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Tim Loughton: I thank the Minister for her clear explanation of the three Government amendments.

I said earlier that we were potentially sympathetic to amendment No. 130. I feel even more sympathetic to it after hearing it explained by the hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre (Mr. Dawson). We discussed the issue in Committee, in the context of another part of the Bill. It was generally felt then that information should be made readily available at various stages of the adoption process through various court procedures. Given the emotional state in which people may be when giving up children for adoption, it is even more incumbent on the

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system to give them every opportunity to participate, to know what they are entitled to, and to be satisfied that the procedures are taking place in accordance with the law and in a fair and balanced way.

I have no doubt that, as the Minister said, what is already in the Bill makes that legally implicit, as she put it, because notice is given. The Minister also said that the Bill set out minimum requirements for court rules, rather than a requirement for the full explanation that would eventually be on offer. I do not disagree, but, as I have said, we are talking about people who are fairly vulnerable emotionally. If I were involved in an adoption process and received notification from the court that unless I wished or was required to attend I need not do so, I would take that almost as an invitation not to turn up. It would, I think, be more positive and more sensitive to put this more clearly and fairly, and say that a person is entitled to turn up and entitled to speak if he or she sees fit. That, I believe, is the intention of the amendment.

The hon. Member for Lancaster and Wyre pitched it fairly high, saying that this was a fundamental human right. It is certainly a fundamental human right for people to be fully involved in the process, but I think it only fair and sensible—in order to achieve an equitable result that everyone will accept long after the matter has passed through all the necessary court stages—to make clear to people exactly what they can do, and are entitled to do. That is all that the amendment proposes.

I doubt whether the hon. Gentleman wants to press the amendment to a vote, but I wanted to reinforce its aims in the hope that the Minister would beef up the directions given to courts when their rules were being established, rather than treating the requirement as a minimum requirement and letting it slip through as such. I think there is a world of difference between being negative and being positive—encouraging people and telling them their rights.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Sylvia Heal): I remind Members that we are not in Committee. I was perhaps rather generous in allowing the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) to speak again.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

New Clause 13

Suitability of adopters

'(1) Regulations under section 9 may make provision as to the matters to be taken into account by an adoption agency in determining, or making any report in respect of, the suitability of any persons to adopt a child.

(2) In particular, the regulations may make provision for the purpose of securing that, in determining the suitability of a couple to adopt a child, proper regard is had to the need for stability and permanence in their relationship'.—[Mr. Hinchliffe.]

Brought up, read the First and Second time, and added to the Bill.

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Clause 90

Offence of breaching restrictions under section 89

Amendment made: No. 30, in page 50, line 5, leave out subsections (2) and (3) and insert—

'(2) A person is not guilty of an offence under subsection (1) of taking the step mentioned in paragraph (f) of section 89(2) unless it is proved that he knew or had reason to suspect that the child was handed over to him in contravention of paragraph (e) of that subsection.

(3) A person is not guilty of an offence under subsection (1) of causing a person to take any of the steps mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (h) of section 89(2) unless it is proved that he knew or had reason to suspect that the step taken would contravene the paragraph in question.

( ) But subsections (2) and (3) only apply if sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether the person had the knowledge or reason mentioned'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 91

Restriction on reports

Amendment made: No. 31, in page 50, line 33, leave out subsection (4) and insert—

'( ) A person is not guilty of an offence under subsection (2)(b) unless it is proved that he knew or had reason to suspect that the report would be, or had been, prepared in contravention of subsection (1).

But this subsection only applies if sufficient evidence is adduced to raise an issue as to whether the person had the knowledge or reason mentioned'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 95

Proceedings for offences

Amendment made: No. 233, in page 52, line 6, leave out subsection (2).—[Jacqui Smith.]

Clause 97

Proceedings to be in private

Amendments made: No. 62, in page 52,, leave out lines 17 and 18 and insert—

'in the High Court or a County Court may be heard and determined in private'.
No. 63, in line 18, at end insert—

'( ) In section 12 of the Administration of Justice Act 1960 (publication of information relating to proceedings in private), in subsection (1)(a)(ii), after "1989" there is inserted "or the Adoption and Children Act 2002".

( ) In section 97 of the 1989 Act (privacy for children involved in certain proceedings), after "this Act" in subsections (1) and (2) there is inserted "or the Adoption and Children Act 2002"'.—[Jacqui Smith.]

Mr. Dawson: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am obviously completely unclear about what happens on Report, but what happens about amendment No. 130? Will it be taken later?

Madam Deputy Speaker: The amendments are taken in the order in which they relate to the Bill.

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Clause 98

Officers of the Service

Ms Rosie Winterton: I beg to move amendment No. 135, in page 52, line 21, leave out from "of" to "rules" and insert—

'(a) any relevant application,

(b) the signification by any person of any consent to placement or adoption'.

Madam Deputy Speaker: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 136 to 140, 256, 142 and 143.

Ms Winterton: We now come to a series of amendments to clause 98. Right hon. and hon. Members may recall that I said in Committee that the Government would consider the issue of avoiding conflicts of interest when appointing CAFCASS officers to act in adoption and placement proceedings. I also undertook to review the clause more generally.

I am very pleased to move these amendments, which will not only address the conflict of interest issue but improve the protection for parents. They allow CAFCASS officers to witness consents to placement and adoption and improve the range of information that can be put before the court regarding the welfare of the child. The amendments will also allow officers to be appointed in applications for contact with a child who has been placed for adoption, and in other circumstances in the future, should we decide that they could assist children and families in other ways.

Clause 98 currently provides that rules must provide for a CAFCASS officer to report to the court or act "on behalf of" a child in placement and adoption proceedings, including the making, varying and revoking of placement orders, applications for making adoption orders and applications for the transfer of parental responsibility prior to an adoption abroad. In addition, the CAFCASS officer will witness birth parents' consents in those cases where the birth parents wish to consent. There is power for additional duties to be imposed on CAFCASS officers by secondary legislation. Clause 98 builds on existing provisions in the Adoption Act 1976, as supplemented by secondary legislation.

CAFCASS officers play an essential role in recommending to the court what is in the best interests of the child, advising on the implications of giving consent in consent cases and being an independent witness of that parent's consent. Amendment No. 135 will enable CAFCASS officers to witness consent before the commencement of court proceedings. We envisage that officers will be provided in prescribed cases to advise birth parents on the implications of giving their consent and to witness their consent where it is given.

Amendment No. 136 allows the Lord Chancellor to provide in rules for CAFCASS officers to carry out additional duties in prescribed cases if some were identified in future, such as in relation to post-adoption support or advice.

Amendment No. 137 is a consequential amendment to align the language of "any relevant application" with the reference made in amendment No. 135.

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