New clause 15 - Powers of the Secretary of State

Adoption and Children Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 4:45 pm ar 17 Ionawr 2002.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

'Any persons involved in the adoption or fostering process has the right to be informed of the power of the Secretary of State regarding lack of compliance on the part of local authorities and voluntary agencies.'.—[Mr. Bellingham.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

I will be quick because I gather that we want to wind things up by ten minutes to five o'clock. That gives me about two minutes.

I remind the Committee of a key provision of the Bill, which was in clause 14 and concerned the default power of the appropriate Minister. How will the Minister discover any lack of compliance on the part of local authorities? He will have performance reports from the social services inspectorate, but how will he discover lesser degrees of failure in duty or individual cases? I am sure that the Minister will agree that local authorities are unlikely to point out problems or examples of poor performance, so there is a strong

argument for inserting the new clause. It makes it clear that anyone involved in the process has the right to be informed of the Secretary of State's powers. It would be a simple and straightforward addition. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and I have put a lot of effort into drafting it, and we feel strongly that the Committee should accept it.

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

I hope that I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that his new clause is not necessary. The objective appears to be to ensure high standards in voluntary adoption agencies and local authorities. From April 2003, voluntary adoption agencies will be inspected and registered by the National Care Standards Commission and by the National Assembly in Wales under part 2 of the Care Standards Act 2000. Local authority adoption services will also be inspected by the NCSC from April 2003. The hon. Gentleman was right; they are currently inspected by the social services inspectorate.

Adoption is a mainstream social services function, and people have recourse to the complaints procedure, as amended under clause 111. Clause 14 provides default powers for the appropriate Minister if a local authority fails, without reasonable excuse, to comply with its duties. We have a comprehensive performance assessment system for social services.

The Care Standards Act 2000 also set up an independent children's rights director, who will have a national overview of the rights of children receiving services regulated by that commission. In the event of a serious failure by a local authority to comply with its duties, the Secretary of State may consider whether to use the default powers. I hope, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman considers the proposals put forward by the new clause to be unnecessary, and that we can all share the view that provisions are in place to ensure high standards.

Photo of Henry Bellingham Henry Bellingham Ceidwadwyr, North West Norfolk

I am glad that we have had the assurance that the new clause is otiose. The Minister was impressive: I shall write a letter to her Chief Whip to tell him that she has done well on the Committee, although she has not accepted enough of our amendments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.

Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Photo of Tim Loughton Tim Loughton Shadow Spokesperson (Health)

On a point of order, Mrs. Roe. I would like to interrupt the love-in. We are approaching the end of the Bill, and I would like to initiate the credits, which are traditional at this stage.

On behalf of the Committee, I thank you, and your co-Chairmen, Mr. Stevenson and Mr. Hood, for their good services in guiding through a technical Bill without anyone falling asleep during the proceedings. I pay tribute to the Clerk, Tom Goldsmith, who went beyond the call of duty helping Committee members to table amendments: that was not easy at times, given the technicalities of the Bill. I thank the Hansard reporters for their understanding during the more

technical debates. I thank all the outside bodies and adoption agencies, which contributed to our deliberations with their technical expertise at the earlier witness sessions, in the dim and distant past when we first embarked on this enterprise. That underlines the usefulness of that exercise.

I speak for the Opposition and the spokesman for Plaid Cymru, the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy (Mr. Llwyd), who unfortunately cannot be here today but supported many of our amendments, in saying that our deliberations have been good humoured. We had two apologies from the Minister during this afternoon's sitting alone. This morning, true to form, the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre did not disappoint us. In mirroring his Second Reading contribution, he offered excellent contributions throughout the proceedings, though he slightly ruined it by blaming all the ills in the history of mankind on the Conservative party.

The Committee was entertained by the radiance and expertise of the Parliamentary Secretary, and the expertise and ubiquitous flowcharts of the Minister. All Committee members have shown a great amount of expertise and practical experience. Government Members fell over themselves to outbid each other on how many years experience they had as social workers. In the case of the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford (Mr. Shaw), that is measured not in blood, sweat and tears, but in the extent of his receding hairline through the years.

I am proud to say that we on the Conservative Benches have precisely zero hours of practical experience with social workers, which has done our speeches no harm. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Huntingdon, whose name we now know how to pronounce, who made some good contributions on his Committee debut.

