Letter from Dr. Michael Lambert

6th March 2023

Thank you for sending me a copy of your response to the government’s own response to the JCHR findings and recommendations.

My immediate assessment is that your statement in the response is correct and has been completely dismissed by the government: ‘Both we and our children have been shown to have been the victims of a terrible injustice, at the hands of the state‘. Whilst I do not feel in a position to comment with confidence about the extent of proposed support measures offered in response to the other recommendations of the report, I do feel in a position to see the lack of an apology as an abnegation of responsibility.

I find the government’s claims that ‘the state did not actively support these practices’ ahistorical, unfounded, and against a significant weight of academic opinion. Instead, they blame limited oversight of activities by local authorities and voluntary organisations corrected by the 1976 Act. This is untrue.

1. Although the 1949 and 1976 Acts bookend the inquiry, the 1943 Ministry of Health circular 2866 is the key document. It placed upon local authorities a duty to provide a certain range of ‘services’ for unmarried mothers and their children as part of wartime efforts to maximise participation in the workforce. In 1943 policy preference was still for mother and child to be kept together despite the growing influence of the adoption lobby as Jenny Keating has written about. This was not out of a sense of justice but because it was felt that mothers should carry their shame with them. Between 1943 and 1949 this changed with closed forced adoption becoming the norm. Guidance given in the circular was becoming detached from local practice and funding with local authority services and voluntary organisations, notably moral welfare associations. The 1949 amended this element, yet most local authority funding for adoptions – both to homes and for individual mothers – was undertaken under circular 2866. The circular gave local authorities funding for this purpose, covering portions of fixed (home) and variable (cases) costs, although there was discretion between them. In short, central government not only actively supported, but determined and shaped forced adoption practices.

2. There is an extensive body of academic literature on the nature of relationships between statutory and voluntary organisations. This was not a fixed and certain relationship but a fluid one with varied over time and place. For instance, in the case of child migration this was undertaken by voluntary agencies although many of the agreements over numbers and diplomacy over the ‘fitness’ of children was negotiated by central government. There were no specialised children’s services until 1948 and this vacuum was filled by the NSPCC, who were given extensive legal powers and financial backing by both central and local government. To say in either case they were not supported by the state is untrue. This also extends to forced adoption. Central government created the framework upon which local practice rested. Central government developed these policies with senior figures in religious voluntary organisations, gave money to local authorities to develop ‘services’ for unmarried mothers in adoption as mentioned above, meaning that moral welfare services were a de facto arm of the state in much the same way. The precedents in historical practice, along with adoption in the case of child migration which is comparable in seeing the role of the state, mean that the government’s claims made in their response cannot be upheld.

The whole policy apparatus and political edifice of forced adoption was the making of the state. This means both central government, its departments (primarily the Home Office, Ministries of Health and Education), intermediaries (regional officials), and local authority officials (medical officers of health who ran local authority public health departments and children’s officers who were the equivalent for local authority children’s departments). By extension, the agents in this apparatus were often the voluntary organisations who relied financially and politically on support from the government in order to undertake forced adoption. After all, where did all the money and ‘referrals’ come from?

I will be writing to the JCHR and Department for Education in due course laying out my above concerns using key sources. These are primarily their own departmental papers which show their centrality and implicate the state and its support in forced adoption.

Please do not hesitate to contact me further and you have my support in seeking redress for this evident historical injustice.
Best wishes,

Dr Michael Lambert | Research Fellow
Director of Widening Participation
Co-I: Mapping Underdoctored Areas

Lancaster Medical School | Lancaster University
Health Innovation One, Sir John Fisher Drive, Lancaster University, Lancaster, LA1 4AT