Clause 57 - Disclosing information to adopters

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:30 am ar 10 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 9:30, 10 Ionawr 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 52, in page 32, line 37, leave out

'As soon as practicable after the making of an adoption order'

and insert

'At the time of making'.

Good morning, Mr. Stevenson. I trust that you had a fortifying recess and that you are refreshed and ready to deal with the rest of the Bill.

Clause 57 is about the disclosure of information to adopters. No doubt, the Minister is geared up to say that we have already dealt with that, but in the last, rather rushed, sitting before the recess, when we started debating the raft of clauses—53 to 62—dealing with access to information of different types, we were faced with a number of 11th-hour Government amendments.

I said then that it was all rather confusing, and I see from Hansard and from the fateful letter that she provided to the Committee on 13 December that the Minister agrees that it is an especially complex part of the Bill. It is therefore slightly annoying, Mr. Stevenson—I wonder whether any approaches have been made to you on the subject—that there has been a substantial rewrite of those clauses, including clause 57. If I understand the Minister's intentions correctly, Government Members will vote against clause 57 stand part, having already replaced it with new clause 6—a new clause of which the Committee had very little notice before agreeing it during the last sitting before the recess.

Whenever amendments are used substantially to rewrite parts of the Bill because of a change of heart—a welcome one, in this case—comprehensive explanatory notes should be provided to explain Ministers' thinking, and those clauses should be written in a draft form that includes those amendments, which would make the changes easier to follow. We are now considering an amendment to clause 57, but the Government have tabled an amendment to delete the whole clause—and amendment that has not been selected because it is

technically wrong. My guess is that the clause has been superseded by new clause 6, which we still think is inadequate.

What I am attempting to do this morning is not easy. I want to amend clause 57 and I am happy with the amendment, but I fear that it will be blown out of the water because the Government have already inserted a new clause that sort of relates to the subject but is wholly inadequate. That may sound confusing, but we are in a confusing position. I wonder, Mr. Stevenson, whether the Minister has made representations to you about making further information available to the Committee.

Photo of Mr George Stevenson Mr George Stevenson Llafur, Stoke-on-Trent South

I am advised that the answer to that direct question is no.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I am not surprised, Mr. Stevenson, but it is a shame. Perhaps the Minister will make further information available to the Committee. She said that this part of the Bill is complicated, and it is to be changed fundamentally. It would, at the very least, have been courteous of the Government to give the Committee a full explanation of their thinking when their amendments were tabled and before we started discussing them at our last sitting before the recess. Had they done so, Opposition Members would have known on what basis we could table amendments to influence the Government's thinking.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon

I agree with my hon. Friend. Given the Government and Opposition amendments before us, it will be impossible to consider properly this messy series of clauses. I note from the amendment paper that the Government have tabled amendment No. 203 to delete clause 57, but the amendment is not on the selection list.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

My hon. Friend's comment demonstrates the confusion about this part of the Bill. We shall progress, but events will show the inadequacies of the Committee system when at the very last moment at which amendments can be tabled, a Committee is faced with a complete overhaul of the Government's intentions.

To return to the amendment, in her letter of 13 December—afternoon—to the Committee, the Minister said:

''we have decided to table amendments to the relevant provisions in the Bill to provide an enabling power through regulations to require adoption agencies to release certain information to prospective adopters at three key stages''.

She then gave rough details of what those stages were likely to be. However, the Government have tabled no amendments; they simply want to get rid of the clause and to replace it with a new clause, and they will do so, provided the Committee votes accordingly.

Theoretically, new clause 6 will replace clause 57. I have a complaint about an issue that some hon. Members, including me, failed to recognise when we first saw the amendments in the last-minute rush the day before the recess. The new clause states:

''Regulations under section 9 may require adoption agencies in prescribed circumstances to disclose in accordance with the regulations prescribed information to prospective adopters.''

I take issue with the words ''may require''. Making available information about medical records and other matters is such an important part of the adoption process that ''may require'' is not good enough. Furthermore, those words are connected with regulations that we have not yet seen and of which we have been given only a rough idea in a letter that was, in any case, flawed. That does not give me sufficient confidence that what the Minister has sort of suggested she wants will achieve what Opposition Members want.

