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Mr. Andrew Stunell (Hazel Grove): I am following the hon. Lady's argument and, as a parent of adopted children, I concur with her views. Does she agree that what has to be evaluated is not one kind of partnership against another, but all those partnerships against living in a children's home? The choice is easy to make.

Ms Taylor: I could not agree with the hon. Gentleman more. I have seen children waiting at the door on a Saturday when visitors are coming, hoping and praying that mum, an auntie or someone will visit, and I could not prise them from that door. That is what makes me say that the hon. Gentleman is so right. Children want someone who thinks that they are special—No. 1 in their lives.

I am conscious that time is against me and that lots of Members want to speak, but let me say that there is much in the Bill that I want to praise—independent scrutiny, counselling support, a 40 per cent. increase in adoptions and inter-country adoptions involving the best for the child. All those are important qualities.

With two colleagues in the House, I have had the joy of being co-chair of the all-party adoption group. It has been a privilege to work with the many voluntary organisations that are part of the group. They have given us excellent advice and their considerable experience has been invaluable. It is worth recording all that Liv O'Hanlon and many others have given, including a perspective that is so important. They, like us, want one thing: an effective Bill that ensures a stable, loving family home for the thousands of children who long to be part of a family.

Owing to my personal experience, my enthusiasm and my emotional sense, my commitment to the Bill is absolute. I have had the privilege of adopting a beautiful daughter. As I have told the House once before, social

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services turned us down—we were too old and not good enough. That nearly destroyed my life, so I am very pleased that we have provided for independent scrutiny. Without my daughter, my husband and I would not have had the family that we desperately wanted.

I support the Bill completely and I am delighted with its content. I congratulate Members on both sides of the House on their involvement, especially my hon. Friend the Minister, who has ably piloted the Bill to Third Reading.

8.36 pm

Mr. Llwyd: I recall saying on Second Reading that the Bill had the potential to be a landmark Bill, and I still believe that. I value the excellent Special Standing Committee procedure, which I found very interesting. We spoke with knowledgeable people, so we did not have to rely on the green ink brigade and a huge number of letters—some, although not all, of which were perhaps uninformed.

Clause 1 says that the interests of children are paramount throughout their lives, and that is absolutely right. Members have said that the timetable provisions bring the Bill into line with the Children Act 1989; I remember being in practice when it was introduced. The Children Act revolutionised child law and I hope that the Bill does the same through the ambitious target of increasing adoptions by 40 per cent.

We have, of course, widened the pool of potential adopters, and much has been said about that over the past few days, but it is important that there is no ban on potential adopters. If people are fit to adopt, so be it. The only ban should be on those who are unfit to adopt. I echo the hon. Member for Stockton, South (Ms Taylor): it is indeed a privilege to bring up children and whether they are our own, adopted or someone else's does not matter. Adoption is a great privilege, and with that privilege come serious obligations.

I am extremely pleased with the way in which the Bill has been amended. When Ministers say in Standing Committee, "We'll get back to you," or, "We'll write to you," one sometimes has to take it with a pinch of salt. Refreshingly, the Minister and her colleague sent those letters, and I pay tribute to her for that. Changes have been made and further serious consideration has been given to the arguments put. More than that, one cannot really expect.

I welcome the provision of special guardianship orders as a helpful tool in the armoury. Care plans and the independent review are also most welcome.

I add my voice to that of hon. Members who congratulated the hon. Member for Luton, South (Margaret Moran) on her crusade concerning contact by people who have been involved in domestic violence. She has worked very hard and the fruits of her labours were obvious in the amendments that came forth last week.

On inter-country adoption problems remain, but the Bill is a good, positive step forward. The appeal procedure for those who have been turned down for whatever reason is right and proper.

I must, however, sound a note of caution as regards CAFCASS. We know that CAFCASS will play an all-important—indeed pivotal—role. I would go as far as to say that it must succeed if the Bill is to succeed. Over

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the past few months, I have spoken to many practitioners, including senior judges, who are worried that the additional work load on CAFCASS will create problems if it is not followed by additional resources. We all know what the old children's guardians ad litem are there for. I know, as a practitioner, that the quality, independence and experience of guardians is extremely important. I have no reason to say that such people will not be as good in future as they have always been, but I urge the Government to ensure that the resources are there to enable sufficient numbers of them to do the job so that they do not have to rush to produce reports without doing the work properly—otherwise we will fail those whom we seek to serve.

I shall now draw my remarks to a conclusion.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Before the hon. Gentleman does so, I pay tribute to him, as a fellow Welsh Member, for his contribution to the Bill—something that we do not often do across the Floor of the House. Will the hon. Gentleman now defend the honour of our nation by announcing who has won the prize that he promised in Committee for the best pronunciation of the name of his constituency? Can he confirm that he has a reputation for being knowledgeable not only about adoption, but about wine, and that whoever has won can expect a significantly expensive and very good vintage bottle of wine?

