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Mr. Bellingham: My hon. Friend is right. We were on the cusp of debating these important points in Committee, but were cut short. UK citizens who place an advertisement on the internet through a UK-based internet service provider in this country will be committing an
Tim Loughton: My hon. Friend is right. We are all agreed on the principle and desirability of some of the restrictions that the Government want to impose, but that is worthless unless the practical applications have been thought through.
I am slightly at a loss; the Minister has spoken to three amendments out of a group of 28. Indeed, she spoke at length to one that is not even in the group, interesting though that was. I should appreciate responses to some of my points. For all I know, there may be similar questions on the amendments to which she has not spoken but for which there is still a little time if she cares to elaborate further.
Jonathan Shaw: I welcome the bringing forward of support services. The universal determination of right hon. and hon. Members to see the number of children placed for adoption increase was one of the pleasures of serving on the Committee stage of this Bill. We want to meet the target of a 40 per cent. increase, but what happens when those children are placed for adoption? This is not just about targets, throughput and speedquality support is essential.
It is essential that local communities have confidence in adoption agencies providing post-adoption support. The dynamics change when a child is placed for adoption. One can only make a best assessment. As we have said a number of times in Committee and on Report, we are not dealing with pure equations. This is a dynamic process. Social workers, the panel and the courts are all involved in the process of adoption and in trying to make a vital decision for a child's future well-being and happiness in their adoptive placement. We know that things changewe do not know what will happen or how a child will react when he or she is placed with prospective adopters.
The test for adoption agencies is their willingness to respond to the crises, doubts and concerns experienced by the adoptive family and, of course, the child, as has been mentioned time and again. For placements to be successful, that is crucial.
Mr. Hinchliffe: In my constituency, I am dealing with the case of a young man aged 19 who is severely disabled. He was adopted by his adoptive mother two or three years ago, at which time he was eligible for adoption allowances. His mother had to give up work due to the severity of his disability. Her income has been reduced, yet it appears that there are no longer any support mechanisms for him because he is now an adult. Has my hon. Friend come across similar situations, and does he consider that the measure could assist people in those circumstances?
Jonathan Shaw: My hon. Friend has a wealth of experience in such matters. Indeed, many of the Committee members had swapped corduroys for sharp suits when they entered this placealthough my hon. Friend still has the beard; I think that he even has the sandals somewhere in his wardrobe.
My hon. Friend makes an important point: there are many variables. When we place older children with disabilities and a multitude of behaviour problems, we know that those problems do not end when they come of age. If we are to reach the targets, prospective adopters must feel confident that when they call the social services department or the adoption agency they will not be given the run around once their child becomes an adult. They need to be sure that the response will not be, "I am sorry but you no longer fit into the right bracket and we cannot help you." If that is the word on the street among prospective adopters, we will not hit our targets. All those factors are interdependent.
The point applies not only to severely disabled children or to those with extreme behaviour problems but also to children who are placed out of area. It is not satisfactory for a particular service to wash its hands of the child and say, "Sorry, you're no longer in our area so we cannot help you". There must be confidence in the system and I am glad that the measure will ensure that proper arrangements are in place.
Local authorities and adoption agencies have long realised their deficiencies when children from one part of the country are placed in another area. The adoptive parents are expected to trail halfway around the UK to get access to services.
Mr. Brazier: The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful point. There is also a wider financial point. It is anomalous that an authority can take a great deal of trouble and spend many thousands of pounds assessing a couple and including them on its list, yet there is no transfer of funding if the couple then adopt a child from another area. One authority does all the work, but another receives the budget relief.
Jonathan Shaw: My understanding is that there is support through the interplacement fee. If one agency prepares a couple for adoption and a child from another area is placed with them, there is an interplacement fee. My hon. Friend the Minister may correct me when she makes her remarks, but that was certainly my experience.
