Clause 7 - Inactive or defunct adoption societies etc

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:15 pm ar 13 Rhagfyr 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

There are no amendments to the clause but the clause does contain some vague passages. Subsection (1) says:

''This section applies where it appears to the appropriate Minister that—

(a) a body which is or has been a registered adoption society is inactive or defunct''.

It goes on, in paragraph (b), to refer to a body that has had its registration cancelled under part 2 of the Care Standards Act 2000, which is a positive act that one can determine. However, I am not clear how it would appear to a Minister—to use the terminology of the Bill—that a body was ''inactive or defunct''. Will the Minister give some examples of when that might appear to be the case, if she were the appropriate Minister?

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

It is important that we have the safeguard that ensures that the records and activities of an adoption agency that goes out of business can, if necessary, be transferred to a local authority.

I think that it would be fairly obvious if an adoption agency ceased to operate, and therefore came under subsection (1)(a). It would be drawn to the attention of local authorities, which could draw it to the Minister's attention, or it might be drawn directly to the attention of the Department. It might come to the Department's attention through its responsibilities for registering adoption agencies. There are a range of ways in which that might happen.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

Although I appreciate what the Minister says, something that has gone wrong in the past when agencies have closed down is that records have been lost. Has she considered how that will be put right in future?

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

We have not only considered it but ensured that it does not happen, by placing clauses 6 and 7 in the Bill and appropriate regulation-making powers later. The hon. Gentleman is right in his concerns, which is why it is important that clause 7 ensures, if necessary, that those responsibilities can be passed to a local authority.

I shall conclude my list of the various ways in which the body's state might come to the Minister's attention. It could be brought to the Department's attention through inspections, which would cover voluntary adoption agencies and local authorities.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I take the Minister's point, but she has not sealed all the hatches. A wide range of adoption agencies exists: some of them are big, some are small and some are specialist, dealing with a small number of children for overseas adoptions for some communities in this country. She said that the local authority or another adoption agency might notify the Department, but she should take into account the friction that exists between some people in the adoption world. It might suit some people's book that a particular adoption agency no longer continued in practice. We need a keener definition of ''inactive or defunct''.

The Minister failed to tell us what would happen if a Minister decided that it appeared to him or her that an agency was ''inactive or defunct'' and that agency reared its head and said, ''No, we are not inactive or defunct.'' If the Minister had taken measures determining that it was inactive or defunct, what recourse to appeal would there be and how would it work? Again, we are not dealing with mainstream cases. However, owing to the nature of the subject, I can envisage cases in which specialist adoption agencies in particular found shutters being closed on them as they went about their normal business. It does not mean that they are defunct or inactive merely because they have not fulfilled such a high quota of adoptions in a certain period.

The Minister may not be able to give me a full response, but the problem needs consideration. There should be a clear right of appeal for an agency when Ministers deem it appropriate that it be subject to such an order.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 4:30, 13 Rhagfyr 2001

Clearly, the Department does not want to whisk business away from adoption agencies that function appropriately. In most cases in which a voluntary adoption agency or other adoption agency ceased operation, there would be a quite sensible process of transferring functions to another adoption agency. The provisions are safeguards for cases in which that does not happen.

It is not possible for voluntary adoption agencies to operate without some recognition of their existence, as they are inspected and approved by the social services inspectorate. From April 2003, they will inspected and regulated by the National Care Standards Commission in England and the National Assembly in Wales under part II of the Care Standards Act 2000. We can therefore be confident that they will be drawn appropriately to Ministers' attention, and any necessary safeguarding action will be taken.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.