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Tim Loughton: That argument is even more disingenuous than the argument that the Minister used in Special Standing Committee to try to weasel out of the commitments. She is not taking away the requirement on local authorities to provide an assessment, but she is allowing local authorities to place a lower priority on providing support services. That is nonsense. It is a waste of money, and it has absolutely nothing to do with giving greater autonomy to local authorities. If the requirement on providing the service is there, there is a greater chance that the Government will, rightly, provide the resources
Jacqui Smith: I appear to have hit the mark. Opposition Members seem to be suggesting that the legislation reduces the likelihood that local authorities will offer adoption support services but it is placing a duty on local authorities to provide those adoption support services in a way that never existed before. It is providing a right for people to be assessed for those services, which will lead to local authorities being able to provide the appropriate packages, but they must have the discretion that exists in relation to every other assessment to determine how those services are provided.
Mr. Dawson: Does not this part of the debate exemplify the way in which the Opposition missed the point over the issue of assessment? Surely, when we are delivering a much improved adoption support service, the process of assessment will follow much more naturally and organically out of the improved relationship and ongoing commitment of local authorities to children who have been adopted.
Opposition Members have raised the issue of resources. We can expect a substantial amount of the extra £66 million for adoption that was announced in the White Paper to be used by local authorities to improve their adoption support services. It will ensure that many more people receive the support that they need. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) is chuntering about support to social services departments. This is £66 million on top of the 20.4 per cent. real-terms increase that has gone to social services authorities, an annual real-terms increase of over 3 per cent. per year. I ask hon. Members, in considering the provision of adoption support services and social services funding. to compare that amount with the 0.1 per cent. real-terms increase in the last five years of the Government whom the hon. Gentleman supported,
Tim Loughton: On that point, simply repeating and re-repeating the sum of £66 million under the quality protects programme does not make that figure any more than £66 million over a three-year horizon. If the Minister is serious about it, will she give an undertaking now that when the three years have run out, a serious sum of moneyat least as much as that, and at least as much as is required to provide serious support serviceswill be forthcoming? Simply to repeat the sum of £66 million does not make it go any further.
Jacqui Smith: I was talking not only about the £66 million but about the other significant investment that the Government have put into social servicesmoney that the Conservative party notably failed to pledge to match at the last general election. I will give the hon. Gentleman a commitment: of course we will consider the provisions on adoption support as part of the current spending review process. When the results of that process come through, I shall challenge the hon. Gentleman on whether his party, if in government, would match the investment that we are making in social services.
I shall now deal with the other amendments. Amendment No. 4, which was debated in Committee, would require local authorities to provide a written explanation of their reasons for not providing adoption support. As I said in Committee, that is not a matter for primary legislation. It may be good practice for local authorities to provide a written explanation of their reasons, but it is more appropriate for that to be covered in guidance to local authorities. In some cases, it may be more appropriate to provide a verbal explanation.
Amendment No. 5, which we have also debated in Committee, would enable regulations to provide for a review of a local authority's decision not to provide adoption support services. Where a local authority decides not to provide adoption services following an assessment of needs, a complaint can be made to the local authority in the usual way. Adoption is a mainstream social services function. It is therefore appropriate for complaints to be dealt with, following the changes in the Bill, through an improved local authority social services complaints procedure.
Amendment No. 6 would require the local authority, in addition to carrying out an assessment of needs for adoption support services of the person who has requested the assessment, to carry out an assessment of the needs of connected persons. It does not make clear who those connected persons might be. The examples mentioned by the hon. Member for Canterbury were largely of adoptive parents who already have a right to an assessment under clause 4(1). I do not dispute the importance of the issue, but those people are already covered, so the amendment is unnecessary.
I shall briefly move on to the Government amendments. Amendment No. 48 relates to clause 9, which provides a general power to make regulations concerning the activities of adoption agencies and adoption support agencies. Regulations may be made for any purpose relating to the exercise of the functions of local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies in relation to adoption and the exercise of functions of adoption support agencies in relation to the provision of adoption support services.
Subsection (2) provides that this general regulation- making power is not limited by any of the specific powers included in the Bill. Amendment No. 48 is therefore a technical amendment stemming from changes made to the Bill during the Special Standing Committee. It inserts in subsection (2) of clause 9 a reference to clause 52, which was added to the Bill by Government amendment in Committee.
Hon. Members present in Committee will remember that clause 52 makes it clear that the general regulation-making power in 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. The amendment makes it clear that the exercise of the regulation-making power in clause 9 through clause 52 does not limit the generality of that power.
Finally, Government amendment No. 37, which the hon. Member for Canterbury asked about, relates to payment of grants to local authorities in respect of their adoption services. Clause 124 amends section 93 of the Local Government Act 2000, which enables the Secretary of State to pay grants to local authorities in respect of welfare services.
Clause 124 clarifies that grants may be paid under section 93 in connection with welfare services, as well as for their direct provision. That means, for example, that the Secretary of State may pay grants to local authorities to help re-engineer or develop their current adoption services, as well as to help them provide new services.
These provisions are important because they will be used to meet commitments made in chapter 7 of the White Paper to support local authorities in generating best practice models for managing and improving their adoption services. We intend to pay grants to support local authorities in piloting new ways of working, such as the commissioning of children's services and arrangements for consortiums.
Amendment No. 37 clarifies the Treasury's powers to give consent to, or withhold consent from, spending Departments for the making of grants to local authorities in England under section 93 of the 2000 Act. It explicitly recognises that the Treasury must approve the proposed terms and conditions of any grant made under that section, and it is able to take those factors into account when deciding whether to consent to the making of a grant. The Treasury rightly takes an interest in everything that happens across government, and it is, of course, appropriate to represent that in the amendment.
I ask hon. Members to support the Government amendments and reiterate the significant improvements that the Bill makes to the provision of adoption support services. I oppose the Opposition's amendments. They fail to recognise those improvements and would limit the discretion of local authorities to make them.
Mr. Brazier: The purpose of the amendments is to assist a small but deserving number of people. We are not convinced by the Government's arguments, but in the spirit of our support for the Bill, and in light of the fact that there is little time to discuss other important measures, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment made: No. 48, in page 7, line 42, after "12" insert "52".[Jacqui Smith.]