Mr. Llwyd: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's antennae have been working overtime, but he was in the frame for the bottle of wine, and he has been sufficiently gushing this evening to qualify for it. I shall ensure that he has it before the end of the week—inevitably without the cork, but we shall not go into that now.

Mr. Justice Wall, a very experienced family judge in the High Court, recently said:

is told that it has not got the resources. That is a warning sign that we should consider. CAFCASS is vital in the process. I am sure that it will be possible to provide the necessary wherewithal for it to do its work, and I am sorry to end on a sour note, but I urge the Government to ensure that it has all the resources ready at its disposal. CAFCASS had a rather inglorious birth, but I am sure that the genuine people who work for it will unite with one voice to say, "Give us what we need to do the work."

With those few caveats, I am very pleased with the way in which the Bill has been amended. It will prove to be a landmark Bill, and I am pleased to have played a small part in the deliberations.

8.43 pm

Mr. Dawson: It is a pleasure to take part in this stage of our consideration of a very good Bill. I join all hon. Members in speaking warmly of the good and positive relationships across the Floor of the House. I welcome the positive contributions that Members have made, from whatever background they come, and the care with which they have addressed the crucial issues.

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I, too, pay tribute to the voluntary and statutory organisations that helped us during the Special Standing Committee stage and continue to do so. I strongly support the Bill and the Government's aim of increasing the number of adoptions from care by 40 per cent. It is a good, if relatively modest, aim, with which the Bill will greatly assist.

I want to consider the way in which hon. Members have dealt with the measure. I am disturbed that people's enthusiasm for adoption can lead them to denigrate residential and foster care—that has happened in the past hour or so—yet residential and foster care are important elements of the care system that can lead to good outcomes for children. I am worried that some of the first-class people who work in residential and foster care and in social work will read some of the contributions that seemed to place adoption on a pedestal. It is a good option for children, but it is no panacea and it is not the only choice; extended care in the child's family is another important option.

As the Bill progresses, further discussions will be held behind the scenes. I hope and trust that they will refer to the contribution that family group conferencing can make to decisions about where children and young people live. Families often have tremendous resources, which they can bring to bear on problems if they have the opportunity to do so.

I want to comment on children and young people in care. Again, it is important that, in our enthusiasm to stress our anxiety about those who have been grossly neglected or abused, we do not overlook young people's potential, quality, resilience, courage, strength and intelligence. Every third Wednesday, the all-party group on children and young people in care meets; children and young people from care or those who have left care usually outnumber parliamentarians. I recommend attending a meeting to hon. Members who have shown an interest in the care system during the Bill's passage. Those young people know more about the care system than we will ever know, whatever our social work backgrounds. They have great qualities. After listening and talking to them, hon. Members are more confident and optimistic about children and young people in care.

We usually emphasise the negative side of care. That changes on meeting some of the young people who have been to university and are studying for PhDs, and the young person who, after being corporately parented by his local authority, became a member of that local authority at 21, two weeks ago. That is something to conjure with.

This is a good Bill. It addresses the fundamental aim of increasing options for care by improving the support available to those involved in adoption; by ensuring the availability of information about children who need to be adopted; and by clearing away work which is important in itself but which gets in the way of a lot of the adoption work of family placement teams. Step-parents being able to acquire parental responsibility for their step-children much more easily will be a boon to many teams, which will be freed to do their work by the establishment of the new status of special guardianship.

Above all, it has been a good Bill because of the way in which Ministers—the Minister of State, Department of Health, my hon. Friend the Member for Redditch

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(Jacqui Smith), and the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster, Central (Ms Winterton)—and their team of civil servants have responded so positively to the issues of concern. We have seen that today, too, in the way in which they have responded over issues relating to section 17, to advocacy for children and young people and to the role and status of parents in legal proceedings.

There is still a way to go. I regret that a process that has been largely positive has not given us enough time to debate important issues about parental responsibility, consent, placement orders and contact. The Bill brings adoption together with the Children Act. I regard the Children Act as great, balanced, profound legislation that goes to the heart of important issues affecting children. More work needs to be done on bringing the Bill in line with that Act. I am concerned that, in getting rid of issues such as freeing children for adoption, we may have created a category of children subject to placement orders who are not looked after, who are not accommodated or who are not on care orders. There is more work to be done on that.

I am disappointed that in the course of this Bill we did not deal with the vexed question of private fostering, which remains for another day. I am confident that the Government will get to grips with it. The biggest issue of all in making sure that the Bill works follows on from what the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said—the number, status, pay and standing of the social work profession within CAFCASS, local authorities and voluntary organisations. We must get that right.

We have a very long way to go, but this is a good Bill. It sets us on a good track and I wish it well.

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