Clause 4 - Assessments etc. for adoption support services

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:30 pm ar 13 Rhagfyr 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon 2:30, 13 Rhagfyr 2001

I beg to move amendment No. 73, in page 5, line 18, after 'authority', insert

'and they will have a parallel duty along with the local authority to provide the necessary service.'.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

With this we may discuss the following amendments: No. 172, in page 5, line 18, after 'authority', insert

'and they will have a parallel duty along with the local authority to provide any relevant support services'.

No. 145, in page 5, line 18, after 'authority', insert

'and the latter bodies and authorities will have a duty to make provision of all relevant services.'.

No. 144, in page 5, line 23, leave out from 'requested' to end of line 24 and insert

'has a duty to comply with the request and make provision of all relevant services'.

No. 183, in page 5, line 23, leave out from 'request' to end of line 24.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

After lunch, it is better to have cold air; we want the hot air in the morning.

We welcome the general idea behind subsection (9) and the proposals for joined-up thinking, which are intended to get the various agencies to work and, I hope, think together. However, practice tells many members of the Committee—whether, like me, they worked on social services committees, or whether they were social workers—that some authorities are better than others at working with other agencies. Some are better at providing services, some are better at providing particular services and some work better among their own than with others. One often finds that agencies tend to provide an excellent service for their own people—some agencies are more parochial than others. One cannot assume that the various health, education or social services across the country will be of the same standard.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

My hon. Friend talks about agencies, but is he using the term in the wider sense? In discussing the Bill, we have normally referred to public sector organisations as authorities and to charitable or semi-voluntary organisations as agencies. I would be grateful if he could clarify that point.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

I thank my hon. Friend. I have been using the word in the wider sense, and ''bodies'' would perhaps be more appropriate.

The different bodies will provide different levels of services. To that extent, subsections (9) and (11) need strengthening if we are to get people to work together and to deliver the same sort of service at the same time.

The way in which the various bodies provide their services is governed by many different items of legislation, and there is a lot of room for conflict and interpretation when it comes to getting them to deliver a unified service. That is not a new problem, but it certainly is a problem. At the same time, the Bill puts the local authority in the lead role. The authority will have the best picture of the overall adoption service, so it is right that it should take the lead role.

We feel that the Bill does not give enough strength to the new system. Given the various pieces of legislation, confusion could reign. Unfortunately, there could be another field day for lawyers in determining what legislation takes priority. The amendments are probing. They would add some flesh to the provisions and show how they would work in practice.

The explanatory notes suggest that the Government will issue guidance to the various bodies, with the intention that the local authority will receive an overview of the package of services. It will then be able to decide how best to proceed. Neither the Bill nor the explanatory notes provide any details, however. It would help if the Minister explained how she intends the procedures to work. The circumstances are not entirely new. To a degree, all the bodies currently have to work together, but many examples could be given of how they have not done so.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

There is an interesting parallel with services children. Children of members of the armed forces are another group of people who use local authorities in a similar way. For four and a half years, the Government have had an excellent initiative to try better to co-ordinate provision, but it has borne almost no fruit as there is a lack of a statutory duty such as that for which my hon. Friend rightly calls.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

I thank my hon. Friend for that extremely valid example. I ask the Minister to flesh out how the procedure is likely to work. How will it be varied from what we now have, which everyone agrees needs improvement?

When a request has been made, what mechanisms would come into operation? Nothing that we have received to date has told us how long, for instance, the various bodies would need to respond. The Bill might suggest that they should work in a concerted fashion, but it would be unfortunate if one body took that to mean a week and another took it to mean six months. It would be important for timing to be tied in.

What if one body does not respond? We assume that they will all play ball, but many hon. Members will know that that does not always happen. What if the assessment of one body conflicted with that of another? We are not talking about distinct scientific practice, but the difference between descriptions of the work of social workers, education people and health workers. They will often work together with similar disciplines, but who is to decide whose assessment will take priority in the event of conflicting views? How would those different views be sorted out? What would the timing implications be?

Should not the applicant have some form of redress within the system? An oft-repeated complaints by children or prospective adoptive parents involved in the adoption system is that they feel that they are not given an adequate hearing. Would they have rights to go to the panel to be created under clause 12? Such rights are not mentioned in the explanatory notes or the Bill, but surely it would be appropriate for people to have some say? If they did not feel that they were adequately listened to, they could seek some form of redress through an independent review. Outside parties could come in and take a decision.