Let me state the reasons why amendment No. 52 should change the wording of clause 57 to make it clear that it is crucial that information should be available at the time of matching, when the adoption process is in full flight. We suggest removing the words

''As soon as practicable after the making of an adoption order''

and inserting the words

''At the time of making''

the adoption order. That is the key to the amendment.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

Before my hon. Friend moves on to the detail, he might consider further the point about ''may'' or ''might''. Ironically, the new clause appears to water down the provisions: new clause 6 says ''may'', but clause 57, which it replaces, says ''must'', at line 38.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

That is correct. We want to retain clause 57 because it contains phrases such as ''must disclose'', which make matters absolutely clear. There is no ''may'', or ''regulations may prescribe''—the word is ''must'', and we want to retain that. The bone of contention is when the information is to be made available. It should be available much earlier in the adoption process. I shall give some examples of why that is so important.

To be fair to the Minister, she admitted in her letter that there had been concerns about and representations on making sufficient information available to prospective adopters at an early stage. That is supposedly why she came up with the changes, but we feel that they do not go far enough. One representation that all members of the Committee saw was from the Children's Society. Referring to the provision in clause 57 that required information to be given after the adoption order was made, it stated:

''This is too late. In order to consider whether they are able to care properly for a child, adopters must have all the necessary information about the child at the outset of the placement so that they can make an informed decision about whether to proceed. A finding of many disruption meetings is that a contributory factor to the breakdown of a placement is the lack of information given to adopters at an early stage. Anything that can be done to prevent the damaging effects of disruption on young people must be pursued.''—[Official Report, Special Standing Committee, 21 November 2001; c. 236–37.]

I agree wholeheartedly.

The Adoption Forum, referring to the same problem in clause 57, stated:

''without sufficient information at the time of matching . . . the prospective family''


''make an informed decision about whether they could or would want to become the child's parents. For example, a family may not feel it could deal with a child who had been sexually abused.''—[Official Report, Special Standing Committee, 21 November 2001; c. 169.]

If social services departments hold that information—such matters, of course, are sometimes revealed only when a child settles with a new and trusted family—it should be provided at the start, the Adoption Forum suggested. Again, I agree.

Barnardo's is an interesting case, as it was recently pulled up for not providing information. It stated:

''We cannot understand why the proposed timing for this is not consistent with current practice or the requirement of Regulation 12 (1983—Adoption Agencies Regulations). Adoptive parents need written information about the child and their background when they are considering whether to proceed with a placement not after the order has been granted. The Department of Health will be aware that, together with a local authority, we were recently sued for allegedly failing to provide full information at the time of a placement, which subsequently disrupted after the adoption order. We were successful in refuting the claim and the case was dismissed but we believe that we could have been legitimately accused of negligence had the information not been provided until after the child was adopted, as required by clause 57''.—[Official Report, Special Standing Committee, November 2001; c. 355.]

Mr. Robin Harritt, who has been in communication with me and made submissions to the Committee, has personal experience of adoption, having been adopted himself. He has spent a long time trying to contact his several siblings, with partial success. He said:

''It might interest the Committee to know that I have only just received some of my personal medical information from Barnardo's after ten years of complaints and legal threat, I still await from Barnardo's, the kind of information that Ms Gunn-Rosso required from Nugent Care''.—[Official Report, Special Standing Committee, November 2001; c. 295.]

That was a well known case. Mr. Harritt continues:

''In my search for my siblings I have found that one of my brothers died in his early thirties, from coronary thrombosis, apparently my maternal grandfather also died from a similar disease, everyone in our family needs to know this. I am aware of the service provided by the National Health Service Central Records department at Smedly Hydro, but very few other people who might want to make use of it, have.''— [Official Report, Special Standing Committee, November 2001; c. 298.]

Mr. Harritt draws my attention to a case that the BBC is taking up in a documentary. The subject of a news item on the internet last week, the case of the Gorry family is interesting and pertinent to our endeavours. The news item stated:

''Losing one member of your family in tragic circumstances is devastating, but when a third of your extended family is wiped out, it is a catastrophe.

This is what happened to the Gorry family.

But it was not until a doctor in Australia diagnosed a rare heart disorder in a member of the younger generation, the family realised some carry a life-threatening inherited rogue gene . . . Father-of-two Neil Halliday, who appears to have escaped the disorder, discovered the 'catastrophe' while researching his family tree . . . he discovered that nearly a third''—

of his family—

''had died suddenly while young.

