HC Deb 20 May 2002 vol 386 cc68-81
Jacqui Smith

I beg to move amendment No. 280, in page 71, line 14, after "transitional" insert "and transitory".

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord)

With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 295 to 297, 274 to 276, 264, 265, 284, 285, 269, 289, 300, 248, 257,249, 258, 229, 238 and 242.

Jacqui Smith

We move on to a significant group of amendments, which includes several minor and consequential amendments. Many of them are technical, and some are consequential on amendments that have already been debated. However, this group does include some important provisions in respect of early implementation of certain key areas of the Bill. It is the amendments associated with early implementation on which I would like to concentrate.

On amendments Nos. 280 and 284 to 289, in Special Standing Committee, hon. Members debated the Government's plans for implementing the important provisions in the Bill. It is clear that we must await the conclusion of Parliament's deliberations on those provisions, and Royal Assent, before firm commitments about implementation can be made. However, I was able to give the Committee some idea of our intentions for implementing the provisions, and I am pleased to return to the matter today.

As I made clear in Committee, we expect to bring the Bill's main provisions into force in 2004, but we believe that there is a case for taking earlier action on some of them. In Committee, I proposed to introduce on Report any amendments that may be needed to bring the provisions into force before 2004. The amendments before us deliver on that commitment by enabling the Bill's priority changes to the adoption service to be implemented in advance of the Bill as a whole. Amendment No. 280 amends clause 126(2), which provides for schedule 4 to have effect. It changes the title of schedule 4 from "Transitional provisions and savings" to "Transitional and transitory provisions and savings". As hon. Members will doubtless be aware, it is necessary to reflect the provisions in schedule 4—which amend the Adoption Act 1976 and the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978—to allow for early implementation. The provision will be in place for a short time, until the Bill as a whole is fully implemented.

In Committee, I announced the Government's intention to introduce improved adoption support for new adoptive families from April 2003. Better adoption services will be a key means of ensuring the stability of adoptive placements, and of encouraging more families to come forward to adopt. To underpin the arrangements for improved adoption support for adoptive families and prospective adoptive families, which we will put in place from April 2003, amendment No. 286 therefore inserts a new paragraph 2A into schedule 4. In other words, we are inserting into the 1976 legislation the provisions that are necessary to put in place early implementation of the key provisions, which I outlined in Committee, before we begin implementing the Bill's other provisions. They enable regulations to be made setting out the arrangements that local authorities must make for the provision of adoption support services to prescribed persons as part of the adoption service that they currently maintain under section 1(1) of the Adoption Act 1976.

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It is our intention to use those powers to place an explicit duty on local authorities to make arrangements to provide adoption support services to adoptive families and prospective adoptive families. From April 2003, adoption support services will be made available to adopted children, children who are to be adopted, adoptive parents, prospective adoptive parents, adoptive siblings and prospective adoptive siblings, regardless of the local authority area in which they live. As we set out in our adoption White Paper, that is important to ensure the success of adoptive placements and to encourage more people to come forward.

Sub-paragraph (2) of new paragraph 2A provides that the regulations may also require a local authority to carry out an assessment, on request, of the needs of a prescribed person for adoption support services. We will use those powers to require local authorities to assess the needs, on request, of adoptive families and prospective adoptive families for adoption support services as part of this early implementation package. Following such an assessment of needs, regulations will require the local authority to decide whether to provide adoption support services to an individual.

In many cases, when a local authority goes on to provide adoption support services to an adoptive family following an assessment, it will be appropriate for it to draw up a plan to co-ordinate the provision of those services. Regulations will therefore be used to make it clear when a plan is required. It is also our intention to make regulations under new paragraph 2A setting out requirements for the process of assessing needs and for the provision of adoption support services following an assessment. Those regulations will be similar to those which will be made under subsections (6) and (7) of clause 4 on full implementation of the Bill.

We are also keen to make early progress on the independent review mechanism, which will be a key means of improving prospective adopters' confidence in the system of adopter assessment and approval and of encouraging more people to come forward to adopt. New paragraph 2B of schedule 4, as inserted by amendment No. 286, amplifies the general regulation-making power in section 9 of the Adoption Act 1976. The new provision is modelled on clause 12 of the Bill and will enable regulations to be made providing for the operation of the independent review mechanism in advance of implementation of the Bill as a whole. As I have made clear, it is intended that the determinations that the independent review mechanism will review during the initial period will be determinations made by adoption agencies about the suitability of prospective adopters.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight)

The Minister mentioned new paragraph 2A in amendment No. 286. One of the difficulties with which prospective adopters and siblings often have to deal is that of movement from one local authority to another. The local authorities do not always act in a joined-up manner when dealing with cases in which some of the people involved live in one local authority and some in another. What regulations can the Minister introduce to ensure that local authorities act together in such cases?