I come to the core question behind the amendment. What is the point of such valid new provisions if the bodies concerned are not under a duty to provide services? Even if they believe that they should provide services, they may decide not to. They may decide not to provide them at the same time as one another or in a concerted fashion.

The importance of the clause will lie in the detail, and the same is true of many others. The subject has not been satisfactorily dealt with, and there are problems, so I would be grateful for the Minister's further explanation.

Photo of Mr Hilton Dawson Mr Hilton Dawson Llafur, Lancaster and Wyre

There is much sense in what the hon. Gentleman has said, and in the amendment. A Government who are noted for their commitment to what works and to joined-up government should take such issues on board. In my experience, to some extent, the ability of public, voluntary and private sector bodies to work together can make a policy work to the great benefit of children and their families, or, it is sad to say, work actively against that.

We have a great reforming Government who are making tremendous improvements to public services, of which the Bill is only one aspect. However, we have to get to grips with organisational inertia, boundaries and bureaucratic structures. The way in which organisations put themselves together, see themselves and operate works against the best interests not only of well thought out policy, but of children, young people and their families. I would like a major shake-„up. There should be children's departments at local level, and a range of organisations charged with meeting children's needs should be brought together in a framework that stresses the importance of corporate parenting and the participation of young people. I will not stray into such crucial aspects of citizenship in my short speech.

If the Bill is to work well—if all the Government's good intentions to improve adoption services and the support of adopted young people and children and adoptive families are to work—we must ensure that all the organisations involved work clearly together on a positive agenda that puts children's needs first, and way ahead of organisational imperatives or bureaucratic structures.

I do not know whether the amendments will prove acceptable to the Minister but I support the spirit in which they were tabled. The Government need to get a grip on this important issue.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk 2:45, 13 Rhagfyr 2001

I was interested to hear what the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) said, because he has a great deal of experience and he hit the nail bang on the head. The amendments are designed to ensure that the different bodies and authorities act in a co-ordinated manner in the interests of the child, which are paramount.

When he moved the amendments, my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly) made it clear that one sees different standards of service up and down the country. All too often, there is what is now described as a postcode lottery. A person living in one part of the country may receive a very good service from a branch of the public service, while in another part of the country they would not. It is vital that one branch of the local public services knows what the other is doing.

When it comes to ensuring that everything possible is done for children, particularly in the case of adoption, it is vital that the different bodies know what the others are up to. We had an important example of that in Norfolk recently with the Lauren Wright case. I do not want to digress, but the matter is relevant to what we are trying to achieve with the amendments. The main body involved in that case was the local education authority of the school concerned. The health service was involved as well, because Lauren was referred to a consultant paediatrician. The police were also involved, because the case was referred to them, and social services were involved.

The bottom line is that none of those services killed poor Lauren—it was her stepmother. Blame has been attached to various people who worked on Lauren's case in an unfair and unjust manner. A whole day of the Victoria Climbie inquiry will be devoted to the case, and I hope that it will result in a determined effort by the Government to ensure that there is proper co-ordination between services.

My hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon was right. He examined the explanatory notes, which state that there should be

''an overview of the package of services being provided''.{**W4**}

The package of services means those provided not only by social services, but by the education service and other bodies such as the health authority. He was right to point out that if we do not get this right, there will be a lot of confusion. Failure to do so could result in a field day for lawyers in interpreting exactly what the two subsections mean.

Furthermore, as the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre pointed out, it is important to ask what will happen when the different bodies do not provide the services that they are meant to. What recourse will parents or children have if those services that have been promised or offered are not provided? That may happen for a variety of reasons, such as some confusion caused by the clause.

I would like the Minister carefully to examine that point. The Opposition are very concerned and we are minded to push the amendments to a vote if the Minister is not able to give us a satisfactory answer. The issue is fundamental—there is no point in having a clause that refers to a package of services, an overview of those services and provision of those services unless we know that they will be delivered on the ground.