He has since discovered that his brother Kevin, sister Yvonne, mother Phyllis . . . and other members of the family were the victims of Long QT syndrome—a type of sudden adult death syndrome''

Mr. Halliday is now desperately trying to make contact with all the members of the family—some of

whom have been adopted and with whom he has no links—to warn them that there is a serious family genetic problem of which he and, he assumes, other family members have until now had no knowledge. The condition can be treated using, among other things, beta blockers.

Two alarming aspects of that motivated the amendment, which would emphasis the importance of providing the information as early as possible. The first is medical: it is essential that prospective adoptive parents know about a prospective adopted child's medical condition, so that they can assess whether they can cope with it. Later, it is essential that those parents are in possession of as full a medical record as possible, in case the sort of genetic disorder is present that could have a serious impact on the health of the child and his or her siblings in future. People should not have to wait for 10 or 20 years for medical records. It should be implicit that when a match is made, a full medical history is available to the prospective adopters so that the well-being of the child can be properly attended to.

The second aspect was mentioned by Professor Triseliotis, who spoke about his work in adoption during the witness sittings of the Committee. He mentioned the case of a child who had been abused at bath time. The child was subsequently adopted, but went berserk whenever his new parents tried to give him a bath. They could not understand the problem. Of course, the problem was that that child associated bath time with being abused and the horrific events of an obviously tragic case of abuse in his original home.

Surely it is essential that prospective adopters know about such things when a match is being made. Then, they can fully assimilate all the facts about a child and determine whether they can cope with him and give him an adequate environment. That is especially important if the child has a range of special needs and comes from a rather murky background. There should be no ''mays'', no ''it will come along if the regulations allow for it''. At as early a stage as possible, full medical, behavioural and other pertinent records on the prospective adoptive child should be made available to the prospective adoptive parents. Only on that basis can they hope to make an informed decision on whether they can offer the appropriate environment for that child. Only then can they hope to be in possession of all the facts that might affect the future medical well-being of that child and other siblings with whom contact might be made in future.

That would be in everyone's interests. It would not involve an enormous amount of extra work, because if the work is done properly, there may be savings later on the pain, angst and requirements for extra support—and the associated extra costs—if the placement breaks down because all the facts were not properly made available and assimilated out in the first place. That is what we are trying to achieve.

I appreciate that the Minister has gone some way to recognising the importance of such a provision, but, there is, as my hon. Friend the Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) mentioned, a serious flaw: the new clause waters down the Bill's good intention.

Furthermore, the issue of timing needs to be beefed up. That is what the amendment is designed to achieve, and I strongly commend it to the Committee.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons) 9:45, 10 Ionawr 2002

I rise to reinforce the argument made by my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton). Possibly because I enjoyed the Christmas break too much, I did not fully follow the debate, and I am a little puzzled. On information, we heard some of the clearest and most eloquent testimony that I have ever heard in a Committee. I shall not bore hon. Members by repeating the points that my hon. Friend drew from that testimony.

People who have adopted have repeatedly made the point that it is crucial that they have all the information available on the child. I shall refer to a constituency case that I have mentioned before. The problems in that case did not relate to information, because the couple were given the information, but the Committee will be able to see what problems would have occurred had they not been given that information immediately on taking on the children.

The case involved two young lads, one of whom had been kept locked in a cellar for six years and was almost unable to speak; the other had been left outside in cold weather so frequently that he developed gangrene in both feet and came close to having to have them amputated, although in the end, doctors managed to save them. Knowing that he would become upset if he got at all cold, the mother would immediately warm his feet. That may sound a little bizarre, and is something that she would not have thought of had she not been given the facts of the case, but the boy found it very consoling.

The case of the poor boy who had been kept for six years in the cellar is more complicated. He had almost no ability to speak, and if the adoptive parents had not been told the ghastly circumstances in which the child had been kept by the people who had passed for his parents, he might have appeared to be completely stupid. In fact, there is no evidence that the child had any genetic failings: if one is shut off from all communication for the first six years of one's life, one does not learn to talk. It is a difficult challenge to teach a child aged six to talk.

My hon. Friend's two main arguments are crucial. First, full information must be provided and, secondly, it must be provided in good time. Our courts do not allow the introduction of hearsay evidence. Although Parliament is not controlled by that rule, I will not name names because of the seriousness of the matter. However, people involved in adoption for whom I have great respect tell me that—occasionally, and off the record—professionals have said, ''If we allowed the parents to have all the facts on some of these cases, we'd never get the little blighters adopted at all.'' That is a serious allegation to make about those professionals, but I shall not name names because I cannot actually prove that they said such a palpably untrue thing.

