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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
The Minister talked about publishing the regulations. This has been a constant bugbear of ours. We are debatingalthough, 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 internationalit 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.