Why do the notes on the clause, rather than the Bill itself, mention the issuing of guidance and directions? Time and again in this Bill we come across mention of regulations, of guidance and of directions, yet we do not know what they—in this case, the guidance—will be.

I understand that the hon. Member for Romsey (Sandra Gidley) is going to talk about amendment No. 172 in a moment, but I should like to mention amendment No. 183, which, along with amendment No. 144, refers to refer to subsection (11), which says:

''A local authority whose help is so requested must comply with the request''.{**W4**}

That is fine. I am happy with it so far, but the subsection goes on to add:

''if it is consistent with the exercise of their functions.''

''If'' is not good enough. There are too many ''ifs'' in this Bill and too many ''maybes'', ''perhapses'', ''coulds'' and ''mights''. If we are keen for the local authority to provide the services and the help that might be requested, we should not qualify it. That turns a positive subsection into a very airy-fairy one, which might be regarded by some as entirely negative. I hope that the Minister will be able to satisfy us or we shall feel obliged to press the amendment to a vote.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Romsey

I apologise for having been absent at the start of the sitting, Mrs. Roe.

The Liberal Democrats have so far failed in our bid to amend clause 4 in a way with which we are happy. I entered politics in a spirit of optimism and I shall go on hoping. The amendments highlight another area that a number of the people who made submissions have seen as problematic. It is highly likely that we shall have to address how to deal with a proportion of the children who will require support services from the health authority, the primary care trust or the local education authority. Social services assessment might begin to identify those, but all that the social services department would have to do would be to notify the relevant authority. That does not go far enough, because there is no onus on that authority to provide further assessments, let alone to provide further support services. One could argue, to an extent as devil's advocate, that the local authority might be well equipped to provide the social services assessment. A joined-up council—although that is a buzz word, I have yet to see any form of joined-up government—could provide an assessment of educational needs. However, the Bill does not make it clear whether there is an onus on the council to provide an LEA assessment, even though the same council has to provide the social services assessment. Perhaps the Minister will clarify whether that makes matters easier or more difficult.

A local council is not in a position to assess health needs fully. That can be done only under the guidance of the relevant primary care trust. The Bill is therefore lacking, in that it deals only with assessment of part of what can be a very complex picture. Many agencies have highlighted that problem. We should listen to them, because they deal with the adoption system every day; they are much better placed than most of us to identify problems, and they have identified this as a problem in the Bill.

We have already lost the opportunity to guarantee that identified social service support will be provided. However, in a perverse way, that makes it a less onerous task to change clause 4 so that proper assessments will be provided for the children. The amendments, unfortunately, do not make the provision of support services compulsory. However, an adoption has a far greater chance of success if all needs are fully identified and supported at the beginning of the process. Then everybody can enter into an adoption with their eyes wide open, knowing exactly what the problems are and what support they will receive.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd

Amendment No. 73 has been tabled by a number of hon. Members. The Committee must forgive me because I have trouble with the pronunciation of some of these English constituencies, but they include the hon. Members for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham), for Huntingdon, and for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier). Oh, and it was also tabled by the rather more pronouncable hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd). As I considered it and the other amendments, it occurred to me that they refer to primary care trusts and local health authorities.

I apologise to the Minister for not having raised this matter earlier. I should have done so, and perhaps there is a simple answer, but I have only just noticed it in the amendment. In Wales there are no PCTs. There are local health groups, which are to be changed into local health boards. Health authorities are soon to be abolished and their responsibilities transferred to the National Assembly. The Minister might not have an immediate answer, but I wonder whether she can reassure me that that discrepancy is covered by a catch-all clause somewhere in the Bill.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

It is worth trekking back to what the clause, which we strongly support, is trying to do. We want to put some teeth into it so that it is meaningful, rather than just expressing a wish. I am risking arousing the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw), the statistics show that children who have been in care are disproportionately likely to become clients of the bodies listed in the clause. They are more likely to have special needs in schooling, to be consumers of mental health services and to have many other needs. We are dealing with a grave area, which was touched on repeatedly during the first phase of our deliberations.

I should like to elaborate on the parallel example that I gave, to show why good intentions supported by a lot of effort by Ministers are likely to fail without statutory backing. As my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon made clear, without either the amendment or something in the same ballpark, the clause will not give proper statutory backing.