Every member of the Committee supports the central objective of the Bill, which is to get more children adopted. The sort of approach reflected in such remarks is completely unacceptable and wrong.

My saintly constituents who took on those two little boys knew everything about them—and there is not much worse that one can know about a child than that he was locked in the dark for six years and cannot talk. We owe the people who take on those potential emotional tragedies, turn them round and give them loving homes, the right to know everything that has gone wrong in the child's life, as far as the agency involved is able to provide that information.

I apologise for not going into more detail, but I am a little confused about the mechanics of what is going on. It strikes me as extraordinary that we are moving from tight original wording to much looser wording. I look forward to the Minister's response.

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

I welcome you, Mr. Stevenson, and the rest of the Committee back after the break.

I begin by responding to the points made by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham about the extent of the information on amendments that has been made available by the Government. I remind the Committee that we made information available both by circulating a letter to members of the Committee and by tabling the amendments and new clauses setting out the changes before Christmas. Although, as has been said, we were not able to discuss them on the Thursday before the recess, the Government gave Committee members and others a clear idea of the our intentions.

Hon. Members will remember and the record will show that I spoke at considerable length in Committee about how the Government intended the provisions to fit together to deliver the changes that we were making in response to evidence that emerged during the Committee's proceedings. I understand that hon. Members might have returned after the break not quite as immersed in the Bill as they were before, but we have made significant efforts to spell out the future position and explain our proposed changes.

As the hon. Gentleman said, amendment No. 52 is to be made to a clause that the Government, consequent on other changes that we are making, will propose should not stand part of the Bill. I have some sympathy with the issues raised by Opposition Members, but none with the idea that we have not already made explicit the way in which the Government intend to deal with concerns about what information is provided for prospective adopters, and when it is provided. We made that clear in the debate before Christmas, in my letter to the Committee, and in the other information that I have made available to the Committee.

We were aware that during the Committee's hearings several witnesses had stated the importance of adopters receiving full and appropriate information about a child during the matching process, and of supporting the adoptive placement well in advance of the adoption order being made. A number of witnesses suggested that the Bill did not address that clearly enough, commenting that clause 57, referring to the provision of information following the adoption order,

did not make sufficiently clear the need for information to be provided before the stage of the adoption order being made was reached. Introducing new clause 6 and explaining it enabled us to make that explicit.

We will set out in regulations that information should be made available to prospective adopters before the stage of the adoption order. We entirely agree that it is crucial that adopters receive full information during matching to help the placement to succeed. That is not a change of policy. It was always our intention to use the various regulation-making powers under the Bill to provide for that, but in the light of the points made, we thought it appropriate to amend the Bill to make the intention clear. That is why we propose to remove clause 57, while new clause 6 makes it clear that the general regulation-making power under clause 9 may be used to set out the key stages at which adoption agencies are to provide information to prospective adopters, and the information that they are obliged to provide.

For the benefit of the Committee and in view of the break that we have had, I shall explain what we envisage being provided at the relevant stages. That should overcome some of the concerns that have been expressed by Opposition Members. First, in the light of the intervention by the hon. Member for Huntingdon (Mr. Djanogly), it might be worth while—although it is not my role—to set out what I understand to be the process by which clauses are removed. An amendment is tabled to remove a particular clause; it appears on the amendment paper, thus making the Government's intention clear, but it does not have to be dealt with as an amendment, because the outcome can be achieved by moving that the clause not stand part of the Bill. There has not been a Government error, although the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham made such a mischievous suggestion—dare I say that he might be slightly bad tempered following his holiday? The procedure adopted is perfectly in order.

Photo of Jonathan Djanogly Jonathan Djanogly Ceidwadwyr, Huntingdon 10:00, 10 Ionawr 2002

Holiday moods notwithstanding, given all the amendments, it would have been helpful if the Committee had received a redraft of all the information and the provisions, along with some accompanying notes. In effect, we are starting from scratch and have been left with a confusing series of amendments.

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

Without claiming too much for my letter, the intention behind it and the amendments was to set out with greater clarity than is often found in explanatory notes our intentions and the way in which the provisions would fit together. I am sure that in the intervals between celebrations during the festive period, the hon. Gentleman pored over the amendments that were available before the holiday to ensure that he was clear about what is intended. Nevertheless, as I proceed today, I shall try again to make it clear to the Committee what the provisions will achieve.

