibly a very few peers who chair committees could be paid a salary subject to clear and demonstrable evidence that they actually attended and did a normal working day.

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