The Committee was a classic example of where programming was unnecessary, because the Bill had cross-party support. In the programming that we have suffered, 43 clauses have been untouched, and 7 touched only partly. More than a third of the Bill, as well as two schedules, has not been debated in Committee. Nevertheless, we wave on its way a better Bill. The Minister has been amenable to many of our suggestions and she made a major U-turn on access to information, which we greatly welcome. The highlight of the Committee was probably the success of my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset in amending clause 87 from ''British colonies'' to ''British overseas territories''. It may be too late for Gibraltar, if the Government sell it down the river, but that is a debate for another day.

We have covered many issues extensively. We have debated the sperm of members of the House of Lords; we have done a Cook's tour of other countries' adoption procedures; we have heard revelations about adopted people not knowing that they were adopted until their 70s or 80s; this morning we have heard the extraordinary paradox of accusations of right-wing political correctness; and we all now know how to pronounce the constituency of the hon. Member for Meirionnydd Nant Conwy, even if we do not know where it is. Unfortunately, he appears to

have welshed on the bottle of wine deal that he promised earlier.

We wave on a better Bill, and we welcome the two days on he Report to which we shall all contribute some time in the future.

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

I share many of the hon. Gentleman's sentiments, particularly regarding the good-natured way in which the Committee has carried out its deliberations. I thank you, Mrs. Roe, and Mr. Stevenson, and also Mr. Hood for his cameo appearance. I should also like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield (Mr. Hinchliffe) for chairing the Special Standing Committee sittings.

I want to put on record my thanks to the Clerks and Hansard reporters for their hard work in supporting the Committee. I also thank my radiant ministerial colleague, the Parliamentary Secretary, Lord Chancellor's Department as well as my equally radiant hon. Friends the Members for Poplar and Canning Town (Jim Fitzpatrick) and for Basildon (Angela Smith) for their sterling work on the Bill. Of course, I want to thank all members of the Committee for the considerable experience that they brought to the Committee. It is not always easy for a Minister when so many members of a Committee have so much experience. In this case, hon. Members put their experience to extremely good use and the legislation will be the better for their representations both during Committee sittings and behind the scenes.

I thank Opposition Members, not only the Front Benches, who have hardly ever been churlish and mischievous, and I particularly thank the hon. Member for North-West Norfolk (Mr. Bellingham) for the great good sense that he displayed in his last two contributions this evening. It may not be the done thing to thank officials, but I want to mention the support that they have provided.

The Committee may like to know that James Paton, who appeared before the Special Standing Committee, has been in hospital since Christmas, but is now out and recovering. I am sure that all members of the Committee would want to pass on their best wishes.

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

Ably prompted by my hon. Friend, I also want to put on record the support of officials across government, particularly from the Lord Chancellor's Department. As the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham pointed out, the Special

Standing Committee gave us the opportunity to consider the Bill in greater detail and to receive information from stakeholders more effectively than would have been possible without it. The hon. Gentleman is right to thank the stakeholders and lobby groups for their commitment.

Finally, we can be proud that we are sending on its way a Bill that will put the welfare of children at the heart of the adoption system, cut out delays, place a clearer duty on local authorities to provide adoption support services, give adopters a better deal, provide new rights to be reviewed after assessment, introduce special guardianship orders that will legally underpin the adoption register, and address the concerns expressed by members of the Committee.

We said at the outset that we were engaging in a ''once in a generation'' opportunity to modernise adoption legislation and I want to thank all those who have been involved in ensuring that the Committee stage has been particularly constructive and has made the legislation as good as possible.

Photo of Sandra Gidley Sandra Gidley Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol, Romsey 5:00, 17 Ionawr 2002

Without hesitation, deviation or too much repetition, I associate myself with the comments made by the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham. I recently read Giles Brandreth's diaries, in which he said that he went to the Whips and told them that he was an expert on culture, media and sport—so they promptly assigned him to the Transport Bill. I am delighted that no party has taken that approach on this Bill.

I have found very useful the experience of Government Members, which has brought us down to earth on several occasions. I have also very much enjoyed the anecdotal contributions from the hon. Member for Canterbury. Indeed, I am sorry that they have not been mentioned so far, as they brought a human touch to the proceedings.

Photo of Mrs Marion Roe Mrs Marion Roe Ceidwadwyr, Broxbourne

On behalf of Mr. Stevenson, Mr. Hood and myself, I thank hon. Members for their kind comments. It is always a pleasure to chair a Committee that can debate important issues with good humour.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, to be reported.

Committee rose at two minutes past Five o'clock.