Clauses 9 and 10 ordered to stand part of the Bill. - Clause 11 - Fees

Part of Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 10:30 am ar 18 Rhagfyr 2001.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 10:30, 18 Rhagfyr 2001

The clause amplifies the general regulation-making power in clause 9 for the charging and payment of fees by adoption agencies. Like the amendments, it covers two separate situations in which it is appropriate for the Government to be able to make regulations.

The hon. Gentleman tended to concentrate on the first aspect, which relates to the ability of adoption agencies to charge for prescribed activities surrounding intercountry adoption. The second relates to prescribing fees that may be paid by adoption agencies to other persons and organisations that provide facilities as part of the adoption service. The clause is therefore not about the charging of fees to individuals who enter the adoption system. I made it clear last week that the Government have no intention to charge domestic adopters for any part of the adoption service.

Judging by the hon. Gentleman's amendments, he seems to think it possible that regulations will not prescribe requirements. By their nature, regulations must prescribe requirements; they cannot simply set out recommendations, although recommendations may be included in guidance when the guidance does not have statutory underpinning.

Amendment No. 3 would prevent the appropriate Minister from setting out in regulations the fees that may be charged and paid by adoption agencies to the persons that provided adoption services. The powers in subsection (1) relate to the second aspect that I described and could be used to make regulations to change the inter-agency fee system, for example. That fee is a payment made by an adoption agency to another adoption agency that has recruited an adoptive family on its behalf and covers the cost of recruiting and assessing that family. The Government believe that the inter-agency fee system operates well, but we have promised to keep it under review. The power will enable us to make any changes to the system that we consider necessary after consultation with those involved. The amendment would prevent us from taking action if it became necessary.

Amendment No. 4 would provide that regulations might not prescribe the fees that local authorities may charge for intercountry adoption services; it would enable those regulations only to make recommendations. I have explained why it is inappropriate for regulations simply to make recommendations. It may help the hon. Gentleman if I describe what we intend to prescribe.

We do not intend to prescribe specific fee levels. We may prescribe that local authorities can charge fees for intercountry adoption in the first place, and specify the services that local authorities may charge for, such as assessing adopters, obtaining medical reports and police checks and preparing post-placement reports for the child's country of origin. We have no intention to set or recommend any particular fee level under the regulations.

Under current legislation, all agencies are bound to charge only reasonable fees; that will continue under the new provisions. Adoption agencies may not make a profit, but each adoption agency will have slightly different costs which they should be able to reflect in the fee charged so as to recoup their costs. As the hon. Gentleman suggested, a nationally set or recommended fee might result in some agencies

receiving more money than they need, while others, which are not able to cover their costs, are discouraged from assessing intercountry adopters. However, those engaged in intercountry adoption must have some certainty about what adoption agencies can and cannot charge for. That is what we intend to establish through the regulations.

Under amendment No. 5, the regulations would require local authorities to publish their fees. I have some sympathy with the sentiment behind the amendment, but I think it unnecessary. On the whole, fees charged by adoption agencies to adopters, prospective adopters and other adoption agencies are already in the public domain. The level of fees charged between adoption agencies is announced annually by the Consortium of Voluntary Adoption Agencies, is agreed between the agencies, and is set at £14,931. The inter-agency fee charged by local authorities is agreed by the National Joint Council for Local Government and is set at £10,539. Information on those fees is clearly already in the public domain.

The intercountry adoption guide issued by the Department in April makes it clear that all adoption agencies charging fees to adopters and prospective adopters for intercountry adoption should clearly state what the fee will be before the process starts. The guide offers advice on the type of costs that should and should not be included, and encourages adoption agencies to consider charging fees in instalments. Agencies are also encouraged to provide applicants with a written statement detailing what is included in the fee to achieve transparency, which, as the hon. Gentleman said, is important in the circumstances. It is a requirement under current legislation and under clauses 91 and 92 of the Bill that adoption agencies may not derive a profit from that or any other work.

The powers in clause 9 are sufficiently flexible to enable the appropriate Minister through regulations to require adoption agencies to publish their fees or make them known to prospective adopters at the start of the assessment process. We believe that the system works well, but would be willing to consider whether that element was necessary if we received further evidence during consultation on the regulations.

Given those reassurances and explanations about the provisions and their intention, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel able to withdraw the amendment.