Photo of Elfyn Llwyd Elfyn Llwyd Shadow PC Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Defence)

I appreciate that the new clause is important. Why does

the word ''may'' appear in the first line, rather than ''shall''? Also—and I ask this not mischievously but for information—may we have examples of the ''prescribed information'' referred to in the new clause?

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

We have previously debated the use of the words ''may'' or ''shall'' in relation to regulations. I made it clear that using the word ''may'' does not imply that the Government will try to evade their responsibility to provide regulations. When discussing new clause 6, I explained—in a way that I thought made matters clearer—what we intend to include in the regulations; however, I shall explain again. We intend to use the powers under new clause 6 to ensure that, through regulations, we prescribe that agencies must provide certain information to adopters and prospective adopters at three different stages.

First, a summary report on the child would be prepared at the linking stage, when the prospective adopters are first visited by the child's social worker and the adoption social worker. The report would provide information about, for example, the child's appearance, his family circumstances, the part played in his life by his birth parents, his home environment, why he was taken into care or is being given up for adoption, his behaviour, how he interacts with other children, how he relates to adults, and his current care status. It should not contain identifying information about anyone other than the child, and adopters would be asked to agree to keep the information provided confidential.

At the next stage, a full matching report on the child will provide the prospective adopters with all the information that they need to decide whether to go ahead with the match. That report would include much of the information that Opposition Members have highlighted as information that prospective adopters should have, both to enable them to make a decision about the adoption and to ensure its success. Included in that report will be a full description of the child's history, needs, problems, progress at school and in care, personality and behaviour, supported by medical, psychiatric, psychological and educational information.

At the third stage, if the prospective adopters want to proceed to make preparations for the placement, they should be provided with a written proposal setting out the terms of the placement. The proposal should include details of proposed financial and other support arrangements, as well as details about any agreement about contact arrangements. If the child's birth family agrees in writing, life story books, which may include birth certificates, photograph albums and family trees, may be passed to the prospective adopters, who would be asked to sign an undertaking to keep the identifying information confidential.

Although amendment No. 52 does not relate to this point, the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham referred to information that might subsequently become available. We will ensure that adoption agencies pass on relevant information to adopters when such information is obtained after the adoption order has been made.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

As I understand it, the Minister is arguing in favour of replacing a primary structure with a regulatory framework that will allow a detailed and sensible approach to be taken. However, she has not explained why she cannot simply table an amendment to allow the Government to make regulations while still providing the stronger primary underpinning of the original clause. What she proposes may be excellent for as long as those regulations are in force, but a future Minister—one who is lobbied by objecting agencies—could strike them out with a statutory instrument. Why not have both the strong primary underpinning and the regulations?

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

The evidence to which we are responding suggested that there was insufficiently strong primary underpinning, and that the underpinning that it would be possible or appropriate to include in primary legislation could not spell out the procedures in the same amount of detail as could be included in regulations. I do not imagine that the hon. Gentleman is arguing that all the details that I have outlined should be included in the Bill. That would be inappropriate because it would make responding to changes or improving the procedures in future much more difficult.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

Will the Minister cover the points made by the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd)? The word ''might'' could be replaced with the word ''shall'' and examples of exemptions could be given so that exemptions are not allowed to blossom in regulations, as so often happens under definitions set out in Bills.

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

I do not know what the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy thinks, but I thought that I responded fully to his questions. First, on the issue of ''must'', ''shall'' and ''may'', I reinforced points that had previously been made about the wording appropriate for regulations. Secondly, I explained clearly what information, prescribed by regulations, should be provided at various different stages. The hon. Member for Canterbury seems to think that I was talking about information that should not be made available. On the contrary, the prescribed information is information that is to be made available; it is not proscribed information, as in ''a proscribed organisation''.

Apart from the fact that it would have implications for other provisions, there is another problem with the proposal simply to amend clause 57. The clause refers to information that may become available after the adoption order is made. As I explained clearly, the Government and stakeholders are rightly concerned about information made available in the run-up to the making of an adoption order. I have made clear the proposed changes to ensure that prospective adopters receive full information in advance of the adoption order, and that adoption agencies continue to pass on relevant information after the order is made. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I am always glad when the Minister describes me as mischievous, as it is usually a euphemism for the fact that she has been caught out,

as she has been on this occasion. However, it was slightly ungenerous of her to describe me as bad tempered. Perhaps I was somewhat overgenerous in saying that her intentions were in the right direction, even though they did not go far enough.

