HL Deb 31 October 1975 vol 365 cc813-9

[Nos. 1 to 12.]

Clause 1, page 2, line 7, after ("Services") insert ("and with approved adoption societies in their area")

Clause 1, page 2, line 9, leave out from ("maintained") to ("and") in line 11 and insert ("under subsection (1) by local authorities in authorities in England and Wales may be collectively referred to as "the Adoption Service" and those maintained by local authorities in Scotland, as "the Scottish Adoption Service".)

("The social services referred to in section 1(3) are the functions of a local authority which stand referred to the authority's social services committee or, in Scotland, social work committee, including, in particular but without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, a local authority's functions relating to—

  1. (a) the promotion of the welfare of children by diminishing the need to receive children into care or keep them in care, including (in exceptional circumstances) the giving of assistance in cash;
  2. (b) the welfare of children in the care of a local authority;
  3. (c)the welfare of children who are foster children within the meaning of the Children Act 1958;
  4. (d) children who are subject to supervision orders made in matrimonial proceedings;
  5. (e) the provision of residential accommodation for expectant mothers and young children and of day-care facilities;
  6. (f) the regulation and inspection of nurseries and child minders;
  7. (g) care and other treatment of children through court proceedings and children's hearings".)

Clause 3, page 2, line 23, after ("such") insert ("in England and Wales or in Scotland".)

Clause 3, page 2, line 32, after ("Service") insert ("or, as the case may be, to the Scottish Adoption Service")

Clause 3, page 2, line 38, at end insert ("including, in particular, its ability to make provision for children who are free for adoption,")

Clause 3, page 2, page 3, line 16, after ("Service") insert ("or, as the case may be, to the Scottish Adoption Service")

Clause 3, page 2, line 22, leave out ("but is subsequently refused")

Clause 3, page 2, line 23, leave out from ("date") to end of line 24, and insert ("that applications as granted, or, as the case may be, refused.")

Clause 4, page 3, line 27, after ("Service") insert ("or, as the case may be, to the Scottish Adoption Service")

Clause 6, page 4, line 31, after ("society") insert, ("or by the society jointly with the authority")

Clause 6, page 4, line 35, at end insert—

("(2) Before giving a direction under subsection (1) the Secretary of State shall, if practicable, consult both the society and the authority".)


My Lords, with the leave of the House I beg to move that this House doth agree with the Commons in their Amendments Nos. 1 to 12 en bloc. It is possible to take Parts I and II, subject to your Lordships' agreement, in blocks of Amendments and I have moved that this House should deal with Amendments Nos. 1 to 12 en bloc.

All that I want to call your Lordships' attention to is Amendment No. 3 which adds a new clause after Clause 1 to the Bill. It does not alter or add to the duties of local authorities, but highlights the social services referred to in Clause 1(3) with which the adoption service is to be co-ordinated. Its purpose is to put adoption firmly in the context of the overall local authority services for children and their families and to meet the criticisms of bodies such as the British Association of Social Workers that the Bill was giving adoption too much prominence as a child care resource. The other place showed the same interest as the Lords—in this connection I should mention the noble Baroness, Lady Young—in protecting the position of adoption societies —hence Amendment No. 1 which makes it clear that local authorities shall plan their adoption services in conjuction with approved adoption societies in their area so as to ensure that voluntary societies of the required standard continue to play their important role. Amendment No. 12 provides that the Secretary of State, before directing a local authority to take over the responsibilities of an inactive or defunct adoption society, shall, if practicable, consult the society and the authority. This would give the society the opportunity of commenting on the action the Secretary of State proposed to take if they were in a position so to do.

Amendments 2, 4, 5, 7 and 10 are technical and allow for separate references to "the Adoption Service" in England and Wales and the "Scottish Adoption Service". I do not think I need say much about No. 6, except that it ensures the ability of an adoption society to care for a child who has been freed for adoption is one of the factors that the Secretary of State should take into account when considering a society's approval. I think I have said all I need say on the first 12 Amendments and I beg to move.

Moved, That the House doth agree with the Commons in the said Amendments.—(Lord Wells-Pestell.)


My Lords, at the outset may I say we are glad to see the improvement in Amendment No. 3. This is an example of the admirable way in which the earlier stages of this Bill were conducted. I think your Lordships will agree that the Bill received very extensive, careful and thorough consideration in this House before it went to another place, and I am able to say that because I played a very minor part in it myself. Your Lordships who have studied the record of what went on in another place will find that there has been an extraordinary degree of agreement in consultation between the Parties and that the few divisions that took place in Committee often did not follow Party divisions at all. It is therefore an example of the non-political use of Parliamentary skill and time which we welcome. But it has taken up time. Time has run out and it is incumbent upon me to say at the outset that we have been in a very real difficulty—and so indeed has the noble Lord opposite—as a result of the almost total lack of resources and time that has resulted from this pressure.

I refer particularly to Amendment No. 9, which I gave the noble Lord notice I would refer to, and I hope the noble Lord will be able to explain to me by reading out the clause as amended, what in fact it means. It seems to me that we have here probably a drafting error and as indeed corrections to the only copy—the advance proof copy of the Amendments, which has been available to us for about 36 hours—were not comp- pleted until 11 o'clock this morning, it is possible that this has escaped the net. If that is so I hope some procedural means will be found of putting it right before it hits the Statute Book.

