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Lord Fraser of Carmyllie moved Amendments Nos. 201 and 202:

Page 69, leave out lines 36 to 41 and insert:
("(i) he is unlikely to achieve or maintain, or to have the opportunity of achieving or maintaining, a reasonable standard of health or development unless there are provided for him, under or by virtue of this Part, services by a local authority;
(ii) his health or development is likely significantly to

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be impaired, or further impaired, unless such services are so provided;
(iii) he is disabled; or
(iv) he is affected adversely by the disability of any other person in his family.").
Page 70, line 1, leave out subsection (6).

The noble and learned Lord said: I spoke to Amendment No. 201 in relation to Amendment No. 52 and I have done so again in relation to Amendment No. 200. So far as Amendment No. 202 is concerned I spoke to that in relation to Amendment No. 199. I beg to move the amendments en bloc.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 84, as amended, agreed to.

4.45 p.m.

Clause 85 [Approval of adoption society for specific services]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 202ZA:

Page 70, line 8, at insert ("which is a voluntary organisation").

The noble Earl said: Amendment No. 202ZA and those with which it is grouped are essentially minor amendments to clarify certain aspects in the process through which adoption societies are approved. The first makes clear that an adoption society must be a voluntary organisation. The second amendment allows application for approval of a service which has not yet commenced. The amendment puts beyond any doubt that approval can be given in respect of appropriate new services.

The third and fourth amendments deal with a change in Section 3(7) of the 1978 Act. The change brings in a degree of flexibility to allow the Secretary of State to approve adoption societies for a period less than three years, the present norm. In view of the declining numbers of adoptions and the possible tendency for societies to specialise in offering particular services, there may be occasions on which it would be appropriate to offer approval for a more limited period. This gives that useful degree of flexibility to the Secretary of State in approving adoption societies. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendments Nos. 202ZB to 202ZD:

Page 70, line 11, after ("maintained") insert (", or to be maintained,").
Page 70, line 34, leave out ("and").
Page 70, line 36, at end insert ("; and
(e) in subsection (7)—
(i) for the words "a period of" substitute "such period not exceeding"; and
(ii) after the word "operative" insert "as the Secretary of State may specify in the approval.".").

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 85, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 86 [Welfare of child paramount consideration]:

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy moved Amendment No. 202A:

Page 71, line 13, at end insert:

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("(3) In reaching any decision relating to the adoption of a child, a court or an adoption agency shall determine the matter without unreasonable delay.".").

The noble Lady said: With the leave of the Committee, I beg leave to move Amendment No. 202A in place of the noble Baroness, Lady Faithfull, who is unable to be here this afternoon.

The object of the amendment is to prevent unnecessary and undue delay in adoption cases. It gives statutory force to what should be good practice, and what is already in case law in Scotland for courts. Despite good practice and case law, unnecessary delays do occur.

There has been a case where an adoption petition took between four and six months when the children were already freed, because the sheriff was otherwise occupied and delayed the adoption hearing. There are already two changes to the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978, covering delay, in Schedule 2, paragraphs 4 and 17, but they do not cover all stages of the adoption process. For instance, paragraph 4 only deals with the stage of actually getting parental consent. Paragraph 17 provides that courts shall draw up timetables, but only in cases where there is a dispute over parental consent. It would not cover unopposed cases.

The Government, I believe, said that this was better dealt with in rules of court, with timetables. But are they prepared to undertake that the rules of court will provide timetables for all the adoption court cases, not just disputed ones, because delays do occur in unopposed cases? Also, rules of court are no use in preventing deals by adoption agencies. If we cannot have the statutory protection of the amendment, what about an undertaking to provide regulations with timetables?

Such delays are not in the interest of the children involved, and are very hard on the would-be adopters. I beg to move.

The Earl of Lindsay: I am in no doubt that in moving the amendment the noble Lady, Lady Saltoun, has the welfare of children very much at heart. She has demonstrated that. I doubt, however, whether it is necessary to add the subsection to the Bill in the way proposed.

Clause 86 inserts a new Section 6 into the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978 and Section 6(1)(a) makes it quite clear that a court or an adoption agency has to regard the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of the child concerned as the paramount consideration. I believe we could reasonably expect that the court or the agency is responsibly discharging that duty in relation to a child, to avoid any unnecessary delay.

The message is reinforced elsewhere. Clause 16 also makes it clear that a court should have the welfare of the child as its paramount consideration in making any determination. And, most importantly, Section 1(3) of the 1978 Act requires that the adoption service shall be provided in conjunction with the local authority social work service so that help may be given in a sensible, co-ordinated manner without duplication, omission or avoidable delay.

I believe that there are already adequate safeguards within the legislation but I would add that, as far as

13 Jun 1995 : Column CWH144

avoidance of delay by the courts is practicable, I believe it can best be achieved through rules of court. We have listened carefully to the points made by the noble Lady and we will consider her argument on this point. On that basis, I hope she will feel able to withdraw her amendment.

Lady Saltoun of Abernethy: I am very grateful to the noble Earl for that explanation. I should be very interested to know in more detail what is proposed but perhaps I could ask him about it at some other time. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 86 agreed to.

Clause 87 agreed to.

Clause 88 [Adoption by person married to natural parent]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 202B:

Page 71, line 32, after ("person)") insert ("—(a)").

The noble Earl said: These amendments to Clause 88 are again essentially of a minor nature. Subsection (2) of Clause 88 makes changes in Section 15(1) of the 1978 Act, which deals with adoption by one person. The aim is to ensure that step-parents can be included within the categories of single persons who may adopt. The aim is to remove the need for the natural parent to adopt his or her own child in step-parent adoption cases.

The changes which are now being introduced seek to make clear that the categories of people described in paragraph (aa) and in paragraph (b) are mutually exclusive. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendments Nos. 202C and 202D:

Page 71, line 34, after ("(aa)") insert ("not being a person who may make application by virtue of paragraph (b) below,").
Page 71, line 38, at end insert ("; and
(b) in paragraph (b), at the beginning insert—
"not being a person who may make application by virtue of paragraph (aa) above".").

The noble Earl said: I spoke to these amendments earlier. I beg to move.

On Question, amendments agreed to.

Clause 88, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 89 to 93 agreed to.

Clause 94 [Interpretation, rules, regulations and Parliamentary control]:

The Earl of Lindsay moved Amendment No. 202E:

Page 74, line 19, at end insert ("or the Lord Advocate").

The noble Earl said: This is a technical amendment. Although Clause 36 empowers the Lord Advocate jointly to make regulations with the Secretary of State in relation to the powers of a reporter to conduct proceedings before a sheriff, there is no provision requiring such provisions to be exercisable by statutory instrument subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament. This amendment rectifies that omission. I beg to move.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

13 Jun 1995 : Column CWH145

Lord Macaulay of Bragar moved Amendment No. 203:

Page 74, leave out lines 21 and 22 and insert ("and no instrument containing such rules or regulations shall be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.").

The noble Lord said: This is an amendment to Clause 94(2) to which the noble Earl, Lord Lindsay, referred in relation to the previous amendment on the inclusion of the Lord Advocate. As drafted, subsection (2) referring to "prescribed" states it,

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