The parallel group that I mentioned were children of members of the armed forces. Because, typically, they move very frequently, they tend to find themselves at the bottom of every waiting list. I moved 14 times during my 18 years of childhood—that is not untypical for an Army child. The child of a member of the armed forces may who want to go to the dentist, or his wife may want to see a gynaecologist for whom there is a nine-month waiting list, but the husband may be moved six months before they reaches the top of the list. Whatever happens, they are a disadvantaged group.

I do not want to try your patience too far on this, Mrs. Roe. The crucial point is that it is a problem. I pay tribute to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, who, when he was Minister for the Armed Forces, picked up and ran with this issue within weeks of taking over four and a half years ago. In doing so, he brought all the various agencies together; a taskforce is dealing with the issue and has repeatedly identified the problems. I am sorry to report that there has been almost no progress. At least that was the case the last time that I spoke to the army family federations and other bodies. That is why we tabled the amendments.

Unless we put some statutory teeth into the clause for the benefit of what is, by any standards, an even more disadvantaged group than the children and members of the armed forces, it will remain a piece of well-directed and well-intentioned wishful thinking, but little else.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 3:00, 13 Rhagfyr 2001

The clause and the amendments deal with the important issue of how we ensure that when children and families have a need for a range of services provided from different authorities or agencies, they are appropriately joined-up and those support services are provided. That is an aspiration with which I totally concur.

For some of the reasons that we debated this morning, the amendments are misguided and miss the point, but there is no disagreement between members of the Committee about the importance of ensuring that agencies work together properly for the benefit of those children and families who need adoption support.

The clause underpins the commitment that children and others who request an assessment have a right to one. Subsection (9) says that when it appears to the local authority as a result of an assessment that there is a need for health or education services, the local authority is placed under a duty to notify the appropriate ''Health authority, Primary Care Trust or local education authority'' of that need.

In response to my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, West (Kevin Brennan), I can say that the coverage of health authorities deals with the issue that he raised in relation to Wales. In consequence of changes made by the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Bill, we shall make any consequential changes in subordinate legislation to the Bill that we are discussing. I assure him that his constituents and those of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy will have that coverage.

Photo of Kevin Brennan Kevin Brennan Llafur, Gorllewin Caerdydd

I am reassured by what the Minister says, but will she clarify whether the current position should be reflected in the Bill in relation to subsection (9), in that there are no primary care trusts in Wales? There are local health groups, which are similar but not identical to primary care trusts in England.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I shall certainly reflect on that. The intention is clearly that the local authority's duty is to notify the appropriate health body to ensure that it can provide the necessary support in relation to post-adoption support.

The requirement to notify the appropriate health authority, primary care trust or local education authority of the need is new in the Bill, and represents an important improvement. I hope that that partly responds to the point made by the hon. Member for Huntingdon about the difference between the current and the new situation. What should happen once that notification is made? The health authority, the primary care trust and the local education authority will have to determine whether to provide services in accordance with their statutory obligations. That means that they must provide services to anyone affected by adoption who is entitled to them under the statutory framework under which they operate.

The alternative is that the Bill would cut across the statutory frameworks for all the other bodies that might provide adoption support. I am not sure that that would be appropriate given the statutory frameworks for health and education provision, which I shall discuss in more detail later.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

As usual, the Minister is courteous in giving way. Surely, she has touched on the issue. We are talking about a group that disproportionately needs particular services but is disproportionately disadvantaged in obtaining them for the reasons that were so eloquently described during our hearings. That is exactly why we must cut across the statutory frameworks. I gave the parallel example of the service families working group, which does just that. However, it has no legislative teeth and has failed to achieve much. That is why we are arguing for legislative teeth.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I suspect, from my experience with the initiative on service families children, that we are putting in place a similar process in the Bill. The most important point is that we bring to the attention of agencies and authorities the nature of the support that is needed and facilitate their provision of the relevant assessments and support. The next most important point is that we bring to the attention of health and education bodies the particular needs of children who need adoption support. That is why the Government will issue guidance and directions to health authorities, primary care trusts and local education authorities to ensure joined-up planning and the provision of adoption support services across the various public services. In other words, we shall explicitly bring the needs of children and adoptive families to the attention of authorities.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

Would it not be helpful to discuss how we can change the overall framework to avoid the conflicts that happened in the past? Will the Minister elaborate on how the guidelines will change the structure to facilitate the process?