Jacqui Smith

I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concerns, and he may be aware that we had considerable discussions in the Special Standing Committee about the process that will be necessary to ensure that the requirement on local authorities to provide adoption support services does not leave a gap between them. The Government have undertaken to work with local government to introduce the necessary regulations to ensure that no gap exists. There will be a clear point at which responsibility for the provision of support to prospective adopters from one local authority ends and at which it begins for another local authority.

We considered whether it was possible to provide an easy cut-off point. For example, the local authority in whose area the child lived might be responsible for adoption support up to the point at which the adoption happened and the local authority in whose area the child went to live would be responsible after that. I am not sure that it is possible to make such a clear distinction. For example, a child might be receiving an intensive package of support—perhaps because of a disability or special educational needs—and it might be necessary for the original local authority to continue to provide that package after adoption. We are aware of the issues and we will ensure that they are covered in the regulations. Given the Government's intention to ensure that adoption support provides support for families and children and adds stability to placements, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that people do not fall into the gaps in provision of support. I recognise that that sometimes happens now.

Regulations will be used to require adoption agencies to offer prospective adopters an independent review of their case where the agency has indicated that it is minded to turn down their application to adopt. It is intended that an independent body will convene a review panel to re-examine the evidence and make a fresh recommendation to the adoption agency. The agency will then be required to consider both its original determination and the determination of the review panel before making its final decision.

I will now turn to inter-country adoption. We believe that there are strong reasons for giving early effect to the restrictions on bringing children into the United Kingdom. We ordered an urgent review of the law in that area in January 2001 and believe that it would not be right to wait until 2004 to bring the new measures into force. Amendment No. 287 therefore inserts a new paragraph 7A into schedule 4 to the Bill. This paragraph inserts a new section 56A into the Adoption Act 1976, which reflects clause 81 of the Bill, which we discussed earlier today. This will enable the more extensive restrictions on bringing children into the United Kingdom included in clause 81 to be brought into force before the Bill is fully implemented.

As hon. Members will remember from a few hours ago, under new section 56A, it will be a criminal offence for a British resident to bring a child into the UK for the purposes of adoption unless they comply with prescribed requirements. It is intended that the requirements prescribed in the regulations will, as under the current system, make it a requirement that prospective adopters apply to a local authority or a voluntary adoption agency to be assessed and approved under procedures similar to those followed in domestic adoptions, and then to have a certificate of eligibility issued by the Secretary of State.

Like clause 81, new section 56A also extends the restrictions to include British residents bringing into the UK a child whom they have adopted outside the British Isles within the preceding six months.

Mr. Walter

The Minister will recall that in the Special Standing Committee we had much discussion on this provision with regard to the differing domestic legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Can she assure the House that the regulations will apply equally to all parts of the United Kingdom?

Jacqui Smith

This issue was the subject of some of the amendments that we considered on Thursday. In the Special Standing Committee, we also discussed the fact that Scotland is undertaking a adoption law review and will want to introduce legislation on that subject. The need for the safeguards to be common throughout the country, and for orders made in one part of the UK to be recognised in other parts, will be covered in the necessary secondary legislation.

I was talking about inter-country adoption. The early implementation of the provisions involved is intended to catch individuals who, to avoid committing an offence in the context of the six-months limit, take a short leave of absence to live outside the British Isles and adopt according to the procedures of the country in which they are living.

Like the other provisions relating to inter-country adoption, new section 56A will increase the penalties for those found guilty of breaching the restrictions on bringing a child into the country, or causing a child to be brought in. We discussed that issue earlier.

We believe that the new restrictions applying to electronic advertising are important, and should not be delayed until 2004. Amendment No. 287 inserts into schedule 4 new paragraphs 7B and 7C, which tighten restrictions on advertising in the current legal frameworks for adoption in England, Wales and Scotland. New paragraph 7B makes it clear that the restrictions on advertising in section 58 of the 1976 Act also apply to advertisements on the internet; and it provides an increased penalty on conviction of an offence under that section. The maximum penalty will be three months in prison or a fine of £5,000, or both. New paragraph 7C amends section 52 of the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978 to make equivalent provision for Scotland.

