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Jacqui Smith: Hon. Members have expressed concerns about various different stages of the adoption process, and their conclusion has been that the independent review process should be extended to all those stages. I hope to demonstrate not that I do not believe that those are justifiable concerns, but that, given the other structures that are in place, I do not believe that an extension of the independent review process would be the most appropriate way of dealing with those concerns.

As the White Paper made clear, the intended purpose of the independent review mechanism is to build confidence in the adopter assessment process, to address concerns that there was bias or that a decision was not soundly based and—to reassure the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier)—to provide a means for an independent review of some of the decisions made on the access to information provisions introduced by the Government. I reassure him that that remains a purpose of the independent review. It was never intended, as appears to be the intention behind the amendments, as a means of micro-managing the day-to-day business of adoption agencies.

The hon. Gentleman referred to foster carers who, for four years, have been blocked from adopting. Under clause 41(4), they can apply, regardless of the local authority's views, if they have had care of the child for one year. Adoption standard B5 emphasises that assessment for foster carers should be speedier; four months, rather than eight.

The hon. Gentleman again raised his concern about the use of the independent review mechanism with regard to adoption agency determinations about matches between children and approved adopters. I undertook to consider whether, as we consulted on the use of the independent review mechanism, that might be an appropriate determination to be considered. The consultation is due to take place in the autumn. We have also undertaken initially to implement the independent review mechanism in 2003 and, as I said, to consult on the extension that he referred to in Committee.

I hope that I can reassure hon. Members by outlining some of the regulatory and quality assurance mechanisms. Some are enshrined in the Bill and many involve independent scrutiny, which I hope will overcome some of the concerns that have been mentioned.

As a starting point, the Bill places every agency under a statutory obligation to make the child's welfare the paramount consideration in any decision relating to the adoption of a child. All adoption agencies will be

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regulated by the independent National Care Standards Commission. Voluntary agencies will have to be registered to perform their functions legally. The NCSC will set national minimum standards for all agencies covering the facilities, staff, qualifications, skills and procedures that should be in place for the organisation properly to perform the functions of an adoption agency. All voluntary adoption agencies and local authorities will be subject to regular independent inspection by the commission against those standards.

Aside from the overall regulatory structure, as we touched on earlier, local authorities have to set up complaints procedures under the Children Act 1989 in respect of children and the Local Authority Social Services Act 1970 in respect of adults. Both procedures require an independent person to be appointed to supervise the conduct of the complaints process, which we are reforming and improving.

In relation to the hon. Gentleman's concerns about young people—

It being Two hours after the commencement of proceedings, Mr. Speaker, pursuant to Orders [29 October, 23 January and this day] put the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment negatived.

Mr. Speaker then put the remaining Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that hour.

Clause 14

Default power of an appropriate Minister


Amendment made: No. 34, in page 11, line 1, after "Act" insert—

'or of section 1 or 2(4) of the Adoption (Intercountry Aspects) Act 1999'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

New Clause 8

Use of an organisation as agency for payments


'(1) An Order under section 116 may authorise an organisation with which an arrangement is made under section 117 to act as agent for the payment or receipt of sums payable by adoption agencies to other adoption agencies and may require adoption agencies to pay or receive such sums through the organisation.

(2) The organisation is to perform the functions exercisable by virtue of this section in accordance with any directions given by the Secretary of State; and the directions may be of general application (or general application in any part of Great Britain) or be special directions.

(3) An exercise of the Secretary of State's power to give directions under subsection (2) requires the agreement of the Scottish Ministers (if any payment agency provision applies to Scotland) and of the Assembly (if any payment agency provision applies to Wales)'.—[Mr. Kemp.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 9

Territorial application


'(1) In this group of sections, "adoption agency" means—

(a) a local authority in England,

(b) a registered adoption society, where the registration authority is the National Care Standards Commission.

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(2) An Order under section 116 may provide for any requirements imposed on adoption agencies in respect of the register to apply—

(a) to Scottish local authorities and to voluntary organisations providing a registered adoption service,

(b) to local authorities in Wales and to registered adoption societies, where the registration authority is the Assembly,

and, in relation to the register, references to adoption agencies in this group of sections include any authorities or societies mentioned in paragraphs (a) and (b) to which an Order under that section applies those requirements.

(3) For the purposes of this group of sections, references to the register applying to Scotland or Wales are to those requirements applying as mentioned in paragraph (a) or, as the case may be, (b) of subsection (2).

(4) An Order under section 116 may apply any provision made by virtue of section [Use of an organisation as agency for payments]—

(a) to Scottish local authorities and to voluntary organisations providing a registered adoption service,

(b) to local authorities in Wales and to registered adoption societies, where the registration authority is the Assembly.

(5) For the purposes of this group of sections, references to any payment agency provision applying to Scotland or Wales are to provision made by virtue of section [Use of an organisation as agency for payments] applying as mentioned in paragraph (a) or, as the case may be, (b) of subsection (4)'.—[Mr. Kemp.]
Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

Clause 116

Adoption and Children Act Register


Amendments made: No. 68, in page 66, line 13, leave out from beginning to "establish" and insert—

'Her Majesty may by Order in Council make provision for the Secretary of State to'.
No. 69, in page 66, line 20, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—

'(2A) For the purpose of giving assistance in finding persons with whom children may be placed for purposes other than adoption, an Order under this section may—

(a) provide for the register to contain information about such persons and the children who may be placed with them, and

(b) apply any of the other provisions of this group of sections (that is, this section, sections 117 to 120, section [Use of an organisation as agency for payments] and section [Territorial application]) with or without modifications'.
No. 70, in page 66, line 31, leave out "Regulations" and insert—

'An Order under this section'.
No. 71, in page 66, line 33, leave out subsection (6).—[Mr. Kemp.]