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I shall come to that later, when we deal with education and other issues.

The guidance will spell out the particular needs of children and families that need adoption support. Furthermore, the national adoption standards—I refer hon. Members to standard E1—state that councils will plan and deliver adoption services with local health and education bodies. Once again, the use of guidance and directions will help to deliver that standard.

My hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre made a plea for wider reform and for joined-up work on children's services, and I have significant sympathy with that. The Government have made progress on those issues and will continue to do so in, for example, the work that we are starting on the children's national service framework. That framework explicitly includes social services and will examine how we ensure that health and social services are better organised. Directions under the quality protects programme place significant emphasis on working corporately across the organisation and with other partners, as my hon. Friend the Member for Lancaster and Wyre rightly said.

The flexibilities possible since enactment of the Health Act 1999 also enable much better joint working when appropriate for children's services in health and social services. If my hon. Friend is saying that we need to do more in order to ensure that services are joined up, I would agree with him, but I point him to those areas where the Government are making some progress.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

The Minister said that it will be important to bring the needs of adopted children to the attention of local health and education authorities, but where is the sanction or the stick for social services to ensure that those other bodies deliver the services? She must address that point.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I was going to return to that, but the sanctions, the sticks and the monitoring rest with the statutory frameworks that surround the provision of those services, as well as through the requirements that we shall make in guidance and directions.

I was moving briefly to subsections (10) and (11), which ensure appropriate co-operation between local authorities in the exercise of their functions in relation to assessments of need for adoption support services and the provision of any services following such assessments. We discussed this morning the way in which we could ensure that as children moved between local authorities, the criteria were such as to ensure that they received the necessary support, and I do not intend to rehearse that again.

Amendments No. 73, 172 and 145 would place a duty on health bodies and local education authorities, following receipt of a notification from a local social services authority under subsection (9), to provide adoption support services in line with the statutory services that they have assessed a person as needing. For reasons that we rehearsed this morning, the Government do not believe that that is appropriate. As I explained, NHS bodies and education authorities will need to determine whether to provide adoption support services in line with the statutory frameworks within which they operate. That means that when people affected by adoption are entitled to receive services under those frameworks, those services must be provided.

For example, it is clearly appropriate that if a child has special needs—the hon. Member for Canterbury was right that looked-after children tend to have a higher need for SEN provision—the statutory requirements under education legislation that ensure that an appropriate education assessment be carried out. Similarly, if a child has a need for mental health services, it is right that the mental health professional should carry out that assessment under that framework. Of course, the additional element will be that adoption will be dealt with in guidance, and directions on the carrying out of the assessment will have been brought to the attention of those professionals.

I shall give a practical example. Last week, a conference was held to help practitioners to consider how they implement the national adoption standards. At one useful session, officials from the Department for Education and Skills spoke specifically about the educational needs of children who would need adoption support services. The important guidance that has already been issued on the education of looked-after children, to see whether some elements, such as the designated teacher, could be appropriately used to support children going through the adoption process. That is a good example of how the different frameworks can be used to work together effectively for the benefit of children.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:15, 13 Rhagfyr 2001

The Minister has clearly and lucidly illustrated the heart of the problem with her example. She will know from her surgeries that local education authorities are under pressure, as anyone funded from public resources is, and that there are long waiting lists for people with special needs. Parents find that extremely stressful, as is inevitable, as they fight for their child to go further up the queue. The difference between the adoptive and the natural parent is that, whereas the natural parent has to fight only one battle, to get a special needs assessment for the child, for the adoptive parent, that battle is in addition to all the other struggles involved in looking after what are often very damaged children. That is why we believe that there should be statutory support for such children, rather than guidance and guidelines.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

That is precisely the sort of role that should be fulfilled by the key worker, as we discussed this morning, to support parents. It is also why the particular needs of adopted children will be brought to the attention of education and health providers so that they can be reflected in the assessment, although the assessment must continue to be conducted within the statutory frameworks.