Mr. Bellingham

The Minister mentioned electronic advertising. Obviously we were all concerned about the infamous Kilshaw case, in which people used the internet to obtain information from the United States. The whole sorry saga caused those interested in the subject of adoption considerable grief. What measures can be taken to prevent such people from gaining access to information from abroad? Can these restrictions do it, or are they concerned only with electronic advertising in the British Isles?

Jacqui Smith

As we have established, there are limitations on the extent to which it is possible to restrict information on the internet that is provided by an internet service provider in this country but comes directly from overseas. The Bill, however, makes significant advances in terms of restriction of advertising through the internet.

When that is not possible, work can be done through international co-operation and the development of codes of conduct. That should help us to ensure that cases such as that cited by the hon. Gentleman do not occur again.

Amendment No. 322 is a relatively new addition. It adds a new paragraph 45A to schedule 3, thereby allowing the Adoption (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 to be amended to enable the making of regulations in respect of the registration in the adopted children register in Northern Ireland of convention and overseas adoptions. Article 53 of the order was amended by the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act (Northern Ireland) 2001. The intention was to enable the registrar-general in Northern Ireland to register convention or overseas adoptions if the prescribed requirements were met.

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Article 53(3B) provides for applications for the registration of such adoptions to be made in the prescribed manner by a prescribed person, and to give the prescribed particulars. Article 53(3D) provides for the prescription of requirements that convention or overseas adoptions must meet in order to be registered.

In article 2(2) of the 1987 order, "prescribed", for the purposes of article 53(3B) and (3D) means, in this context, "prescribed by adoption rules". However, the issues relating to registration that I have just described need to be prescribed in regulations by the department of finance and personnel, which makes regulations for the registrar-general. Amendment No. 322 therefore makes the necessary amendment to article 2(2) of the 1987 order to provide that regulations under article 53(3B) and 53(3D)—

Tim Loughton

I am trying to be helpful. We are discussing a group of 28 amendments, and according to my reckoning the Minister has dealt with three of them, doing terribly well. She is now referring to amendment No. 322, which I cannot see in the group that we are discussing. Which amendment are we actually dealing with now? It is all very confusing.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

The hon. Gentleman is right. I do not think the amendment is in this group.

Jacqui Smith

I am sure that hon. Members were enjoying it, but I apologise if I was premature. I was so interested that I thought hon. Members would be as well. I thought this was a good opportunity to discuss the amendment.

I hope that this will not be a big disappointment, but I think that I have concentrated on the key amendments dealing with early implementation. I did not intend to discuss in detail the other amendments, which are largely technical and consequential. If pushed, I shall of course be willing to talk about them at length.

Tim Loughton

I am glad that someone noticed that we seemed to have strayed slightly, but I am still confused. I cannot find amendment No. 322 anywhere.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Perhaps I can help the hon. Gentleman. The amendment was debated on 20 March.

Tim Loughton

Of course. I am so sorry. How remiss of me, and of the Minister, not to remember that. Let us return to the mere 28 detailed amendments that we have in hand—but perhaps you did not notice either, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that amendment No. 322 was being discussed.

May we return to amendment No. 280, which I think appeared at the beginning of the Minister's tour d'horizon? There is a certain irony in a group of amendments described as minor drafting and transitional measures, given that amendment No. 280 would replace the words "transitional" with the word "transitory". [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh."] I thought that it was quite amusing, anyway.

Jacqui Smith

I am surprised at the hon. Gentleman, who is usually so accurate. If he looks carefully, he will realise that the amendment would add the word "transitory" rather than substituting it for the word "transitional".

Tim Loughton

I will take the Minister's word for it. In fact, I see that she is right: the amendment would insert the words "and transitory". It is a double whammy. There was a certain irony, all the same.

Mr. Bellingham

Will my hon. Friend give way?

Tim Loughton

Indeed. Why not?

Mr. Bellingham

Can my hon. Friend tell me the difference, as defined by the dictionary, between "transitional" and "transitory"? Does he know what the technical difference is?

Tim Loughton

No, and I do not particularly care at this stage, although it was helpful of my hon. Friend to raise that important point.

