Clause 62 - Interpretation

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:45 pm ar 10 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jacqui Smith Jacqui Smith Minister of State, Department of Health 4:45, 10 Ionawr 2002

I beg to move amendment No. 218, in page 35, line 23, at end insert

'or to information relating to his adoption'.

The clause relates to interpretation and provides definitions for this group of sections''. The amendment affects the term appropriate adoption agency'' in subsection (1). The term is used throughout this group of clauses in order to identify the adoption agency to which a person must apply in order to obtain information—either the agency that placed the adopted person for adoption or the agency that keeps information on a person's adoption because the placing agency has since closed down. In the case of a non-agency placement, notice of intention to adopt would have been given to the local authority. The

amendment makes it clear that the definition of appropriate adoption agency'' applies to both the adopted himself and to information relating to his adoption.

Amendment agreed to.

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

I beg to move amendment No. 211, in page 35, line 45, after 'fee' insert

'by virtue of section 61(7)'.

The amendment will restrict the regulations that require the approval of the Chancellor of the Exchequer to those made under clause 61(7). Clause 61(7) provides for the payment of a fee by an adoption agency to the Registrar-General for his disclosure of information on the adoption contact register, which is provided for under clause 61(4). The purpose of seeking the approval of the Chancellor of the Exchequer when a fee is prescribed in regulations is to align the provisions with the chapter 5 provisions under which the Chancellor is required to approve regulations made by the Registrar-General.

Under clause 61(6), regulations may provide for adoption agencies to charge a fee to a person other than the adopted person seeking protected information about a birth relative in order to cover only the costs in acting on an application for identifying information. The amendment makes it clear that the approval of the Chancellor of the Exchequer is involved when regulations prescribe that a fee should be paid by the adoption agency to the Registrar-General.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

I have one question. If I heard the Minister correctly, she said that a fee could be charged—to recover costs—except when the person concerned is the adopted person. Is that correct?

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

Yes. If I did not say that just now, I said it earlier.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

That seems a reasonable provision, but in such circumstances, is it not unfair that a fee is still charged by the Registrar-General for providing centrally held information? I am thinking about voluntary adoption agencies that are already struggling. Why should they be charged a fee that cannot be recovered?

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

The Registrar-General charges individuals a fee. The hon. Gentleman continues to mention the charging of adoption agencies by the Registrar-General, although I understand his point. However, it is necessary to ensure that costs are recovered. The important principle is that adopted people should not be charged for information made available to them. The intricacies of the cost structures of adoption agencies should not be discussed under the amendment or, perhaps, in this Committee. However, I heard the hon. Gentleman's point and I am sure that Treasury Ministers will also hear it.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

I shall finish my point. Although I should raise the matter during clause stand part rather than debate on the amendment, I imagine that we will hardly have a debate on clause stand part. I am sure that all members of the Committee agree that adopted

individuals should be exempted from the charges, but it seems unfair that voluntary adoption agencies that are struggling to cover their costs and raise money are charged by the Government for providing information when, for perfectly sound reasons, they cannot recharge that fee to adopted individuals.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I should like to emphasise my hon. Friend's points. We want to know more about fees. I do not think that there is a clause under which we will have the opportunity to debate the subject. Other countries operate various registers for free, although we are getting mixed up because we are discussing different registers such as the contact register and the adoption register. Voluntary adoption agencies provide a public service and there is a case for direct Government funding.

There is a parallel with the recently introduced register—I forget what it is called—for the investigation of people who work with young people.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

Indeed. The Government's original intention was to charge a fee to organisations, such as the scouts and guides, for each investigation of a youth worker. That would have placed a great financial burden on voluntary groups that do good work. Opposition Members including myself had to bring a lot of pressure to bear on the Government to change its heart. There is not a world of difference between that and the register that the Committee is considering.

Photo of Julian Brazier Julian Brazier Opposition Whip (Commons)

May I correct my hon. Friend, albeit by reinforcing his point? We are considering much smaller sums of money, because we are discussing only voluntary agencies, of which there are only 10, and they deal with only a few cases. The sums are tiny compared with the sums involved with the register that he mentioned on which the Government eventually and sensibly gave way.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

I am sure that that is the case. I think that it was estimated that voluntary adoption agencies subbed the Government to the tune of £3.5 million with their work, which would otherwise have to be done by public bodies. Why must fees be attached to a process that ensures that more children are taken into stable adoptive homes, thereby saving local authorities an enormous amount of money in care homes and social services departments? What sort of fees are we thinking about, and has an estimate been made of the cost, in particular to voluntary adoption agencies?

What mechanism is there for reviewing the fees, how often will they be put up and will they ever be reduced? Will they reflect just the cost of running the system, or will they cover more than overheads? What happens if the cost of running the register turns out to be less than anticipated and the fees more than outweigh the costs? Would a refund be available to the agencies and would fees in the subsequent year be reduced? We need the answers to those questions and a bit more detail about the fees.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

Subsection (2)(a) mentions regulations that

are to be made by the Scottish Ministers'', but the Bill's provisions extend only to Scotland and Wales—

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

Indeed; the provisions extend only to England and Wales except insofar as certain sections will extend to Scotland and Northern Ireland. Will the regulations mentioned in subsection (2)(a) require the Scottish Parliament to pass separate legislation? If so, how will that affect the provisions of Government amendment No. 211?

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

On the subject of fees, Opposition Members have made the case for voluntary adoption agencies, and I have spelled out the relationships between the adoption agency and the Registrar-General, and the individual—who will not be charged fees—and the adoption agency.

The Registrar-General is a creation of statute, and the exercise of functions must recover the costs of providing information. Therefore, he must have the power to charge adoption agencies for information. Provided that he has that power, he will be able to exercise discretion about to whom fees may apply. I agree with hon. Gentlemen's points about the important role of voluntary adoption agencies, and I am sure that they will be considered when decisions are made about charges. The Registrar-General does not currently charge adopted people for information, but charges them and birth parents for registration on the contact register. Those fees are £15 and £30 respectively and are subject to review by the Secretary of State.

The hon. Member for North-West Norfolk raised a broad question. The crux of it was whether the Scottish Parliament would need to consider separate adoption legislation. The power of Scottish Ministers and the Northern Ireland Department of Health is to make regulations, which are secondary legislation subject to the procedures of the Scottish Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly

It being Five o'clock, The Chairman, proceeded, pursuant to Sessional Order D [28 June 2001], and the Order of the Committee [27 November 2001], to put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair.

Amendment agreed to.

The Chairman then proceeded to put forthwith the Questions necessary to dispose of the business to be concluded at that time.

Clause 62, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.