Amendments Nos. 144 and 183 relate to subsection (11). The amendments are not appropriate. It is not reasonable or practical to oblige a local authority to comply with any request for help, where that request may not be compatible with its statutory duties and obligations under the relevant legislation. However, as I have already said, the Bill provides that the local authority must comply with the request where it is consistent with the exercise of its functions. That follows the approach taken in section 27 of the Children Act 1989.

With those detailed responses to hon. Members' concerns about an issue on which we all share the objective of ensuring that agencies work together to provide support for children and adoptive families, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

I am not happy with the Minister's response. We are trying to work out what is in the best interests of the child and we must ensure that services are properly co-ordinated. She talked about the statutory frameworks within which health authorities and education authorities operate, but I do not see how incorporating one of the three amendments would do anything other than complement that framework. I would like to press amendment No. 172 to a vote, but withdraw amendments Nos. 73 and 145, and then vote on amendment No. 183.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

Let me explain. Before the Committee is amendment No. 73, with which we are considering the other amendments. Only the hon. Member who moved amendment No. 73 has the right to withdraw it. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to vote on the amendment to which he spoke, he must declare that now, and I will arrange it when we have dealt with amendment No. 73. The same would apply if the hon. Member for Romsey wanted to press her amendment to a vote. Mr. Bellingham, what do you want to do?

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

I would like to press amendment No. 183 to a vote.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

I will allow a vote to be taken on that amendment when we reach it.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

Following your guidance, Mrs. Roe. I believe that, following your thought process, I am responsible for amendments Nos. 73, 145 and 144.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

My apologies, Mrs. Roe.

My opinion is that the matter should be put to the vote. We all agree on the same things, on a superficial level. We want more joined-up thinking and we want bodies increasingly to work together, as the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre said so eloquently.

How is the additional joined-up working to be carried out in practice, in terms of the nitty-gritty? My hon. Friend the Member for North-West Norfolk gave a good example of non-joined-up working in unfortunate circumstances. I am sure that all of us could give similar examples from our own constituencies. We want to know how the system proposed under the Bill will work. The problem is that there have been too many examples of working that is not joined-up. The Opposition do not find it acceptable simply to assume that everything will fall into place once the Bill has been implemented. The existing arrangements need to be reviewed.

The hon. Member for Cardiff, West mentioned PCTs in the context of the difference between England and Wales. The other side to his point is that PCTs are new organisations in England as well. We therefore need to think about what operational mechanisms should be put in place to cater for this new kind of organisation. That is not to say, however, that the mechanisms in place for existing bodies are acceptable.

The Minister made it clear that the purpose of the clause is to ensure joint working, but I am still not sure that it does that. It merely gives a statement of intent, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury pointed out, when he described it as having no statutory teeth. That is what it comes down to. Nothing in the clause will actually make joint working work, and we already know that it often does not.

Subsection (9) provides for the notification of bodies of the need to work together, but that is not enough. The Minister said that it was an improvement on what we had. That may be the case, but if the effect of the clause is to highlight the need without providing for delivery, its unfortunate impact could be to make things worse by merely drawing fresh attention to the deficiencies of the system. That is not a recipe for delivery.

I disagreed with the Minister about not wanting to cut across various pieces of legislation. One of our problems is the number of disparate bits of legislation. Why can we not use the Bill to review all those bits of legislation and find out how to put in place a system that will address the matter? I am not saying that that would be easy, but we should face up to it in order to get things right. We should put in place a system that crosses the various disciplines.

The Minister was asked to flesh out the proposals, and I do not think that she did so. She mentioned a doctors' conference, which was a good example of consultation. However, it was not a good enough example of the massive levels of consultation that would be required to get the new structure up and running to our general satisfaction. I feel that the Government have not yet given the issue the thought that will be required in terms of the nitty-gritty. She says that the Government recognise that more joined-up thinking is necessary, but how do we go about that? I suggest that much more consultation is needed.

The sticks that exist in various legislation, or that the Minister said existed, to prevent non-delivery, may be well and good. However, we know that the system does not work to the desirable standard. Therefore, even if those sticks do exist, there are either not enough of them or they are in so many different pieces of legislation that no one knows where to look for them. Why cannot we address them in the Bill?

The Minister said that the amendments were inappropriate, but she did not say why.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

I disagree, because we have been discussing frameworks rather than detail. We must improve the current system, not accept it as a given. I would like cross-provisions to be written into the Bill.

