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Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): In supporting the principle of programming, which has focused the House's attention effectively, I draw my hon. Friend the Minister's attention to a big problem looming in the first part of the third allotted day. Three hours have been provided for what is bound to be a huge debate involving a wider range of people than those involved in Committee about unmarried couples' ability to adopt.
The issue of access to information is also involved. That huge, complex and important part of the Bill needs thorough debate about the issues to do with placement, centred on clauses 31 to 33. Might a way be found of distinguishing between those issues, and in particular between unmarried couples and placement orders? That would afford discrete time, in particular to debate placement decisions, which I fear might be completely pushed out of debate by the weight of interest in the unmarried couples issue.
Dr. Evan Harris (Oxford, West and Abingdon): The need to discuss both placement orders and unmarried couples depends on how contentious the latter issue is, at least for Ministers and hon. Members of many parties who support the contention. If the Minister were to clarify the Government's thinking on that, it would help us decide whether the proposed amount of time was about right.
Sandra Gidley (Romsey): I shall be brief, because I do not want to take up too much time. I welcome the extra time provided for the Bill. However, an awful lot of Government amendments have been tabled, and, unlike the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), I have not received an explanatory letter. I should be grateful if the Minister would ensure that one reached me. That was possibly the result of an office oversight, but it would be useful if an explanation were forthcoming.
Mr. Robert Walter (North Dorset): I hesitate to delay the House on a measure that has considerable cross-party support, but I have two points. First, the Special Standing Committee was an example of how the House should consider legislation and take evidence from interested
Secondly, I want to express frustration with the concept of programming and especially about some of the provisions in the programme motion. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said, some 90 Government amendments have been tabled. We have seen them only recently and they will require debate. Some are technical, and others are more complex. I am delighted that at least one is identical to an amendment that I proposed in Committee. The Government said that they wanted to take it away and think about it. I take some small credit for that technical measure.
It was frustrating in Committee when debate on important items was cut short. I remember a vivid example when the hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) proposed some important amendments that related to access by violent parents, which reappear in the amendments listed for consideration. She had barely minutes in which to put the case, and there was no time for debate. It is important to have time for debate.
I rise to support my hon. Friends' comments. The Standing Committee was the first on which I served, and I was surprised that we did not cover a third of the amendments. It was not as though it was an unfriendly Committee or that we argued needlessly. I believe that everyone who attended would agree that it was a constructive format in which to discuss an important measure. There are lessons to be learned from that in terms of programming.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) mentioned that he hoped that we would not be sidetracked by a handful of contentious issues. I fully support that, but they are indeed contentious. I have received more correspondence from various organisations on the issue of contact than on virtually everything else put together. That is of some concern, considering that we did not even cover the contact clauses in Committee. I hope that the issue will be considered properly as we continue debating the Bill.
Jacqui Smith: I agree with the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) that we need to address a range of issues, and that is why I welcome the extra days now available to consider the issues. I am disappointed with his comments about the Government
In relation to the points raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson), we are certainly considering more amendments on the important issue of the placement process. We are looking at the evidence from stakeholders.
Jacqui Smith: The business managers of the House are extremely merciful. They will be the source of the decision concerning days two and three. We have heard hon. Members talk about the importance of ensuring that there is adequate time for debate. That is why I said that it was important that we also looked again at the programming motion.
I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre that we need separate discussions on the important placement provisions and the interesting issue of the amendments on unmarried adoptions.
I apologise to the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) for the fact that she has not received the letter, which I believe was sent to all Committee members. I will ensure that she gets another copy because it was a good letter. It was short on flow charts, but big on explanation. I hope that that will be our approach throughout Report.
'or needs of connected persons'.
'the local authority has the duty to provide suitable services to that person.'.
'and provide a written explanation of their reasons if those support services will not be forthcoming'.
'and provide for a review of a decision not to provide adoption support services,'.
Mr. Brazier: As this is the first group of amendments in a three-day Report stage, I would like to say how much I enjoyed the Committee stage of the Bill. Originating from a long-running national and cross-party campaign, the Bill aims to help some of the most disadvantaged children. The Committee was packed with people with specialised knowledge and interest.
I will not try your patience, Mr. Deputy Speaker, by reiterating the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) about the guillotine of the Committee. I share his concerns about that, but I am pleased to have been part of the process.
Our amendments concern support services for adopters. It is difficult to exaggerate how valuable and how brave many parents who adopt a child from care are. It is easy to forget that many children are in care because they have been abused or severely neglected. They bring a package of problems into the homes of the adoptive parents, who must deal with them without any professional training.
I wish to give one example from my constituency of two little boys adopted by a family who discovered that one had been thrown out so often into the cold that his feet had to be treated for gangrene; in fact, he came close to having them amputated. The other had been locked in a cellar for years and, as a result, had no power of speech. Teaching a child to speak at the age of seven involves specialist support services. It is those sorts of specialist services that we are talking about in the amendments.
The Opposition's concern about clause 4, which deals with these services, is that, as it is drafted, social services are required to make assessments, but are not required to provide any services to support parents who have adopted children from care.
There are several points that need making here. The first concerns assessment itself. An assessment must be carried out by a qualified person, in many cases a social worker. We are short of social workers. In nearly all cases, an assessment must be carried out by someone from a category of professionals of whom we are short. Yet very often it is obvious what needs doing, and if the local authority is willing to make resources available, carrying out an assessment involves an inordinate delay and a waste of time. Amendments Nos. 3 and 7 would place on a local authority the duty to provide the suitable services that adoptive parents need.