Perhaps we can proceed to a slightly more substantial amendment, amendment No. 286. The Minister spoke of early implementation of many of the proposals forming the basis of the Bill, with which we agree. We certainly agree with the Minister that many of these things should have happened yesterday, rather than happening at some stage in the future. Her letter of 10 May gave some of the details of early implementation of matters relating to adoption support services in particular, and also to the independent reviewer. I gather that she proposes to do that by adding a new paragraph in schedule 4 and amending the Adoption Act 1976 with insertions.

The Minister wants early implementation of the independent review of determinations, as covered in amendment No. 286. This part of the Bill refers back to clause 12, on which the guillotine fell in Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) was orating on the legal technicalities of the clause when we were cut off without the opportunity of debating some of the substantial amendments to clause 12 that we had tabled. I am also mindful of the fact that neither have we debated clause 12 on Report.

This is very unsatisfactory. The Minister has acknowledged by her desire to bring forward its implementation that this is an important part of the Bill, yet it has not been debated by the House. It has not been debated in Committee or in this truncated Report stage. The Minister is presuming to implement legislation about which there has been not a word of debate in the House. I hope that the upper House will have something to say about that. The hon. Lady may well be right, in the final account, to bring forward the implementation of these terms, but we wanted to take issue with and raise concerns about certain aspects of the provisions, and we have not had the opportunity to do so. It is a bad day when that happens.

The Minister talked about publishing the regulations. This has been a constant bugbear of ours. We are debating—although, in some cases, we have not had the opportunity to do soclauses that rely heavily on regulations that have yet to be drawn up and published. If the implementation timetable is brought forward even further, that means even less time for regulations to be drawn up, consulted on, published and amended if the various practitioners in the field who have to work by them see flaws. We have not had the opportunity to see such flaws because we have not had the opportunity to debate the clauses and we have not had sight of the regulations.

We heard some pertinent questions from my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr. Turner), who, although he did not serve on the Committee, has taken a close interest in the Bill and tabled amendments in Committee. He referred to the territorial gaps when a local authority may maintain a responsibility for special educational provision for children who are adopted and then placed with an adoptive family out of its area. These are big questions and big problems. The Minister acknowledged that, but we do not know the full answer because we have not seen the regulations.

Similarly, the Minister intends to bring forward some of the regulations on inter-country adoptions and restrictions on bringing children into the United Kingdom. As we heard this evening, when we had an opportunity to debate the relevant provisions, given the Kilshaw example and others of that ilk, there is a great deal of support for such measures. We have reservations because we believe that the restrictions will impact adversely on people bringing children into the country perfectly legitimately from some of the other countries mentioned earlier. Problems may occur because the system has been held up for so long. My hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset (Mr. Walter) mentioned the problems of the provisions applying equally to all parts of the United Kingdom.

The Minister mentioned the new regulations on electronic advertising. From memory, debate on that part of the Bill was also curtailed in Committee, and we did not vote on it. We need to know exactly how the Minister is intending to marshal the internet. We see in many other pieces of legislation that it is all very well to set down good intentions that can be applied in the United Kingdom, but the internet is international—it is no respecter of boundaries, and we have no authority outside the boundaries of the United Kingdom. It needs rather more than a few regulations saying what is good or bad in the UK, because people are influenced by internet pages beamed into this country, which are outside our territorial remit.

Mr. Bellingham

My hon. Friend is right. We were on the cusp of debating these important points in Committee, but were cut short. UK citizens who place an advertisement on the internet through a UK-based internet service provider in this country will be committing an offence, but if they get someone else to do it for them abroad, they will not be. There are all sorts of anomalies in this area, and it is a pity that we could not have debated them in Committee. When the Minister replies to my hon. Friend, she should clarify some of these points.

Tim Loughton

My hon. Friend is right. We are all agreed on the principle and desirability of some of the restrictions that the Government want to impose, but that is worthless unless the practical applications have been thought through.

I am slightly at a loss; the Minister has spoken to three amendments out of a group of 28. Indeed, she spoke at length to one that is not even in the group, interesting though that was. I should appreciate responses to some of my points. For all I know, there may be similar questions on the amendments to which she has not spoken but for which there is still a little time if she cares to elaborate further.