The Minister backed up her argument by referring to future guidance, but she did not say what that guidance would be or when it would be put in place.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

Previously, the hon. Gentleman said, rightly, that much work had to be done and many people consulted to get the details right. He now criticises me for saying that we need to consult many people to get the details right. Is that not a contradiction?

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

I do not think so. I recognised the Minister's example of consultation, but noted that that was not adequate in the circumstances. Much more consultation should be done to put some meat on the bones of the provisions.

The Minister referred to the role of the lead social worker. That is fine and a good idea, but we felt that that had been said rather on the hoof and that not much thought had gone into the practicalities of how to authorise that in practice.

For all those reasons, the clause seems to be losing sight of where we want to go, so I do not want to withdraw the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Rhif adran 5 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 4 - Assessments etc. for adoption support services

Ie: 7 MPs

Na: 9 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Amendment proposed: No. 183, in page 5, line 23, leave out from 'request' to end of line 24.—[Mr. Bellingham.]

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 7, Noes 9.

Rhif adran 6 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 4 - Assessments etc. for adoption support services

Ie: 7 MPs

Na: 9 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I crave your indulgence a little, Mrs. Roe, as I want to raise an odd technical point on the clause. We have considered the clause extensively through the large number of amendments that we have debated, mostly this morning. There are many provisions, however, especially in subsection (7), that will be covered by regulations, and sight of those regulations is a long way off.

Under subsection (7)(f) and (g), local authorities can charge for various support services provided to other bodies. Paragraph (g) refers to

''the recovery of any financial support provided by a local authority''.

So far as I can recall, we have not talked about charging fees. My understanding of the references to the regulations is that local authorities will have the power to charge fees for support services provided. That raises questions about what will be provided free to adoptive families that require support, and about the relationship between local authorities that send adopted children outside their jurisdiction and may pay fees to bodies in the other area, such as the new local authority and other support service organisations. It is not clear how that arrangement will work. Will the Minister touch on the basis of fee charging by a local authority, within its area or outside it?

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

Before the Minister responds, I would like to make a query. In terms of the local authority's bureaucratic mismanagement, the worst constituency case that I have ever handled resulted in a court action that was eventually settled out of court. None the less, it seems to fit in with the sort of question asked by my hon. Friend. I would be grateful for the Minister's response on fees in relation to it.

A couple wanted to adopt from care a young girl who had been severely abused. The adoption was a success, but an older sibling threatened to commit suicide if she was not adopted too, which is not an untypical reaction. Eventually, the parents reluctantly agreed, although they suspected that the poor girl was beyond their help. After a couple of brave years struggling, the sibling was taken back into care again because the adoption had failed. The younger sister continued to thrive in the adoption placement.

As the result of the then law, the local authority sued my constituents and billed them for taking the child back into care, because the adoption had gone through by that stage. I see the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre nodding—it is clear how the law works. The child was their child, the family were not wealthy, but both parents were in work so they had a reasonable income, and they were sued for an enormous weekly bill for taking their adopted child back into care. It is beyond my ability to find a way of tabling an amendment to any part of the Bill to deal with that, but I thought that this might be an appropriate time to raise the case.

Photo of Jonathan R Shaw Jonathan R Shaw Llafur, Chatham and Aylesford

Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that, under the Children Act 1989, local authorities do indeed have the power to recover costs when children are taken into care?

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

Yes, I do, and I believe that it is fair and reasonable that they should be able to do so. I am not opposing the state of the law in general. I am just saying that it seems completely unreasonable that that path should be extended to a child who has been in care and whom my constituents, again from a London authority, had taken the risk of adopting. I was making a narrow point. Obviously, the hon. Gentleman is right to say that the law is appropriate in most cases.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

We have covered the major points, but I shall respond to the questions raised by Opposition Members.

