Lords amendment: No. 1, in page 3, line 16, leave out from "information" to end of line 18 and insert
(b) any other services prescribed by regulations, in relation to adoption.
() The power to make regulations under subsection (6)(b) is to be exercised so as to secure that local authorities provide financial support.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
With this we may discuss Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 25, 27 to 31, 37, 38, 42, 43, 45, 47, 50 to 57, 62 to 65, 67 to 91, 98 to 101, 103 and 105 to 107.
§ Madam Deputy Speaker
Order. Will Members leaving the Chamber please do so as quickly as possible so that the debate can continue?
§ Jacqui Smith
There are 80 amendments in this group. I would be more than willing to go through them one by one, but perhaps I shall just give hon. Members the high points to begin with. Included in the group are amendments to the Bill's provisions on placements, voluntary adoption agencies, access to information and advocacy services. Many of the amendments were tabled by the Government in response to the views expressed by peers when the Bill was considered in the other place.
Lords amendments Nos. 14 to 24, 30, 31 and 80 make changes to the provisions in chapter 3 covering placement of children for adoption, principally to ensure that placements of young babies are properly covered, but in addition to improve arrangements for relatives and others to obtain contact orders for children who are placed for adoption.
Lords amendments Nos. 14, 17 to 22, 24 and 31 ensure that children who are placed for adoption when under six weeks of age are explicitly covered by the provisions in chapter 3, that the arrangements for getting contact orders also apply to them, and that parents' rights to request the return of their child from any voluntary baby placement are clearly set out in the Bill so that there can be no doubt. Amendment No. 31 also ensures that it is possible to make a placement order in respect of a baby under six weeks, and that that order will be a valid basis for a later adoption order. That is to allow for the placement for adoption of young babies in cases where the parents do not consent.
On contact, amendments Nos. 14 and 15 improve the provisions in clause 25 for contact orders where children are placed for adoption. They allow relatives, including siblings, to apply for a placement contact order without needing the leave of the court. They also give the same rights to people who had Children Act 1989 orders for contact with the child before the child was placed for adoption. Amendment No. 30 to 41.tuse 46 ensures that the court can make adoption orders where a child has no parents. Amendment No. 80 to schedule 3 ensures that children looked after by local authorities can be placed for adoption across borders in the UK without the specific permission of their natural parents.
A second group of amendments relate to voluntary adoption agencies. Amendment No. 81 amends the Care Standards Act 2000 to provide that voluntary adoption agencies do not have to register each branch separately. That is because, under the Adoption Act 1976 and the Bill, voluntary adoption agencies must be incorporated bodies. I am sure that hon. Members will remember from our discussions that adoption agencies must be incorporated bodies because they have significant responsibilities, which may include parental responsibility for a child. Incorporated bodies are separate and distinct from the individual members of the body, and therefore provide a much clearer definition of where the responsibilities for the child lie.
Amendment No. 12 inserts a new clause which ensures that each registration authority under the Care Standards Act—the National Care Standards Commission and the National Assembly for Wales—has the appropriate level of scrutiny over the activity of agencies operating in their area.
The remaining amendments, Nos. 43, 63, 67, 84 to 91 and 103, are consequential on those two key amendments. For example, they ensure that under the 102 1976 Act, the Secretary of State and the National Assembly for Wales may make joint regulations by making the regulation-making powers appropriate-Minister powers. That may be necessary as these regulations will make provision relating to the regulation of the way voluntary adoption agencies are run. Given that voluntary adoption agencies will be cross-border bodies, it may be appropriate that these regulations are made jointly.
I move on to the amendments dealing with access to information. All hon. Members who have followed the passage of the Bill throughout its stages up till now will know that access to information is a subject about which there has been much discussion. Amendment No. 42 builds on amendments tabled by the Opposition on Report in another place. Those reflect some of the arguments made so strongly and effectively by my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan) throughout the Bill's passage through this place.
The Government acknowledge that the Opposition's amendments sought to tackle our concerns that adoption agencies should not be burdened with work that would draw their resources away from arranging and supporting adoptions for today's children, if we ensured that it was easier for people adopted before the new access to information provisions in the Bill came into operation to gain information about other people involved in the adoption.
Amendment No. 42 provides through regulations for registered adoption support agencies to operate an intermediary service for contact between adopted adults and their adult birth relatives. Adoption stakeholders welcomed the amendment. Adoption support agencies will be able to access identifying information relating to past adoptions from the registrar-general and from adoption agencies. We intend to ensure through regulations that there are safeguards to protect that information, and to provide for it to be disclosed only if the informed consent of the adopted adult is forthcoming. The amendment inserts a new clause after clause 95 and amplifies the power in clause 9 to make regulations for the disclosure of information in relation to adoptions made before the Bill is enacted. Lords amendments Nos. 4, 8 and 70 are consequential on Lords amendment No. 42. It is the Government's firm intention to use the regulations to establish the scheme and set out the details in regulations after consultation with adoption stakeholders.
§ Kevin Brennan
I thank my hon. Friend for referring to my small part in this process, and I pay tribute to the Government for listening to the points that I made on Second Reading and in amendments tabled in the Special Standing Committee and other stages of the Bill's passage, and for listening to the Opposition when they picked up the proposals. I praise her for her handling of the matter. I am sure that the incorporation of the amendments in the Bill will be due in no small part to her listening approach.