If I appeared bad tempered, it was because of the Government's distinct lack of courtesy to the Committee in not providing us with the information that we need at the appropriate time. We received the amendments to this part of the Bill at the last minute. They were not available to hon. Members until Monday—the day before the Committee debated the amendments—because they had been tabled at the last moment on a non-sitting Friday. It was discourteous to sneak them in like that. Committee members had minimal time to consider them, and it was too late for us to table further amendments based on the Government's change of heart. Many Committee members and many outside bodies that have lobbied hard on this subject will be justified in feeling angry about the discourteous way in which the Minister has treated the Committee.

Furthermore, such practices are not good for the Committee. There are problems with the wording of the Government amendments, as I have already described. We should be in a position to apprise ourselves of the adequacy of amendments as early as possible. The Minister has offered no apology for how the Committee has been treated and steadfastly refuses to provide full explanatory notes about fundamental changes to the Bill. She said that she spoke at length about clause 7 during the last sitting of the Committee before the recess, but what she said amounted to less than two columns in Hansard. She has now reiterated the contents of the letter sent to us on 13 December, but that is not enough to allay our fears.

On the issue of ''may'', ''must'' and ''shall'', if the Government were happy to use the word ''must'' to emphasise how important it is that certain information should be made available to prospective adopters, why will they not use the word ''must'' in their new clause? That represents a substantial watering down of the requirements on adoption agencies. However strong the intentions behind regulations, ''may require'' does not mean that some less scrupulous adoption agencies and local authorities that want problem children to be adopted as soon as possible might not operate a strict requirement to make all the relevant information available to the prospective adopters at the appropriate time, yet such information gives the best chance of a successful placement.

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 10:15, 10 Ionawr 2002

A favourable interpretation of the hon. Gentleman's harping on about ''must'' and ''may'' is that he has not given a proper context to the use of those words. The unfavourable interpretation is that he is trying to create an issue that does not exist.

The use of the word ''must'' in the clause does not mean ''must produce regulations'' but relates to the phrase

''must disclose to the adopters any of the section 53 information''.

I shall stand corrected if I am wrong, but I believe that nowhere in the Bill is there a clause that says that the Government must produce regulations. The regulations, as secondary legislation, set out the information that must be provided and at what point it must be provided, so it is wrong to suggest that the use of the words ''may produce regulations'' is equivalent to the use of the words

''must disclose . . . information''.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

Part of the problem is that we still have not seen the regulations and shall not see them for many months after the Committee has concluded its proceedings. That is what causes confusion and makes us sceptical that what the Minister says ''may'' be produced will be produced in an adequate form, and that that will achieve what she says it ''may'' achieve. Those things absolutely must be achieved. The measures need to be beefed up.

The more the Minister spoke, the more confused I became about what the end results may be. I do not know how much of a requirement there is to produce the regulations and how forceful those regulations will be in ensuring that adoption agencies provide all the information required at the appropriate time. The point is important and, as the Government did not properly address it in the complete shambles of new clauses and amendments that they tabled before the recess, I ask my colleagues to support the amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 8.

Rhif adran 7 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 57 - Disclosing information to adopters

Ie: 4 MPs

Na: 8 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 Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health

I rise to argue that the clause should not stand part of the Bill. It requires adoption agencies to disclose prescribed information to adopters

''As soon as practicable after the making of an adoption order''.

We had a significant discussion about the fact that the clause will be replaced by new clause 6, which makes it clear that the general regulation-making power under clause 9 may be used to set out the key stages at which adoption agencies are to provide information to prospective adopters and the information that they are to be obliged to provide. Given that we have done that, as outlined in the previous debate, the clause should not stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I am keen that the clause should remain part of the Bill, even though it has not been amended as Opposition Members wanted. At least the word ''must'' would be retained, and we could return to the provision on Report and beef it up as required.

The Government have handled the issue badly. If they had made their intentions clear at the start and done us the courtesy of providing the extra information and explanatory notes that we have been going on about, we could have avoided this mess. They are guilty of gross discourtesy to the Committee and, on that basis, we shall vote to retain clause 57 in its entirety, with a view to amending it later.

Question put, That the clause stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 4, Noes 8.

Rhif adran 8 Adults Abused in Childhood — Clause 57 - Disclosing information to adopters

Ie: 4 MPs

Na: 8 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 57 disagreed to.