Problems arise when local authorities that have invested time and effort are reluctant to allow, or to encourage, prospective adopters to seek children from another part of the country. However, the national register and the consortium arrangements for authorities should stop those restrictive practices, although only time will tell whether they can be completely eradicated.
Mr. Brazier: I think that the hon. Gentleman was present when the Special Standing Committee heard testimony from voluntary organisations that they often make an enormous loss on those transfer fees, especially with severely disabled clients. It is much more expensive to scrutinise adoptive parents for such children.
Jonathan Shaw: The hon. Gentleman refers to a point that I touched on earlier and which was also highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe): it is difficult to place children with severe disabilities or behaviour problems. The BAAF publication "Be My Parent" lists more than 400 children every month and we heard from the BAAF that there is not even one inquiry about half of the boys aged more
The hon. Gentleman referred to the costs. Prospective adopters for some children are a rarity, but let us hope that we can make some economies of scale in our drive for such adoptersnot least as a result of the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend. His proposals would widen the pool, so if there are more prospective adopters there will be economies of scale and the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) will be reduced.
Mr. Dawson: My hon. Friend goes to the heart of the Bill when he refers to the fact that adoptive parents will need a huge amount of support if they are to take older young people out of the care system, especially those who have suffered the most distressing experiences of neglect and abuse and whose needs have not been met for many years. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bill will provide a framework? We have a long way to go in respect of professional development, good practice and regulation so that we can build on its essential elements.
Jonathan Shaw: My hon. Friend is right: making the step change that we all want in adoptive placements will put heavy demands on local authoritiessuch as education and social servicesthat they will not have previously experienced.
Mr. Hinchliffe: Support services are a key aspect of the measure. In the past, I have been concerned that local authorities took the attitude that once an individual was adopted that was the end of the matter. Does my hon. Friend think that we can achieve a sea change in attitudes and a recognition that the local authority has a continuing role, especially as regards the placement of children with special needs? Does he think that we can bring about a revolution in that respect? I remain concerned that we may need regularly to remind local authorities of their responsibilities towards adopted youngsters.
I would be reluctant to start prejudging local authorities because, in the main, all local authorities and adoption agencies think that this is highly desirable legislation, which rings true in terms of the type of child care policies that we want to develop, but it is important that the support services are responsive to a changing dynamicpost-adoption placements. If we get that right, people will have confidence in adoption services and more of our vulnerable children will be placed for adoption.
Jacqui Smith: The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) raised several issues in relation to this group of amendments. Indeed, despite being warned, he pressed me to go into a bit more detail on some of these amendments. I hope that he does not regret that.
I shall first deal with some of the specific points that the hon. Gentleman made. On the distinction between the words "transitional" and "transitory", the use of the word "transitory" is necessary because, as I explained, we need
The hon. Gentleman also returned to his oft-stated concern about the lack of detail about the regulations. There is a bit of a conflict between our approaches. We want to ensure that the primary legislation includes the principles necessary to improve the adoption system, while making it clear that, because of precisely the sorts of issue that were raised on numerous occasions in the Special Standing Committee, we need to work with the stakeholders to develop, for example, the framework for adoption support, as well as the detail of the regulations. We have been working on that framework, and I hope that we will soon be able to put it out to consultation.
It is obvious to an extent that we could not do all that and produce a final version of the regulations before determining the principles and before the consultations and discussions had taken place. It is a function of the Government's consultative and inclusive approach to developing the Bill that we will develop the regulations in close consultation with the stakeholders when we have got through the first stage of agreeing the principles embedded in the legislation.
The hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham and for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) referred to internet advertising. Perhaps it would be helpful if I were to clarify the legal position. First, as I suggested earlier, if a United Kingdom internet service provider hosts such an advert from the United States, the United Kingdom ISP would be caught by the restriction. The ISP would have to remove the advert, if they were aware of it; otherwise they would commit an offence. However, if the United Kingdom ISP were just acting as a conduit, it would not be caught. Clause 115(3)(b) deals with ISPs that simply act as a channel, and the same approach has been taken in the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Bill.