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Lord Elystan-Morgan: Where there is no target as such. A scientifically calculated phenomenon should be a current either moving from local government to central government or from central government to local government. In so far as local government says to central government, “We appreciate the principle that you have enunciated and agree with it. This is the situation in our area and this is the amalgam of the cases that we are dealing with which we consider to be appropriate to be the subject of adoption, not as a

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target, but as a calculated fact”, I am sure the Minister can see the distinction. They are not targets. They are not matters moving from central government to local government, but rather in the other direction—the moving as a category of collected facts which represent the current situation in the estimation of the local authority. I hope I am not splitting hairs, but to my mind that is something very different from a target that has been calculated in relation to some set phenomenon.

Lord Adonis: Now I understand the point. I accept that that would be very different. However, I restate that it is not the Government’s intention to set a target, however one might frame it in terms of the evidence base on which it is drawn.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I thank the Minister for his reply. I sometimes reel under his replies, and then I remember that I read somewhere in a profile of him that he speaks at 100-and-something words a minute and realise why I have to go back and read everything again in Hansard. I thank him for what he said about the national targets.

I shall say something about local targets, as the Minister raised them. There is a feeling out there—we read about it every now and then in our newspapers—that some children are removed from parents and put up for adoption when that should not happen. That gives social workers a bad image. When we did our social workers’ commission, social workers felt very strongly that any targets—we chose national targets, but even locally driven targets—that took away their autonomy to work to find the right placement for a child did not help in setting a positive image for them doing the proactive work they want to do. Seeing as we are not quite as pressed on time as sometimes, I wonder whether the Minister may like to comment on that, even though it is not in my amendment.

Lord Adonis: All I can say is that the Government do not impose, and have never imposed, adoption targets for individual local authorities. We do not have a view on whether it might be appropriate for an individual local authority to have an internal target. If the noble Baroness is asking me to reflect further on that, I shall be happy to do so, but I have stated our position.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: I would be most grateful. I thank the Minister and beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

[Amendment No. 95A not moved.]

On Question, Whether Clause 29 shall stand part of the Bill?

Lord Hylton: I think that this is the appropriate moment in the Bill for me to raise questions about privately arranged fostering. As I understand it, private fosterers are supposed to be registered or at least notified to the local authority.



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Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I am in a little difficulty. I do not believe that the noble Lord has chosen the appropriate place to raise this issue because there is no specific amendment before the Committee.

Lord Hylton: I am speaking to whether the clause shall stand part.

The Deputy Speaker (Baroness Gould of Potternewton):Of course the noble Lord is perfectly entitled to do what he is doing, but it is courteous to give notice in advance.

Lord Hylton: I have not given formal notice, but I have given notice to the Minister’s officials. I hope that is helpful, and perhaps I may continue. I understand that privately arranged fosterers are supposed to be registered or notified to the local authority. In practice that does not always happen. There may be frequent instances where it does not happen. What checks are made or can be made, and what are the powers of enforcement with regard to privately arranged fostering?

The background to this is that there are considerable worries about private placements for fostering being used as cover for the trafficking of children who, when they get to their private foster carers, may be prepared for domestic slavery in some shape or form or for much worse forms of exploitation. I would be very grateful for anything that the Minister can say about this, given that I am pretty sure I raised the matter at Second Reading.

Lord Adonis: I will write to the noble Lord with a fuller explanation of the Government’s position on the issue. As he is aware, the strengthened notification scheme in respect of private fostering introduced by the Children Act 2004 has had only two years of operation, so it has not been in operation long enough for us to assess it properly. Therefore I cannot give the noble Lord that which I believe he is seeking, which is our assessment of the effectiveness of the new regime in its entirety. I will provide any preliminary information that I can of the effects we believe have flowed from the strengthened notification scheme introduced in 2004.

Clause 29 agreed to.

The Deputy Chairman: While I am on my feet, perhaps I may make the position clear by reading from the Companion. It states:

I hope the noble Lord will accept that.

[Amendments Nos. 96 to 98 not moved.]

Clause 30 [Independent review of determinations relating to adoption]:

Lord Adonis moved Amendment No. 99:

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 30 agreed to.



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Clause 31 [Extension of period allowed for making regulations under section 45 or 46 of the Children Act 2004]:

Baroness Sharp of Guildford moved Amendment No. 100:

The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 100 relates to Clause 31, which takes us back to the debates we had in the Children Act 2004 about private fostering. That is what the noble Lord was raising and, arguably, he should have raised the issue under this amendment. Clause 31 changes the sunset clause. Under the Children Act 2004, a register of private fosterers was to be set up under Section 45 in relation to England and under Section 46 in relation to Wales. Section 47 states that if the regulations relating to that register have not been laid within four years of the passing of the Act, which would be November 2008, Sections 45 and 46 would fall. Clause 31 extends the four years to seven to take the provision through to 2011.

