Adoption and Children Bill

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Jacqui Smith: The clause enables the appropriate Minister to establish an independent review mechanism to review determinations made by adoption agencies. The determinations that may be reviewed will be specified in regulations, following consultation with stakeholders in the adoption field. I will come to hon. Members' specific questions in a moment.

As the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd) said, the Government promised to establish the independent review mechanism for prospective adopters in our White Paper, ''Adoption: A New Approach''. The mechanism will be important in support of the efforts, with which all hon. Members agree, to build confidence in the adopter assessment process and to encourage more people to come forward to adopt.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon said, rightly, that we saw the panel as a way to review adoption agencies' determinations about the suitability of prospective adopters, and also their qualifying determinations on the disclosure of information held in their records that identifies third parties, as part of the new scheme for access to information underpinned by clauses 53 to 62. Any other determinations to be reviewed by the independent review mechanism will be set out in regulations. We will consult stakeholders while developing the regulations to ensure that the detail is right.

The hon. Member for Huntingdon asked about limits to the panel's jurisdiction. Under clause 12, the jurisdiction is not limited to the regulations made under clause 9. The independent review mechanism may, in theory, be used to review any determination made by an adoption agency.

I shall describe how the panel is likely to operate. The appropriate Minister may delegate the operation of the independent review mechanism to a public body or a private or voluntary organisation, and may make payments to that organisation in connection with its

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operation. That will help to ensure the independence of the review mechanism, which the hon. Member for Huntingdon rightly said was important.

Amendment No. 139 would place a statutory duty on the appropriate Minister to establish the independent review mechanism. Similarly, amendment No. 58 would require the appropriate Minister, as soon as he exercised his power under clause 9, to make any regulations in respect of the functions of adoption agencies and adoption support agencies, and to establish the independent review mechanism through those regulations. Neither amendment is appropriate or needed.

In response to the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, I say that the number of panels will depend on the number of determinations. It is expected that panels will be convened on the basis of need. Their constitution will be a matter for consultation, but it is expected that their make-up will be similar to that of decision-making agencies.

The question about reviewing the decision of an independent review might partly be based on a misunderstanding of the intention of the independent review mechanism. The mechanism will provide a way to review the decision made by the original adoption panel. The result of that review will then go back to the agency decision maker for consideration alongside the decision made by the original adoption agency panel. The adoption decision maker will clearly have to bear that in mind. I will correct myself if I am wrong, but if the prospective adopter felt that there had been a legal problem with the process, he could use the complaints procedure and, eventually, judicial review. Further consideration of the make-up of the panels that the Government promised in the White Paper will also be subject to the fundamental review of adoption assessment.

Mr. Djanogly: Will the Minister answer my basic question on whether the Government intend the panels to be set up by the time that the Bill is enacted?

Jacqui Smith: The hon. Gentleman is young and impatient—that is not a criticism, as sometimes those are good qualities—and I am coming to that matter. He has asked me twice about the implementation date. Given the work that I have outlined, I do not think it realistic to pledge to set up the panels by the time at which the Bill will receive Royal Assent, but I understand that the panels need to be established early in the Act's implementation. They will be brought forward for implementation before other parts of the Act are implemented. I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts that that is appropriate, given the need to consult on some of the issues.

The hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy asked about the costs of establishing and administering the independent review mechanism, which will be met centrally from the extra resources made available for adoption. We will consult stakeholders while developing regulations on the independent review mechanism, to ensure that the

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provisions on charges are right. The Bill includes an enabling power to make regulations about charges, which can be used following consultation.

Adoption agencies may be required to contribute towards the cost of convening a review panel. That may be instead of the costs that they would have incurred anyway in setting up another panel to consider a second hearing of the agency's own panel, which usually takes place under the current legal framework. In that sense, it should not create any additional expense.

In the White Paper, we promised to develop the independent review mechanism. We have also said that, when we draw up the regulations to underpin the mechanism, we will consult stakeholders in the adoption field on how it should operate and on the determinations that it should be used to review. We will establish it as quickly as possible once we have completed the consultation process. On the basis of those assurances, I hope that the hon. Member for Huntingdon will feel able to withdraw his amendment.

11.30 am

Mr. Djanogly: Before I ask the Committee for its consent to my withdrawing the amendment, I want to make a few points. The Government have reiterated the limited purpose of the provision. When we reach the next group of amendments, we shall discuss whether that is right, and in what contexts there should be a right to go to the panel. However, I am still confused about the Minister's statement that access to the panel would not be limited by clause 9, when subsection (1) states clearly:

    ''Regulations under section 9 may establish''

the procedure in question. How, therefore, is anything other than clause 9 relevant?

The Government gave no real explanation for their view that the amendments were not needed. The effect is that the Government will have no obligation to set up the panel. The rights of the child are to be paramount. However, panel rights, even in the limited context in which the Government will apply them, which will mainly concern prospective adoptive parents, will not necessarily be established.

I agree with the Minister that consultation on the workings of the panel is required. I should like that to go further and to involve consultation about what the panel should deal with. Why has consultation not yet taken place? Should the Bill be enacted with provisions for the new panel before the Government have consulted on how it is to work? Things are being done the wrong way round.

Tim Loughton: I should like to add one point. I agree with my hon. Friend that several questions are left open. The Minister referred to the costs of the review. Will she clear up a discrepancy that she did not deal with in her earlier remarks? Subsection (3)(a) states that the regulations may make provision as to

    ''the duties and powers of a panel (including the power to recover the costs of a review from the adoption agency''.

The power to recover the costs is quite specific. Explanatory note 54 uses the phrase

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including the power to request a contribution towards the cost of a review''.

Will the costs be partly or wholly recoverable?

Jacqui Smith: As I have made clear, the costs of setting up the review process will be funded centrally by Government. The extent to which the costs of an individual review will be recovered from the adoption agency will be part of the subject of the consultation that I outlined in my previous response.

Tim Loughton: It may be part of the consultation exercise. Why, then, do neither the Bill nor the notes put it in that way? Those descriptions are clearly in conflict. What is the Minister's thinking? As far as her Department is minded to do so, is it likely that the costs will be wholly recoverable, or will it be only a contribution to the costs? Can she give an early indication on this?

Mr. Djanogly: I endorse my hon. Friend's words. To sum up, it appears that the workings of the clause, and in particular subsection (1), have not been clearly thought through. Consultation that should probably have happened by now has not happened. All my hon. Friends have some concern about how the clause will be put into practice. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Mr. Brazier: I beg to move amendment No. 59, in page 9, line 29, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

    '(2) All determinations are qualifying determinations for the purposes of subsection (1).'.

The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to take amendment No. 138, in page 9, line 30, after 'subsection (1)', insert—

    ', but shall in any event include determinations relating to:

    (a) the suitability of prospective adopters at the adoption panel stage;

    (b) the suitability of prospective adopters at the pre-adoption panel stage;

    (c) the supply of information concerning the child to any person including the child;

    (d) the costs and expenses relating to the adoption process;

    (e) the movement of the child between successive foster carers;

    (f) the suitability of a child for adoption with particular prospective adoptive parents;

    (g) the process of an adoption agency in its dealings with the child and prospective adoptive parents and natural parents, including delays;

    (h) the giving or withdrawal of parental consent;

    (i) assessing whether the child's views have been adequately considered;

    (j) the content of and access to the Adopted Children Register, Adoption Contact Register and the Adoption and Children Act Register;

    (k) the process of intercountry adoptions.'.

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