§ Jacqui Smith
That is nice of my hon. Friend and very sweet of him. It is right that the Government listened, but considerable pressure was exerted, for which he not least was responsible. Without turning the debate into a love-in, I believe that the amendments are a good example of effective scrutiny of legislation by a Government who have been willing to listen.
103 The final amendments relate to advocacy services. Lords amendment No. 47 inserts a new clause that introduces new section 26A into the Children Act 1989 in relation to advocacy services. As we have considered the provisions, and especially improvements to the complaints procedure in relation to children, many hon. Members have argued about the need to ensure not only that children's voices are heard, but that children are adequately represented and supported, especially at the very difficult time of making complaints. Once again, my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) has played a very important part, as he always does, in pushing for such development.
New section 26A to the Children Act 1989 places a duty on local authorities to make arrangements for assistance, including representation, to looked-after children and young people leaving care who make or intend to make complaints under sections 24D and 26 of that Act. It also provides for regulations to specify who must not provide the assistance. That will enable regulations to ensure the independence of that service. Other regulations may be made under section 26A relating to how the service must be provided and the actions that local authorities must take to monitor its compliance with the regulations. Finally, the new section provides that local authorities must publicise the service as they consider appropriate.
This series of amendments tabled in the other place and supported by the Government in some cases improves the Bill even further and in many cases brings about the necessary technical and consequential changes attendant on those decisions in these very important areas.
§ Tim Loughton
The Minister promised us some high points and we have just had a few. It is a shame that more of the 493 hon. Members who were with us only 15 minutes ago have not stayed on to listen to an explanation of these very important amendments, which have improved the Bill in great measure in all the areas that she mentioned.
I am particularly pleased with the improvements that have been made in respect of placements for young babies. With regard to the necessary changes on contact orders and parents' rights—points that we raised in Committee and on Report—the Government have listened and accepted the relevant amendments in another place.
There are the changes regarding voluntary adoption agencies, and we have had debates about the incorporation of those bodies. Access to information changes were rightly raised, in the first instance, in Committee by the hon. Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), and supported by the Opposition. The issues were raised more forcefully on Report. Several adoption agencies were consulted. We were talking about people who had given up children for adoption as far back as 1926 as well as people who had given up children similarly very recently. There was a span of three quarters of a century during which birth relatives, in many instances, had the last opportunity to make 104 contact with children given up for adoption, often under duress, in difficult circumstances, especially during postwar years.
The Bill was their last chance. I am pleased to say that almost at the 11th hour the Government have listened to objections from Members, adoption agencies and many individual mothers, who I know have written in and contacted their Member of Parliament. It is a credit to the Government that they have found ways of overcoming real practical problems that the Minister outlined on Report. The problems include agency records that are incomplete and the not inconsiderable extra demands that acquiring information could place on adoption agencies. That is setting aside all the extra work that we are expecting the agencies to do to increase the numbers of people coming forward to adopt. There are difficulties in locating people after many years while using old records. There is, of course, a huge potential demand for the service.
No one pretends that the process will be easy, but the principle was right. If the Government have found a way of putting the principle into effect, I am delighted. More importantly, many thousands of birth mothers over many years—many of them are in their twilight years—will be eternally grateful to all those who have enabled the amendments to be brought about.
§ Mr. Lansley
I take the opportunity to express my appreciation of the work that my hon. Friend has undertaken on consideration of the Bill. He and I have not agreed on absolutely everything at every stage, but on the great majority of issues I admire the diligence with which he has gone about his task and the improvements that have resulted from his scrutiny and interventions. The access-to-information provisions are a good example of that. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend.
§ Tim Loughton
There we are. The occupants of both Front Benches have now had a love-in, so we are all equal. I am grateful to my hon. Friend. We have not agreed on absolutely everything, but he has been an assiduous follower of the Bill. He was not a member of the Committee, but he knows about the practicalities of some of the things that we needed to do to improve the adoption support service, regardless of the debate that took place earlier.
The Minister grouped together the amendments relating to advocacy services. It is natural that following the improvements to the complaints procedure, which took up a deal of time of hon. Members in Committee, children's voices need to heard rather more loudly than in the past. Many of us made that point on Report. It is right that there should be a duty on local authorities to make assistance available, and it is right also that it should be publicized. I know from the experience of my district's advocacy service in Adur that excellent work is done. It is often unappreciated and unheard of, but the work is expanding enormously, not least in the areas of health and social services. The work is directed not least to help elderly people who are faced with a barrage of problems relating to access to health care benefits, for example. It is right that these services should be extended and that resources should be made available to deal with children's issues in the context of adoption.
There is no point in being churlish. It is a time to rejoice in many of the great improvements that have been made during the Bill's passage. From the early 105 stages when the Committee started its deliberations, improvements have been made. They did not happen immediately, and the Opposition were not necessarily credited with them at the time, but we can all share in the Bill's success and many of the improvements. The amendments are key contributions and I have great pleasure in supporting them.
§ Lords amendment agreed to.
§ Lords amendments Nos. 2 to 25, 27 to 31, and 37 and 38 agreed to.