Jonathan Shaw

I welcome the bringing forward of support services. The universal determination of right hon. and hon. Members to see the number of children placed for adoption increase was one of the pleasures of serving on the Committee stage of this Bill. We want to meet the target of a 40 per cent. increase, but what happens when those children are placed for adoption? This is not just about targets, throughput and speed—quality support is essential.

It is essential that local communities have confidence in adoption agencies providing post-adoption support. The dynamics change when a child is placed for adoption. One can only make a best assessment. As we have said a number of times in Committee and on Report, we are not dealing with pure equations. This is a dynamic process. Social workers, the panel and the courts are all involved in the process of adoption and in trying to make a vital decision for a child's future well-being and happiness in their adoptive placement. We know that things change—we do not know what will happen or how a child will react when he or she is placed with prospective adopters.

The test for adoption agencies is their willingness to respond to the crises, doubts and concerns experienced by the adoptive family and, of course, the child, as has been mentioned time and again. For placements to be successful, that is crucial.

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Mr. Hinchliffe

In my constituency, I am dealing with the case of a young man aged 19 who is severely disabled. He was adopted by his adoptive mother two or three years ago, at which time he was eligible for adoption allowances. His mother had to give up work due to the severity of his disability. Her income has been reduced, yet it appears that there are no longer any support mechanisms for him because he is now an adult. Has my hon. Friend come across similar situations, and does he consider that the measure could assist people in those circumstances?

Jonathan Shaw

My hon. Friend has a wealth of experience in such matters. Indeed, many of the Committee members had swapped corduroys for sharp suits when they entered this place—although my hon. Friend still has the beard; I think that he even has the sandals somewhere in his wardrobe.

My hon. Friend makes an important point: there are many variables. When we place older children with disabilities and a multitude of behaviour problems, we know that those problems do not end when they come of age. If we are to reach the targets, prospective adopters must feel confident that when they call the social services department or the adoption agency they will not be given the run around once their child becomes an adult. They need to be sure that the response will not be, "I am sorry but you no longer fit into the right bracket and we cannot help you." If that is the word on the street among prospective adopters, we will not hit our targets. All those factors are interdependent.

The point applies not only to severely disabled children or to those with extreme behaviour problems but also to children who are placed out of area. It is not satisfactory for a particular service to wash its hands of the child and say, "Sorry, you're no longer in our area so we cannot help you". There must be confidence in the system and I am glad that the measure will ensure that proper arrangements are in place.

Local authorities and adoption agencies have long realised their deficiencies when children from one part of the country are placed in another area. The adoptive parents are expected to trail halfway around the UK to get access to services.

Mr. Brazier

The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. There is also a wider financial point. It is anomalous that an authority can take a great deal of trouble and spend many thousands of pounds assessing a couple and including them on its list, yet there is no transfer of funding if the couple then adopt a child from another area. One authority does all the work, but another receives the budget relief.

Jonathan Shaw

My understanding is that there is support through the interplacement fee. If one agency prepares a couple for adoption and a child from another area is placed with them, there is an interplacement fee. My hon. Friend the Minister may correct me when she makes her remarks, but that was certainly my experience.

Problems arise when local authorities that have invested time and effort are reluctant to allow, or to encourage, prospective adopters to seek children from another part of the country. However, the national register and the consortium arrangements for authorities should stop those restrictive practices, although only time will tell whether they can be completely eradicated.

Mr. Brazier

I think that the hon. Gentleman was present when the Special Standing Committee heard testimony from voluntary organisations that they often make an enormous loss on those transfer fees, especially with severely disabled clients. It is much more expensive to scrutinise adoptive parents for such children.

Jonathan Shaw

The hon. Gentleman refers to a point that I touched on earlier and which was also highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe): it is difficult to place children with severe disabilities or behaviour problems. The BAAF publication "Be My Parent" lists more than 400 children every month and we heard from the BAAF that there is not even one inquiry about half of the boys aged more than five. That is not because they are disabled or have behaviour problems. For understandable reasons, people prefer to adopt babies, but they are in short supply.

The hon. Gentleman referred to the costs. Prospective adopters for some children are a rarity, but let us hope that we can make some economies of scale in our drive for such adopters—not least as a result of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend. His proposals would widen the pool, so if there are more prospective adopters there will be economies of scale and the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) will be reduced.

Mr. Dawson

My hon. Friend goes to the heart of the Bill when he refers to the fact that adoptive parents will need a huge amount of support if they are to take older young people out of the care system, especially those who have suffered the most distressing experiences of neglect and abuse and whose needs have not been met for many years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill will provide a framework? We have a long way to go in respect of professional development, good practice and regulation so that we can build on its essential elements.