Clause 117

Use of an organisation to establish etc. the register


Amendments made: No. 72, in page 66, line 38, leave out "with the Assembly's agreement".
No. 73, in page 66, line 39, leave out "his function" and insert—

'any function of his under an Order under section 116'.
No. 74, in page 67, line 3, leave out subsection (3).

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No. 75, in page 67, line 9, leave out from "any" to end of line 14 and insert—

'directions given by the Secretary of State and the directions may be of general application (or general application in any part of Great Britain) or be special directions.

( ) An exercise of the Secretary of State's powers under subsection (1) or (4) requires the agreement of the Scottish Ministers (if the register applies to Scotland) and of the Assembly (if the register applies to Wales).

( ) References in this group of sections to the registration organisation are to any organisation for the time being performing functions in respect of the register by virtue of arrangements under this section'.—[Mr. Kemp.]

Clause 118

Supply of information for the register


Amendments made: No. 76, in page 67, line 16, leave out "Regulations" and insert—

'An Order under section 116'.
No. 77, in page 67, line 19, leave out "regulations" and insert "the Order".
No. 78, in page 67, line 21, leave out "Regulations" and insert—

'An Order under section 116'.
No. 79, in page 67, line 22, leave out from "a" to second "to" and insert "prescribed fee".—[Mr. Kemp.]

Clause 119

Disclosure of information


Amendments made: No. 80, in page 67, line 35, leave out from "disclosed" to "or" in line 42 and insert—

'under subsection (2) or (3).

(2) Prescribed information entered in the register may be disclosed by the Secretary of State or the registration organisation—

(a) where an adoption agency is acting on behalf of a child who is suitable for adoption, to the agency to assist in finding prospective adopters with whom it would be appropriate for the child to be placed,

(b) where an adoption agency is acting on behalf of prospective adopters who are suitable to adopt a child, to the agency to assist in finding a child appropriate for adoption by them.

(3) Prescribed information entered in the register, or compiled from information entered in the register, may be disclosed by the Secretary of State or the registration organisation to any prescribed person for use for statistical or research purposes, or for other prescribed purposes.

(3A) An Order under section 116 may prescribe the steps to be taken by adoption agencies in respect of information received by them by virtue of subsection (2).

(3B) Subsection (1) does not apply—

(a) to a disclosure of information with the authority of the Secretary of State, or

(b) to a disclosure by the registration authority of prescribed information to the Scottish Ministers (if the register applies to Scotland) or the Assembly (if the register applies to Wales).

(3C) Information disclosed to any person under subsection (2)'.
No. 81, in page 68, line 1, leave out "Regulations" and insert—

'An Order under section 116'.
No. 82, in page 68, line 1, leave out from "a" to first "to" in line 2 and insert "prescribed fee".

20 Mar 2002 : Column 407


No. 83, in page 68, line 5, leave out "section 116(2)" and insert "subsection (2)".
No. 84, in page 68, line 6, leave out "section 116(3)" and insert "subsection (3)".—[Mr. Kemp.]

Clause 120

Supplementary


Amendments made: No. 85, in page 68, line 13, leave out from "In" to end of line and insert "this group of sections—

( ) "organisation" includes a public body and a private or voluntary organisation'.
No. 86, in page 68, line 14, leave out "regulations" and insert—

'an Order under section 116'.
No. 87, in page 68, line 16, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—

'(c) "Scottish local authority" means a local authority within the meaning of the Regulation of Care (Scotland) Act 2001,

(d) "voluntary organisation providing a registered adoption service" has the same meaning as in section 131(2A).'.
No. 88, in page 68, line 18, leave out "sections 116 to 119" and insert "this group of sections".
No. 89, in page 68, line 24, leave out "sections 116 to 119" and insert "this group of sections".
No. 90, in page 68, line 26, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

'(4) No recommendation to make an Order under section 116 is to be made to Her Majesty in Council unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

(5) If any provision made by an Order under section 116 would, if it were included in an Act of the Scottish Parliament, be within the legislative competence of that Parliament, no recommendation to make the Order is to be made to Her Majesty in Council unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, the Parliament.

(6) No recommendation to make an Order under section 116 containing any provision in respect of the register is to be made to Her Majesty in Council if the register applies to Wales or the Order would provide for the register to apply to Wales, unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, the Assembly.

(7) No recommendation to make an Order under section 116 containing any provision by virtue of section [Use of an organisation as agency for payments] is to be made to Her Majesty in Council if any payment agency provision applies to Wales or the Order would provide for any payment agency provision to apply to Wales, unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by resolution of, the Assembly'.—[Mr. Kemp.]

20 Mar 2002 : Column 408

Clause 124

Payment of grants in connection with welfare services


Amendment made: No. 37, in page 70, line 41, at end insert—

'(4) After subsection (6) there is inserted—

"(6A) Before making any determination under subsection (3) or (5) the Secretary of State must obtain the consent of the Treasury."'—[Mr. Kemp.]
It being more than two hours after the commencement of proceedings, further consideration stood adjourned.
Bill, as amended in the Standing Committee, to be further considered tomorrow.

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