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8.30 pm

Much in the Bill is sensible and I believe that the Government's heart is in the right place on the issue, but this matter was discussed at length in Committee and all Opposition Members were disappointed at the Minister's response. I will remind the House of what she said:

Unwittingly, the Minister backed my arguments, as she acknowledged that in the past services failed when resources were inadequate.

The Government announced extra funding in December 2000, which was to last three years. By the time the Bill is on the statute book, that pot of money will have disappeared—it will be at the end of its useful life. Who knows what the Government's priorities will be then? There is no guarantee for the future of adoption services in the Bill. Many hon. Members want a greater and more prolonged commitment.

I also support the comments that have been made on the right to appeal. Much has been said about appeal being built into every stage of the procedure. If services are refused for financial or other reasons, the parent, who is acting in the best interests of the child, is in no position to challenge the decision. I ask the Government to think again.

Mr. Djanogly: I speak in favour of amendments Nos. 3, 4 and 5. The Government have made much of the worthy proposal that local authorities will provide adoption support services. Indeed, many organisations involved in adoption congratulated the Government on bringing support to the fore in the Bill. It is fair to say that that was before many of them had had a good look at clause 4, which basically states that an assessment must be carried out if a person requests it but that, having made the assessment, it is up to the authority to decide whether it wishes to provide the services.

The reality is that the level of services provided varies considerably from authority to authority. Some councils have effective, efficient and helpful services and some do not. One of the good points about the Bill is that it is

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intended to raise the general level of service to what is considered to be best practice. The clause as it stands could, however, work directly against that aim. In fact, it could lead to more money being wasted. Hundreds of assessments could be undertaken but they might not lead to the provision of any support, which would be a travesty.

I fully support amendment No. 3 because if an assessment is carried out, support should be provided. Equally, I support amendments Nos. 4 and 5, which would pick up councils for wasting taxpayers' money on pointless assessments by making them explain why they refused to act on them. Surely, however, the Government have done their sums on this matter. If they believe in support, they should back that up by paying for it. Alternatively, if they feel that funds will be inadequate, would it not be more appropriate to limit at the outset those who would be eligible for assessment, rather than paying for everyone to be assessed and turning them down afterwards? That could lead to fewer adoptions rather than more, which would be totally contrary to the purpose of the Bill.

Kevin Brennan (Cardiff, West): Is the hon. Gentleman therefore suggesting that he wants councils to carry out assessments of whether somebody needs an assessment?

Mr. Djanogly: I am not suggesting that. I am speaking in favour of the amendment, under which assessments should be carried out and funding provided. My argument is that if we accept the Government's approach, it would be more sensible to do as the hon. Gentleman suggests. That would at least avoid getting people into the system, building up their expectations and then spitting them out again. That is what could happen, which could lead to real dangers in the system.

Kevin Brennan: The hon. Gentleman has agreed that his suggestion is as I said—everybody who would otherwise present themselves under the Bill in its current form would present themselves for an assessment as to whether they needed an assessment.

Mr. Djanogly: I am not suggesting that, but I shall move on. I have made the point that clause 4 still lacks clarity. I do not believe that it is in the spirit of the Bill, and I hope that the Government will re-address the issue.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy): I support amendments Nos. 3, 4, 5 and 7.

First, I want to deal with the question of duty. As we know, local authorities have various duties, some of which are obvious, such as that under the Education Act 1944 to provide a reasonable standard of education. Some of them are even more mundane, such as the duty to collect refuse. If, at the core of this Bill, the interests of the child are paramount, I cannot understand why we decline to impose a statutory duty on local authorities to follow their own assessments and provide what is seen to be necessary per the assessment.

Mr. Dawson: Can the hon. Gentleman indicate any other area of local government social policy in which there is a statutory duty to meet and identify assessed need of an individual or family?

Mr. Llwyd: Yes. It exists in relation to children who are statemented and to provision for dealing with special

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needs in schools. Even if I were wrong—I think that I am right—the hon. Member for Canterbury (Mr. Brazier) has already referred to a more learned person than me making an exception of this area in terms of Government spending. I realise that we are dealing with a finite purse, but only a given percentage of youngsters will be subject to adoption. We have already heard that 20 per cent. of adoptions fail; it is a tragedy when that happens. We all know what occurs: the slide into criminality, awful drug problems and so on. Often—not always, of course, thankfully—the root cause is an unhappy childhood, and frequently that is partly because an adoption has gone badly wrong. I hope that this will be a landmark Bill, but clause 4 is badly drafted and does not provide for this particular duty to be imposed.

The ignoring of assessments was raised earlier in the debate. I am not saying that local authorities will ignore assessments, but their funding will be finite, and they will therefore be directed as to what services they provide by the amount of money that they have. That is a fairly obvious equation. When local government makes assessments of the care component and the residence component for the elderly, all manner of fun and games occur. The assessments are cost-driven, and we all see the unfortunate results of that.

I took part in the Special Standing Committee procedure. I congratulate the Government on that positive step forward. We heard from many knowledgeable people and received memorandums from individuals, experts and societies—or stakeholders, in the Minister's words. However, why are the stakeholders being so obviously ignored? The hon. Member for Canterbury referred to the views of Barnardos—it succinctly asked what the point of an assessment would be if it were not followed through. That point is logical.

The Bill—there is much to commend in it—seeks to introduce uniformity in practice across England and Wales. As we know, one of the problems is that the quality of adoption services depends on where one lives. We have heard of postcode prescribing, and in adoption some areas are switched on while others are most definitely not. The Bill also seeks uniformity among providers and agencies, so I do not wish to criticise the Bill for the sake of it and merely because I sit on this side of the House.

These points were made in Committee but, more important, they reflect what the stakeholders say. Unlike me and possibly several other hon. Members, the stakeholders are experts, and we are here to produce the best possible legislation. If stakeholders tell us time after time that delivery must follow the assessment, we should pay attention to them.

As I pointed out in Committee, the ATD Fourth World memorandum states:

The Adoption Forum's memorandum added:

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I agree entirely with that, as I am sure we all do. It went on:

We all want to improve the rate of success, and the memorandum continued:

I could read further memorandums, and we all heard the evidence in Committee. I am disappointed that that evidence is being brushed aside without proper consideration.

I know that the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson) shares my wish to improve the Bill, but I know what he will say. That is not to suggest that he is boring. I readily admit that he has far more experience in social services than I have, and he will say that funding is finite. However, I have experience in child law, and I anticipate that he will argue that we cannot issue a blank cheque. Perhaps I am wrong, so he might wish to intervene and make another point.

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