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'(or the revocation of such an order), a placement order (or the revocation of such an order) or an order under section 25 (or the revocation or variation of such an order)'.
'making of a placement order under section 20'.
(c) each parent or guardian consents to the making of the order.'.
'under paragraphs (a) and (b) of subsection (2)'.
'sections 23 and 34(1) and (2)'.
(e) the child has been returned to them due to the circumstances of section 34(1) and (2).'.
'(1A) A local authority must apply to the Court for a new placement order when a child has returned to them due to the circumstances described in section 34(1) or (2).'.
'each of the following conditions'
'subject to a placement order'.
'any placement made by the adoption agency.'.
'( ) Where the actions described in subsections (1) or (2) are taken, any placement order in place at that time shall be revoked.'.
Jacqui Smith: This large group of amendments deals with some of the Bill's most important provisions: clause 1 and the process for placement for adoption, which is set out in the initial clauses of chapter 3. It is worth emphasising that there are so many amendments not only because we are considering an important part of the Bill but because, given the Government's consultative approach through a Special Standing Committee, it was appropriate to respond through Government amendments to some of the anxieties that hon. Members and stakeholders raised.
It is worth reminding hon. Members that the aim of the placement system is to try to resolve the substantive issues that relate to parental consent to adoption earlier in the process. That will provide greater certainty and stability for children by dealing as far as possible with the bulk of issues before they are placed. It will reduce the extent to which birth families are faced with a fait accompli at the final adoption hearing, and try to reduce the uncertainty for prospective adopters who currently have to confront the possibility of a contested court hearing.
Chapter 3 provides two routes for placement for adoption: placement by parental consent under clause 18, and placement through a placement order under clauses 20 and 21. The second route is available only to local authorities. Some of the amendments try to remove placement by consent to ensure a court hearing in every case. Although I understand some of the anxieties behind the proposals, it is nevertheless wrong or unnecessary for reasons that I shall outline. First, the Bill ensures that there are considerable safeguards around parental consent. They include providing for the consent to be witnessed, taken by a CAFCASS officer and reported to the court. There is, therefore, court consideration of the nature of the consent.
Jonathan Shaw: My hon. Friend rightly says that there has been some concern about these provisions. Does she understand that that is not least because once a persona mothermakes the decision and crosses the line of consent, there is no going back, even if the circumstances where the child is placed change? For example, if the couple with whom the child is placed split up, the child's circumstances will become very different from those that pertained when the mother gave consent. Does my hon. Friend agree that requiring leave of the court would at least give confidence to people providing consent?
Jacqui Smith: I do not accept my hon. Friend's view that there is no going back. In fact, it is important to stress that placement by consent is intended to be entirely voluntary. If the parents withdraw their consent before the final adoption order application is made, the child must be returned to them unless the local authority is under a duty to apply for a placement order. We have listened to the concerns about the removal provisions, in particular those relating to reducing the time limit for returning a child to a parent who has removed consent if that child is not placed, from 14 days to seven.
Mr. Hilton Dawson (Lancaster and Wyre): I accept all that my hon. Friend is saying about the way in which the Government have listened to the important issues that have been raised on this complex and difficult part of the Bill. Does she accept that a huge range of children's organisations, as well as Labour Back Benchers, are still extremely concerned about these issues? There will obviously not be time to discuss them today, but will she please ensure that her officials and colleagues in the other place are open to further discussion on this important aspect of this important Bill?
Jacqui Smith: Of course we have to continue to talk about these provisions. My officials have metand undoubtedly will meetpeople to talk about their concerns. I think it would be worth my while to spell out the changes that we have already made in response to those concerns. I have already talked about the removal provisions. We shall also ensure that local authorities apply for placement orders within the time limit rather than simply saying that they have a duty to do so. On revocation, we have recognised that the one-year test was too rigid, and we have reduced it.
I have to say to my hon. Friend, and to those who believe that placements should be made only through the court system, that one of the Government's major concerns is the practical issue of whether that would increase the number of court cases. We do not believe, given the safeguards that are in place, that that provision would be necessary. To give people some idea of the scale involved, 16 per cent. of children adopted out of care are currently adopted with consent. If the Government meet their targets, that could necessitate up to 600 extra court cases if we insisted that placement could be made only through the court system.