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Earl Howe: My Lords, this has been a useful debate. I am grateful for the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas of Walliswood, and, indeed, for the remarks of the Minister. It was helpful to hear the Government's intentions as regards this area of the Bill in a little more detail.

However, I was disappointed by part of the Minister's answer. It is pleasing that the Government intend that placement proceedings should be specified proceedings under the Children Act, as suggested in my amendment, but disappointing that they do not feel that the same should apply to adoption proceedings.

I return to the point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, who is almost but not quite in her place. If, in the child's view, there is a problem with the proposed adoption, it is essential that the child should be heard at the adoption hearing. We should be able to guarantee that.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for giving way. Does not he agree that in non-contested cases at the adoption order stage it would be disproportionate and unnecessary for the child automatically to have a CAFCASS officer and a separate solicitor appointed, and that that is why discretion is needed?

Earl Howe: My Lords, I was coming to that point. I do agree. However, as the Minister will see, the wording of my amendment allows for that. It permits the court to decide that a CAFCASS officer is not necessary in a particular case. The difference between the Government's approach and my approach is the presumption. I believe that the presumption should be reversed in favour of representation of the child in adoption proceedings. Only if the court were satisfied that it is not necessary to appoint a CAFCASS officer to safeguard the interests of the child should it not appoint such an officer. I realise that to some people that is dancing on the head of a pin. However, it is important. The court would have flexibility of the kind referred to by the Minister, but would come to it from a different point.

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Once again, we are hampered by the lack of draft regulations and the fact that consultation has not yet taken place. The Minister has been most helpful. However, I have not heard a satisfactory argument against the proposal I have advanced, which rests on two concerns: the need to ensure that a court can be satisfied that in appropriate cases the ascertainable feelings and wishes of the child have been represented, and our obligations under the UN convention. I am not convinced that those obligations are fully met under the existing provisions of the Bill. I am not sure that the Minister referred to that.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which the noble Earl referred, provides that a child should be heard in any judicial or administrative proceedings affecting him or her and should do so either directly or through a representative or an appropriate body in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law. My advice is that under both the existing 1976 Act and the new Bill when implemented, our system provides for both scenarios. CAFCASS officers will report to court on matters relating to the welfare of the child under Clause 99(3)(b). In addition, we shall allow in rules for a child to be made a party to proceedings where it is appropriate to do so acting either through a CAFCASS officer or, if of sufficient maturity, instructing a solicitor direct, to which I have referred.

At the end of the day my concern regards the rather different presumption on which the court would operate. I believe that there is a risk that too many cases would fall unnecessarily for full representation. That would cause undue delay, which, for many children involved would be unnecessary.

Earl Howe: My Lords, the least I can do is to reflect on the point between now and Third Reading. I shall not press the amendment today. I am grateful to the Minister for his remarks. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 [Basic definitions]:

4.30 p.m.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath moved Amendment No. 5:

    Page 3, line 27, leave out from "information" to end of line 29 and insert "and

(b) any other services prescribed by regulations,
in relation to adoption.
( ) The power to make regulations under subsection (6)(b) is to be exercised so as to secure that local authorities provide financial support."

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I shall refer also to Amendment No. 6 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Howe.

On the first day in Grand Committee, we debated the provision of financial support—which is not surprising because the current provision is patchy, with little consistency between individual local

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authorities. We have already made a commitment to improve the availability of financial support for adoptive families but I promised to take the issue away, to see whether it would be possible to make things clearer in the Bill.

Amendments Nos. 5 and 6 amend Clause 2(6), which provides that adoption support services include counselling, advice and information in connection with adoption, and other services as prescribed in regulations. Amendment No. 6 provides that the list of adoption support services included in the regulations must include financial support. The intention is to ensure that local authorities provide financial support as part of their adoption support package.

It has always been the Government's intention that the list of adoption support services that local authorities must provide, which will be set out in regulations, includes financial support. I considered whether it would be appropriate to accept the noble Earl's amendment but I have concerns about its effect as worded. In technical terms, it would be preferable to deal with the issue in a slightly different way.

Regulations under Clause 2(6)(b) will not only set out the adoption support services that local authorities must provide but which services should be provided by voluntary adoption agencies. Adoption support agencies will be regulated under Clause 9. The regulations will also be used to set out which adoption support services an organisation must be registered as an adoption support agency to provide. We would like to retain the flexibility to decide and later review whether financial support is a service that only registered organisations may provide.

It is not clear that it would be appropriate to prevent an organisation such as a charity from providing a lump sum of money to an adoptive family if it wished to do so, unless it were registered as an adoption support agency. Registration is primarily concerned with ensuring the quality of the service provided. Therefore, registration may not be necessary for the purpose of providing financial help to adoptive families and others affected by adoption. I therefore tabled Amendment No. 5, which sets out that regulations under Clause 2(6)(b) will provide that local authorities must provide financial support.

Amendment No. 6 sets out that the power to make regulations in Clause 2(6)(b) setting out the additional services to be included in the definition of adoption support services must be exercised so as to secure that local authorities provide financial support. Regulations will set out the kind of financial support that local authorities must make arrangements to provide. It is likely that they will include travel expenses for introductions and contact visits; settling-in expenses, including furniture such as a bed or washing machine; house alterations and adaptations; provision of transport; purchase of toys, clothing or other articles; and respite care.

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Amendment No. 5 will make a significant difference to the provision of financial support across the country. I hope that the House will feel able to accept it. I beg to move.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, we are grateful to the Government for taking on board the points that I made in Grand Committee about the need for regulations to include financial support. Amendment No. 5 attempts to achieve the purpose of Amendment No. 6—that regulations must cover financial support.

We are glad to support Amendment No. 5, although I do not fully understand why the Government need to add 22 words to the Bill, whereas my amendment merely substitutes one word for another—but I am prepared to take the Minister's word for it.

The real issue remains the content of the regulations. The noble Lord has given us a small insight but we did not debate that aspect in great detail in Grand Committee because the Government had only just published their consultation document, Providing Effective Adoption Support and most of us had not read it. That document was a disappointment. While it outlined the main complaints made about current financial support, its only definitive statement—in Chapter 4, paragraph 8—was that the proposed regulations will also make provision for means testing of financial support and the provision of financial support, subject to conditions.

That document contained no commitments about ending the post code lottery or the relative position of fostering. Nor was there any reference to the ending of budgetary constraints as a reason for non-provision. While I was grateful for the noble Lord's comments about the regulations' likely content, I did not hear any reference to the matters to which I have just referred. Consultation has ended and I hope that the noble Lord will say something about those aspects.

The Government amendment is welcome in principle but that welcome will be somewhat hollow if the amendment is not backed up by dealing with the real issues that exist at present in relation to financial support.

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