These Benches feel that the Government have been somewhat dilatory in getting such a register set up and in issuing these regulations. Only 10 per cent of private fosterers are currently registered. There are ten months between now and November 2008. It seems reasonable to add an extra year and make it five years instead of seven years. That will give the Government practically two years in which to get the regulations written and the register up and running. We feel that that is perfectly adequate. They should really have got a move on with this issue, and we would like to see them getting a move on with it. Therefore, our Amendment No. 100 proposes that instead of seven years it should be five years. I beg to move.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: We have always taken a great deal of care about the registration of private fostering. We have moved amendments on it. We thought of doing something on the Bill to bring forward a register now. We listened with care to what the Minister said at Second Reading, and can understand some time delay, but think it unnecessary to extend the provision to seven years. Therefore, I support the amendment.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I certainly support the amendment. A reduction of two years should give plenty of time. The other matter going through my mind was the issue raised by my noble friend about what may have been happening with fostering. The Act was passed in 2004, and the reason for not being able to give details about how the process is working out is that only two years have gone by. This concern about the trafficking of children—trafficking of people generally but certainly of children—for sexual exploitation has not been on everybody’s agenda for very long, but the figures we are now beginning to hear about are very concerning. This issue has built up over a short time, yet the Minister feels we need more time. How much more time are the Government going to need before they can give some real figures and say what effect—successful, I hope—the process has had?



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Lord Adonis: I can say how much more time we need to take a decision. That is precisely the three years we seek in the Bill. As to why we are seeking this additional time, I should make clear that we are not signalling that we have abandoned the idea of introducing registration, but that we need more time to see whether the current notification system is working. Before deciding whether to introduce a registration scheme, we need to assess fully the notification system. To do that we will need advice from the relevant experts. We will need to look not only at practices in different types of area and in authorities with high, medium and low levels of notification, but also to try to understand what prevents people in various situations notifying arrangements to their local authorities. We need to grasp the question of whether a registration scheme would encourage or deter private fosterers coming forward to the authorities. We are anxious not to deter fosterers from coming in where we need them. This will require further sophisticated research to be commissioned by the Government, and that is why we need the extra time.

4.45 pm

Baroness Sharp of Guildford: I thank the Minister for his reply, but it is not very adequate. What has changed between 2004 and now? Four years were adequate in 2004; other than the fact that the department has not got around to issuing the regulations, what has changed? It seems to us on these Benches that an extra year gives it two years from now to get such a scheme up and running. In 2004, during the passage of that Bill, it was decided to set up a registration scheme. I do not see why the Government are now running away from that same scheme. It seems to us perfectly reasonable. I will withdraw the amendment for the moment, but we may well bring it back on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 31 agreed to.

[Amendment No. 101 not moved.]

Clauses 32 and 33 agreed to.

Lord Northbourne moved Amendment No. 102:

“(ba) in relation to residence orders, whether or not the person with whom it is proposed that the child should live is likely to be able and willing to accept the responsibilities of parenthood in relation to the child;”.

The noble Lord said: Amendment No. 102 is about the responsibilities of parenthood. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, apologised profusely to me and to the Committee for the fact that he has had to leave to get

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to Cumberland for an appointment. He has shown his enthusiasm for my amendment by promising to put his name to it if I bring it back on Report, which I hope I shall not need to do.

The amendment would clarify and embed in law the responsibilities that a person assumes when they accept the responsibility of caring for a child who will live with them as the result of a residence order. In my view, the responsibilities are the same as those of any parent who has their child living with them. Curiously, the responsibilities are not clearly set out in law in England, although they are in Scotland. When a child is taken into local authority care and is placed with a foster carer or put into a children’s home, or where a child after the separation of his parents is sent to live with one of them, surely the same responsibilities must be relevant. It is critical for the child and for the parents of that child with whom he is not living that the child receives the parenting that he needs. We all know that parenting is fundamental to all aspects of a child’s well-being, including his education. The present position leaves uncertainty, which is potentially bad for the child and for the concerned adults. In the amendment, I propose that we should insert into the 1989 Act the relevant wording from Section 1 of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995.