Another feature of the pressure of time and events upon your Lordships' House, which I know has been combated so far as possible, has been that a number of those who would have been speaking with me on this side of the House are not present. The noble Baroness, Lady Vickers, in particular and the noble Baroness, Lady Elliot of Harwood. In fact, my noble friend Lady Elliot was expert on the Scottish clauses and I can say only that we will try to fulfil her role to the best of our ability. But your Lordships must be aware that this sort of thinness of resource which the timetable has imposed upon us must have an adverse effect upon the ultimate effects of legislation on the individual children affected by this Bill, and adults as well.

I wish to make no more of that point because I sympathise with the noble Lord opposite, who is probably in an even more difficult position than I am. He may not be free to place his views on the record. I, at least, have had the satisfaction of doing so—liberavi animam meam. Perhaps the noble Lord would be kind enought to explain to me—if I have given him time enough to discover the correct meaning of Clause 3, as amended—how it should read.

3.18 p.m.


My Lords, I appreciate how the noble Lord feels. I think he will understand that this matter was put very strongly yesterday by his noble Leader, Lord Carrington, and my noble friend the Government Chief Whip replied. From my point of view he will understand that I would prefer to leave it there. Clause 3(7) at present provides that the Secretary of State's approval of an adoption society shall last for a period of three years and then, if the society has a further application pending which is subsequently refused, shall expire when notice of refusal is served on the society. These two Amendments—because I have to refer to Amendment No. 8 as well—will extend Clause 3(7) to provide that if an approved society has an application pending which is subsequently approved, the outstanding three years approval expires when notice of the new approval is given. I hope that makes some sense.


My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, because I think at this stage I am allowed to speak only once, what I am really asking the noble Lord to do is to read the subsection as it now stands because I cannot make it mean what he intends it to mean. By your Lordships' leave, therefore, starting at line 18, it reads: (7) If not withdrawn earlier under section 4, approval given under this section shall last for a period of three years from the date on which it becomes operative, and shall then expire or, in the case of an approved adoption society whose further application for approval is pending at that time". Then we have a deletion, "shall expire on the date". Then we have another deletion— "that applications as granted or, as the case may be, refused". I cannot work that, with my command of the English language, into actually having any import. I am not criticising the intention of the noble Lord nor, indeed, probably what went on to the original typewriter, but I should like to be assured that that is what is meant to come out at the end, and if so, how it arrives at the meaning the noble Lord gives to it.


My Lords, is it not the case that there is a typing error? Should it not be that "applicants are granted or, as the case may be, refused …"?


My Lords, I should have thought that the noble Lord was right in this. It had not occurred to me and I had not seen it, but as the noble Lord pointed out, and as I am informed, there is a misprint— "as" should be "is". It should read, "application is granted".


My Lords, at this juncture, before we really get into the meat of the Bill, I should like to say a word or two in support of what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said. In both Houses of Parliament we have been deeply concerned about this Children Bill. Probably it is the view of everyone—certainly of everyone here this afternoon—that we are not likely to see another Children Bill perhaps in our lifetime, and therefore we are providing at this stage for children for perhaps another couple of decades. So this is vitally important. I would stress as hard as I can that at this stage we must get this Bill right.

My Lords, there are various things, even in the Amendments produced by the House of Commons, that I would not go along with—not many, but some. As my noble friend said quite rightly, this is not a political Bill; it is an all-Party Bill. I would stress that I do not think we are going to be allowed enough time to make absolutely certain that the provisions of the Bill are doing the correct thing for the future of our children.


My Lords, may I enlarge upon what has been said by the noble Baroness, Lady Macleod of Borve, and my noble friend Lord Elton. I have the greatest respect possible for the noble Lord, Lord Wells-Pestell. However, the way we are trying to deal with this is totally "Mickey Mouse". We are trying to deal with something from a manuscript Amendment, and that seems very sad when we are dealing with something as important as children. I have already said that my interests, which I should declare, are entirely in terms of fostering. However, I would say that at this moment in time—and I will not labour the point any further at this stage —we seem to be dealing with this with such undue haste that it seems a terrible pity, and I hope it is something that we may not all regret later.


My Lords, we must look at this from a different point of view. One must bear in mind that this Bill has been considered by this House and another place over a period of twelve months. We must bear in mind that, before the Bill was drafted, there was a good deal of discussion with all the principal voluntary and statutory bodies about the whole field covered by the Bill. In your Lordships' House, we spent a considerable amount of time on it. People who were in Opposition also consulted a large number of societies. This process has gone on over a long period of time in another place. They have given a lot of time to it.

We really must not think that simply, because the Bill does not do all that we in your Lordships' House want done, that it must be wrong. There has been a good deal of thought, care, consideration and ability brought to this Bill in another place. If noble Lords are con- cerned to get this Bill on the Statute Book as an Act, I ask them to bear in mind the timetable. May I say that I understand how certain noble Lords feel. I do not find it easy working from a duplicated series of Amendments, but this is the situation with which we are faced which we can do nothing about. I say with great respect, therefore, that I think we ought to concern ourselves with the long-term point of view, and the long-term point of view is that we want to see this Bill on the Statute Book.

On Question, Motion agreed to.