The point raised by the hon. Member for Canterbury has been dealt with by my hon. Friend the Member for Chatham and Aylesford. On the point about charging for adoption support services, the intention behind the clause has been misinterpreted. Local authorities will not charge fees for adoption support services. There was some debate last week about fees for intercountry assessment, which is a different issue. There is a power to make regulations in clause 4(7)(i) regarding expenses to be paid between local authorities or agencies, but it does not include the power to charge individuals. Local authorities cannot charge in respect of the provision of services unless a statutory power enables them to do so, and the Bill provides for no such statutory power.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

The Minister has been in such command of her brief that I wonder whether she misheard my point while she was looking at her papers, because far from answering my point, the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford raised something with which I agree.

The Children Act 1989 reiterated an existing power—a power that may go back further than that Act—which the hon. Gentleman and I support, for parents to be billed for the cost or part of the cost of their children being taken into care, if they have the funds to pay. I am sure that all hon. Members would support that. My narrow point focused on the misapplication of that legal power, which is possible in existing law, to a case where the child had been in care for many years, had been adopted and the adoption had then failed.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

That certainly sounds like an unsatisfactory situation, although I believe that the hon. Gentleman understands the legislative process under which that happened. One of the reasons why families find themselves in that situation is that they have been given inadequate adoption support, and our debates on improvements to adoption support services are important in that respect. However, we are currently discussing whether a local authority should be able to charge for adoption support services, and I made my case clear in response to a question asked by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham.

If the hon. Member for Canterbury wants me to pursue the particular case that he raised, I shall be happy to write to him.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

I would be most grateful for that. I had intended to try to get assistance in drafting a new clause for us to tackle at the end of our consideration of the Bill. However, if the Minister felt able to do something in that area before we reach that stage, drawing on her much greater resources, I would be intensely grateful.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

The Minister did not answer my second point. I entirely take her point about its not being the intention to charge fees to individuals. I am querying the charging of fees by other local authorities providing services. Where such services do not come up to scratch, the adoptive child has to be taken back into care by the original placing authority. Where the placing authority has paid out a grant to an adoptive family in another local authority area to make alterations to a house or provide a vehicle, and the adoption fails, what happens to the money expended? It is not made clear how that would work.

If a local authority provides services to an adopted child placed in its area at the expense of another authority, such as a London placement in a Kent authority, what is the form for those services being provided at more than cost? Are such local authorities able to provide those services on a commercial basis, particularly in view of the Secretary of State's recent announcement about commercial activities being provided by local authorities?

A local authority in Kent might play host to a child with complex difficulties who has been placed by an authority in London. The London authority pays money to the Kent authority for the provision of speech therapy services, special educational needs services and additional counselling. I understand that that authority, under the changes in the law, can now provide those services at a profit. The relationship becomes commercial.

However, what happens if the services provided are found to be wanting and not up to scratch and the placing authority in London has to repatriate that child, having spent a lot of money? Under the existing arrangement, it is simply a question of how the London authority might reclaim its outlay, which is deemed a failed investment. However, under the new arrangements there is a commercial liability as well, is there not?

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 3:57, 13 Rhagfyr 2001

The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham asked about the funding implications where an authority pays fees in relation to adoption support arrangements for a child who is placed with it but who must subsequently return to the placing authority because there is a problem. On another clause, we shall consider an amendment that deals with fees, including inter-agency fees, which involve authorities making payments in relation to the recruitment of adopters in alternative authorities. The consultation that followed the White Paper referred to inter-agency fees, about which there has been some concern. Nevertheless, the response to the consultation was such that most people felt that the system should continue, while recognising that it might be necessary to reconsider the guidance provided to local authorities about their financing system in order to ensure that perverse incentives were not built into the system.

I return to the issue of adoption support payments. When a child is placed with an adoptive family living in a different local authority area, it is important that it should be clear where the responsibility for providing adoption support services lies. We shall make regulations, as we said earlier, under subsection (7)(h), setting out a clear system that will apply in such circumstances. We shall consult stakeholders on the regulations in order to ensure that the detail is right. It will be vital to ensure that the new system is supported by appropriate funding arrangements. We shall therefore make regulations under subsection (7)(i) to set out the circumstances in which one local authority may recover from another the expenses of providing adoption support services. The regulations will ensure that the local authority's duties in cases such as those mentioned by the hon. Gentleman are clarified.

This is a complex area, on which there are many views. We need to work with the Association of Directors of Social Services, the Local Government Association and other stakeholders. It is important to get the details right, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we shall consult widely on the regulations in order to do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.