In many ways, I would have preferred it if it had been possible to insert this text into Section 1 of the 1989 Act, but unfortunately I am prevented from doing so by the Long Title of the Bill, which refers only to amending Parts 2 and 3. This will be only a preliminary step in my campaign. The wording of the amendment is taken more or less directly from the wording of the Children (Scotland) Act 1995, which states that,

It is simple, it is non-prescriptive and it is reasonable. It is not over-detailed, and it is a good definition of the responsibilities of parenthood. It is no more than every child deserves and it is no more than the adults who care about that child’s welfare are entitled to expect. I beg to move.

Baroness Morris of Bolton: Throughout all our discussions on the Bill we have focused on the responsibilities of those in the children’s workforce and the local authorities when family life breaks down and a child is taken into care. However, there is a gap, which I am very pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, is trying to fill. That is why I was happy to put my name to the amendment.

There is no statutory description of the responsibilities of parenthood. Understanding those responsibilities and having them enshrined in law lays down an important standard. It allows for a framework to appreciate situations where a relationship may have ended, but responsibilities to the child have not. So, as I said, we are very happy to support the amendment.

Baroness Butler-Sloss: I very strongly support the amendment. There is no definition of parental responsibility other than in Section 3 of the Children

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Act 1989, which sets out the responsibilities of a parent and does not actually say what is meant by it. This is one occasion, if I may put it like this, where Scotland is ahead of us. The fact that it is in statutory form in Scotland is a good indicator to us, because the Scots are very keen on child welfare, that the wording there would be appropriate for us.

There are a number of court decisions on what is meant by parental responsibility. That is absolutely useless for most people because you have to trawl through the cases. What is needed—and I very much endorse the amendment of my noble friend Lord Northbourne—is not only a clear recognition in statute, of the importance of the parental position but is a clear and simple definition of what parental responsibility actually means.

It may be that it was not needed in 1989. I remember being very much involved in 1987-88 in giving advice on the Children Bill and then going around the country, on what we used to call road shows, training the judiciary and the lawyers on how to work the Children Act. This point did not come up then, but I think that, nearly 20 years later, the rather unhappy experience we have seen through the courts and particularly for social services, the Probation Service and, indeed, the criminal justice system, shows that some understanding of what is really meant by parenting needs to be in primary legislation. For those reasons I support the amendment.

Lord Ramsbotham: I, too, very strongly support the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Northbourne. As has already been mentioned, it produces a definition which we have been searching for. Certainly at the back of my amendments yesterday about adding the responsibility of care for those in custody was that somebody should be exercising the responsibility of a parent on behalf of the people in custody.

Currently I am involved with the development of a suggestion about a new type of administering custody, which is much more localised. The first part of that study has been trying to establish what would be the ethos of an establishment like that. It all boils down to this: what are you going to be doing in loco parentis? Therefore, I think it is extremely important that the provision should be replicated. It is unfortunate that it was not in the Children Act 1989 because it took, if noble Lords remember, a judicial review brought by the Howard League to get formal acceptance by the Government that the terms of the Children Act 1989 applied to those in custody, which previously was denied. Therefore I strongly support the amendment and hope that it will be accepted.

Baroness Walmsley: As somebody who wanted to define the word “near” in relation to schools and “independence” in relation to IROs, I suppose noble Lords would expect me to support this amendment because it deals with the definition of something much more important than either of those. I do so in particular because if a judge in the family courts as eminent and experienced as the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, thinks that this would be a useful device

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to have in legislation for judges in the family courts, that is quite good enough for me. I only regret that in such a provision it is not possible to put in the words “love” and “happiness”, which are the things that most parents want to give to their children. If you ask any new parent: “Do you want him to be a footballer, a judge, a shopkeeper or a builder?” the answer always is “No, I just want him to be happy”. Regrettably, you cannot really add that in legislation. However, it sounds to me like a very useful amendment, as far as it goes, so I support it.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I agree that it would be particularly splendid to have the word “love” in there somewhere, but we must take what we have. The wording is absolutely right: completely spot on. I cannot imagine why—

Lord Northbourne: I am most grateful to my noble friends for flattering me on the wording, but it is taken straight from the Scottish Bill. I take no credit for it.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: I accept that, but my noble friend deserves credit for finding it and putting it to us in this way. I ask the Minister why this was not part of our law in the past; we also had that opportunity. What were the reasons for not accepting this wording? I assume and hope that he will look favourably on the amendment, even if only to come back with his own. It would take something for the Minister to want to reject such a well phrased amendment, and I very much hope that he is not going to.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: I have not the slightest doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, does the interests of children and young persons a great service with the amendment. I appreciate that there may well be arguments over the proposed subsection (2), because it is difficult to define all the elements concerned, even the quantifiable ones. Elements like love, affection and loyalty are unquantifiable and can therefore never be the subject of definition in law.


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