Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Mr. David Davis: The Minister knows that I do not speak as a Front-Bencher, but the simple fact is that the

26 Mar 2001 : Column 775

American experience shows that high early expenditure gives a fast return because of reduced spending on children in care. Does not she accept that that same model could apply here? It might lead to rather more expenditure than £20 million or £30 million a year--perhaps well over £100 million a year--but in such circumstances that would be well worth it in terms of the social benefit and the payback within two years.

Jane Kennedy: I agree with much of what the right hon. Gentleman says. We are putting up front £66 million to be spent on adoption. That spending will be closely monitored and local authorities will be set tough performance targets so that the resources that we provide them with are spent effectively and properly to help the children who are the focus of our debate.

Several hon. Members referred to poor-performing local authorities. Action will be taken and we are determined to follow through the complaints that we heard this evening.

Mr. Brazier: I put it to the Minister that willingness to make an example of one or two of the worst local authorities through an early removal of adoption powers is crucial. That would have a salutary effect on the others.

Jane Kennedy: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's comments.

I understood the hon. Member for Meriden to say that there is no duty to provide post-adoption support as a result of an assessment. To clarify the point, local authorities are best placed to decide about the provision of services for individuals within local priorities and within local resources. We shall set out in our new framework the range of services that local authorities will have to put in place and we shall back that up with resources, which should ensure that many more families receive adoption support.

A number of Members made thoughtful contributions and my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Liz Blackman) and the hon. Member for Canterbury made fair and well argued speeches that welcomed the Bill. A number of points that they made will be dealt with in the special Select Committee.

What can I say about my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Mrs. Golding)? Her contribution was spoken of warmly by hon. Members on both sides of the Chamber, and I wish to associate myself with their comments. I shall let her into a secret. I, too, was whipped off to take part in a statutory instrument Committee earlier this afternoon, so we both missed the same period of the debate. She welcomed the measures, especially the provisions that strengthen the arrangements for international adoption, and she gave us some telling case studies for our consideration. I am grateful for her warm welcome for the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood (Mrs. Humble) talked about open adoption, and she was not the only Member to raise that issue.

26 Mar 2001 : Column 776

Special guardianship orders will play a role, and courts will have to balance all the factors in each case and make a judgment of Solomon. Special guardianship offers a flexible option for children who do not want to be adopted. It may also meet the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Keighley (Mrs. Cryer), who referred to young mothers and the heavy decisions that young women who are still children themselves have to take. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Blackpool, North and Fleetwood for paying tribute to the staff in children's homes.

The hon. Member for Southend, West (Mr. Amess) welcomed the Bill and gave us an effective statistical breakdown. It was a sad litany of facts. I shall bring his comments on the taxation of fostering allowances to the attention of my hon. Friends in the Treasury. I am sure that the points that he raised about Barnardos will be exhaustively examined in the special Select Committee. I am pleased that he was able to screw himself up, spit it out and for once congratulate the Government on introducing this welcome measure.

The hon. Member for Mid-Worcestershire (Mr. Luff) welcomed the national register and complained that the legal process causes delay. That matter will be further examined in the special Select Committee.

I am up against the clock, but I want to refer to one or two other hon. Members. My hon. Friend the Member for Wakefield made a telling contribution. He has given long and respected service to children in care whose lives are in crisis. He has impressive experience in that field. He discussed the review mechanism and how it will work, and gave us some serious issues to consider. He also said that there is nothing in the Bill on the regulatory process.

My hon. Friend asked whether the Government will consider increasing social worker training to three years. I should declare an interest as my partner is a social worker with Liverpool's fostering and adoption unit. I am well aware of the sensitivities of social workers when dealing with these issues, especially about the language we use.

A confident and well-trained work force is central to the improvement of adoption services. There is no question about that. We are committed to improving the training of social workers. More than 300 social workers started the new post-qualifying child care award in January 2000, and a further tranche started the programme in January this year. Local councils can apply for funding from the training support programme for staff attending the award.

I compliment the hon. Member for Romsey on her thoughtful and constructive speech. She referred to mentally ill children in relation to clause 4. The local authority is best placed to decide which adoption support services to provide as a result of the assessment in each individual case.

It has been a real pleasure to reply to this debate. I believe that the Bill will be a significant step forward, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

26 Mar 2001 : Column 775

26 Mar 2001 : Column 777

Adoption and Children Bill (Programme)

9.59 pm

Mr. Hutton: I beg to move,

One of the first recommendations of the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons, made during the first Session of the current Parliament, encouraged the Government to make more use of a variety of procedures that are available to ensure that Bills are given the right kind of scrutiny--such as special Select Committees. The Government are pleased to be able to act on that recommendation in relation to this Bill.

The Government are particularly keen for Members, individuals and organisations involved in adoption to comment on our new legislative provisions. If further improvements need to be made to produce the best possible Bill, we certainly wish to hear about them.

Mr. McLoughlin: How large does the Minister expect the Select Committee to be?

Mr. Hutton: For heaven's sake. I understand that the hon. Gentleman is the deputy Opposition Chief Whip. It is up to him, and to the mysterious usual channels, to sort these things out; it is not a matter for me. That was a pathetic and, I have to say, a rather obvious intervention.

Mr. Douglas Hogg (Sleaford and North Hykeham): Will the Minister please tell us why he decided on a Select Committee rather than a Special Standing Committee? Both have the capacity to take evidence.

Mr. Hutton: I understand that that, too, was discussed between the usual channels and that the two sides agreed on a Select Committee. As I said, the Government want to give Members the greatest possible opportunity to discuss the intricate details of the Bill, and we think that a special Select Committee will provide that.

Arrangements for the membership and powers of the Committee in its initial meetings will be put to the House shortly. How the Committee conducts its business will of course be a matter for it, but I hope that there will be ample opportunities for key groups and individuals concerned with adoption to comment on the Bill and give evidence to the Committee. I also hope that the Select Committee process will allow us to maintain the helpful consensual, consultative, cross-party approach that has characterised discussions on the issue so far. That has, I understand, happened in connection with legislation relating to the armed forces, which is regularly subject to scrutiny along the lines that we propose.

The Government's approach is intended to combine consultation with maintaining momentum in regard to legislation. The motion provides for the Committee to

26 Mar 2001 : Column 778

complete its examination of the Bill on or before 12 June. That should provide sufficient time for due consideration, while still allowing us to make progress with this important legislation. I hope that the House will support the motion.

10.2 pm

Mrs. Spelman: It is a pleasure to deal with what I think would be more accurately described as a committal motion. Those of us who have had to argue our way through the rights and wrongs of a programme motion will recognise that we are dealing with something slightly different. The Opposition welcome this procedure, which--for the first time, or certainly the first time when I have dealt with such a motion--allows us, at least in theory, an amount of time for debate that must result from a good deal of common sense. After all, we are dealing with a complex Bill.

There is, however, a touch of unreality in all this. Some of us have been locked in the Chamber all day, but the moment one sets foot outside and enters the real world one finds that people are talking about the date of the general election, which could precede 12 June. There is a certain unreality in debating a motion on whether a Select Committee should report to the House before 12 June.

Next Section

IndexHome Page