Jonathan Shaw

My hon. Friend is right: making the step change that we all want in adoptive placements will put heavy demands on local authorities—such as education and social services—that they will not have previously experienced.

Mr. Hinchliffe

Support services are a key aspect of the measure. In the past, I have been concerned that local authorities took the attitude that once an individual was adopted that was the end of the matter. Does my hon. Friend think that we can achieve a sea change in attitudes and a recognition that the local authority has a continuing role, especially as regards the placement of children with special needs? Does he think that we can bring about a revolution in that respect? I remain concerned that we may need regularly to remind local authorities of their responsibilities towards adopted youngsters.

Jonathan Shaw

I hope that we can achieve that sea change—or revolution; there must certainly be a dramatic change if we are to hit the Government's 40 per cent. target.

I would be reluctant to start prejudging local authorities because, in the main, all local authorities and adoption agencies think that this is highly desirable legislation, which rings true in terms of the type of child care policies that we want to develop, but it is important that the support services are responsive to a changing dynamic—post-adoption placements. If we get that right, people will have confidence in adoption services and more of our vulnerable children will be placed for adoption.

Jacqui Smith

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) raised several issues in relation to this group of amendments. Indeed, despite being warned, he pressed me to go into a bit more detail on some of these amendments. I hope that he does not regret that.

I shall first deal with some of the specific points that the hon. Gentleman made. On the distinction between the words "transitional" and "transitory", the use of the word "transitory" is necessary because, as I explained, we need to insert provisions in the Adoption Act 1976 to bring forward the implementation of the provisions on adoption support, independent review and electronic advertising, which I have outlined. Of course the 1976 Act will be repealed under some of the amendments in this group when the Bill is enacted. To that extent, those amendments are transitory: they allow us to carry out the early implementation of those provisions, but for a limited time only, as that is all that is necessary in this case.

The hon. Gentleman also returned to his oft-stated concern about the lack of detail about the regulations. There is a bit of a conflict between our approaches. We want to ensure that the primary legislation includes the principles necessary to improve the adoption system, while making it clear that, because of precisely the sorts of issue that were raised on numerous occasions in the Special Standing Committee, we need to work with the stakeholders to develop, for example, the framework for adoption support, as well as the detail of the regulations. We have been working on that framework, and I hope that we will soon be able to put it out to consultation.

It is obvious to an extent that we could not do all that and produce a final version of the regulations before determining the principles and before the consultations and discussions had taken place. It is a function of the Government's consultative and inclusive approach to developing the Bill that we will develop the regulations in close consultation with the stakeholders when we have got through the first stage of agreeing the principles embedded in the legislation.

The hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham and for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) referred to internet advertising. Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to clarify the legal position. First, as I suggested earlier, if a United Kingdom internet service provider hosts such an advert from the United States, the United Kingdom ISP would be caught by the restriction. The ISP would have to remove the advert, if they were aware of it; otherwise they would commit an offence. However, if the United Kingdom ISP were just acting as a conduit, it would not be caught. Clause 115(3)(b) deals with ISPs that simply act as a channel, and the same approach has been taken in the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill.

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If the advert came from the European Union, however, the EU e-commerce directive would apply and the rules of the country of origin should apply to internet advertising. Although we may not be able to prosecute, we could certainly take up the issue with the relevant country to ensure that controls are in place.

Mr. Walter

The Minister is probably too young to remember the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967, which covered similar concerns that the Government had about advertising coming into the United Kingdom from outside our frontiers, promoting products available in the United Kingdom and influencing consumer decisions in the marketplace. That legislation was singularly ineffective: such radio stations continued to broadcast for some 30 years after its implementation.

Will the Minister tell us whether an advert for a child or an adoption facility could be placed on the internet and someone could take up that advertisement and totally comply with the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999 and the Bill, so that the adoption itself was legal although the advertisement that started the process was illegal?

Jacqui Smith

The hon. Gentleman is right—I was not even at nursery school when that Act was considered. He makes an important point about whether an illegal advert would necessarily lead to an illegal adoption, but I suggest to him that of course hon. Members are right to be concerned about the extent of our legal powers to control advertising on the internet, but advertising—albeit unsavoury—is but the first part of a process that could lead to an illegal adoption. Important safeguards have been included and strengthened in the legislation: for example, international adverts might be significant in relation to inter-country adoption, and we have put in place the necessary safeguards to ensure that children are protected and that adoptions cannot take place on the basis of dodgy procedures.

My hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Jonathan Shaw) rightly emphasised the importance of adoption support. We have had discussions about such support in considering the Bill. All hon. Members recognise the fact, which my hon. Friend ably identified during his contribution, that adoption support services are important not only because they support individual families, prospective adopters and children, but because if people know that they can gain access to those services it can have a positive effect on their willingness to come forward to undertake adoption. For both those reasons, not only is the overall framework that we are developing important, but so is the fact that we are bringing forward that provision earlier.

As I suggested, I shall skip through some of the other Government amendments. Amendments Nos. 295 to 297 alter schedule 3 and make minor and consequential changes to the Marriage Act 1949 to determine and clarify who can consent to the marriage of a child under 18. As amended, the paragraphs also take account of adoption placements and special guardianship orders.

Amendment No. 274 corrects a reference in paragraph 23 to schedule 3 which should refer to clause 86, not clause 83. Amendment No. 275 also amends schedule 3 to ensure that orders made under clause 25 are recognised in Scotland and Northern Ireland under section 25 of the Family Law Act 1986. Amendment No. 276 provides that a court in England and Wales cannot make an order under clause 25, including orders varying or revoking a clause 25 order, unless the child is habitually resident or present in England or Wales.

Amendments Nos. 264 and 268 are consequential on the amendments to care plans. Amendment No. 269 amends paragraph 97 of schedule 3, and paragraph 97 amends section 14(2) of the Care Standards Act 2000. We have concluded that the Bill does not go far enough to deal with adoption offences, all of which can be serious, so we have decided that the offences in the Bill and the regulations made under it, as well as the offences in regulations made under section 1(3) of the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999, should be relevant for determining whether to cancel the registration of an establishment or agency under part II of the 2000 Act, and that is what the amendment delivers.

Amendment No. 277 is a technical amendment to paragraph 4 of schedule 4. It ensures that when the Adoption Act 1976 is repealed, an adoption agency in England or Wales that is at that time under a duty to provide a progress report to former parents, continues to have that duty. Amendment No. 300 is consequential on amendments to clause 84, which deals with overseas adoptions.

Amendments Nos. 248 and 249 define "enactment", thereby ensuring clarity of that term in clause 131. Amendments Nos. 257 and 258, together with amendments Nos. 254 and 255, which were discussed on Thursday and earlier today, ensure that references to the word "prescribed" are consistent. The overall approach taken to the use of that term is that in the majority of cases it is obvious from the context whether it means in regulations, rules or an order. However, where that is not the case, the provision informs us of what "prescribed" means. Amendments Nos. 228 and 229 are consequential on amendments Nos. 191 and 192, which were also taken on Thursday. They deal with the relationship between placement orders and orders made under section 8 of the 1989 Act.

Amendments Nos. 238 and 242 alter clause 135, which relates to commencement. Amendment No. 238 amends subsection (1) to enable clause 124 and new clause 7 to come into force when the Bill receives Royal Assent. Clause 124 amends section 93 of the Local Government Act 2000, enabling grants to be paid to support local authorities, for example to pilot new ways of working in the innovative commissioning of children's services and consortium arrangements. We want to be able to make grants to local authorities for use in the current financial year, which is why we want the provision to commence from the day on which the Bill receives Royal Assent.

New clause 7 amends section 17 of the 1989 Act, which deals with the provision of accommodation by local authorities for children in need. Given what we said about the importance of the new clause to clearing up the lack of clarity that surrounds the responsibilities of local authorities, it is also vital that that commences when the Bill receives Royal Assent.

The group of amendments is large and technical, but it does include important provisions to ensure that the Bill works properly. They provide clarity and ensure that the provisions can be commenced and implemented appropriately. On that basis, I hope that hon. Members accept them.

Amendment agreed to.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

I may have inadvertently misled the House about amendment No. 322. The amendment, which was starred on Thursday 16 May and therefore could not be selected that day, falls within the ambit of the group led by amendment No. 270, which relates to Northern Ireland, Scotland, the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands. That group was debated on Thursday 16 May not on 20 March, as I said earlier. Amendment No. 322 will be put formally this evening.

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