|Adoption and Children Bill
Mr. Bellingham: I shall be brief because I think that my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham has put a very strong case. There is no question that our new clause is sharper, more focused and better drafted. We have run it past a number of lawyers and tried to make it more user-friendly than more lawyer-friendly. Lawyer-friendly clauses are those that are going to go to court and result in a lot of lawyers spending a huge amount of time debating and making a lot of money at the public expense, which is why we are trying to make it easier to understand. The differences—my hon. Friend explained exactly what they were—are small, but significant.
Will the Minister clarify the meaning of ``secure environment''? Unless we are careful, that will lead to much legal debate. Does it mean secure in the wider family or social sense, or in the more narrowly defined physical sense? If we do not clarify that now, we might end up creating opportunities for lawyers to spend considerable time in court and make a lot of money.
We have had a wide-ranging debate on clause 1. I hope that the Minister will accept that the Opposition have been as constructive as possible. We are simply trying to help her and her officials to ensure that, when we report the Bill to the House, clause 1 is better suited to its overall requirements. That is why I support my hon. Friend.
Jacqui Smith: I shall respond to some of the issues raised by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham in his lengthy and legalistic explanation of new clause 2, but in the spirit of being helpful and constructive, it might be better to write to the hon. Gentleman with a more detailed response.
It may be worth clarifying the use of the word checklist and explaining why it is included in the Bill and the explanatory notes. My hon. Friend the Parliamentary Secretary was itching to tell the Committee that one reason for the word is that it has significant judicial backing. Lord Justice Waite referred to the use of the term in the Children Act 1989 in the London Borough of Southwark v. B in 1993:
of that Act
I am always willing to learn from judges' decisions about the significance and use of words and I hope that that is useful to the Committee.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham raised several points in his introduction to the more substantial legal issues. He mentioned the importance of resources. Government Members will cite the significant £66 million increase to local authority funding for adoption support. Long-term decisions are rightly subject to Government discussions. I am sure that all hon. Members will be cheered by the prospects for future public service investment—particularly in the national health service—held out by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his statement this afternoon. Significant extra investment is forthcoming.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham referred to the wishes of the child. We should return to the issue later in our considerations, which should satisfy the hon. Gentleman and others that the Government are genuine in their concern to ensure that the child's wishes are considered and that effective action that builds on good practice is taken. He also mentioned timetables and implementation. I can assure him that the Government have no intention of taking the eight years that it took to implement the 1976 Act. We shall return to implementation timetables later in our consideration of the Bill.
Although new clause 2 may possess some of the virtues suggested by the hon. Gentleman, I am doubtful about most of them. It would create significant problems, it misses out important issues and it places other issues in the wrong place. It should therefore be resisted.
I should like to respond to the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham's point about the change to clause 1(1), which attempts to make it clear that the clause does not apply to proceedings under part IV—dealing with care orders—of the Children Act 1989. The hon. Gentleman spoke about twin-tracking. We believe that the courts have a clear dividing line between the Bill and the 1989 Act. The new clause is therefore unnecessary in respect of courts. In care order cases, the court's role is to consider whether to make the care order, not to re-„write the care plan for the local authority. The court does not take a decision on adoption, but decides whether a care order should be made. Section 1 of the 1989 Act applies, so there is no need to provide for it explicitly in the Bill.
The position is slightly different with local authorities. Restricting local authorities from using the adoption clause 1 on care proceedings would be undesirable because that would fail to recognise their different role in drafting a care plan in respect of a care order application. In considering adoption as an option, we want local authorities to be subject to clause 1—or, in other words, to the adoption welfare checklist—whereas the new clause would disapply it for care proceedings.
With that explanation and my commitment to respond in detail to specific points on the legal relationship between the Children Act 1989 and clause 1, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will not press the new clause.
Tim Loughton: I am not terribly impressed. Our new clause was detailed, but the Minister has failed to respond, for example, to the point raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk and myself about the definition of ``secure environment''. If parts of the new clause that attempt to mirror the Children Act 1989 are inappropriate, that Act is flawed. We anticipate that the Government will have to amend certain parts of the Act. I shall eagerly await my postbag every morning for the Minister's detailed response. We have spent a long time debating clause 1 and to expedite the Committee's work I shall not press the new clause.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
|©Parliamentary copyright 2001||Prepared 27 November 2001|