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Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Michael Lord): With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 295 to 297, 274 to 276, 264, 265, 284, 285, 269, 266, 286, 277, 287, 267, 288, 268, 289, 300, 248, 257, 249, 258, 228, 229, 238 and 242.

Jacqui Smith: We move on to a significant group of amendments, which includes several minor and consequential amendments. Many of them are technical, and some are consequential on amendments that have already been debated. However, this group does include some important provisions in respect of early implementation of certain key areas of the Bill. It is the amendments associated with early implementation on which I would like to concentrate.

On amendments Nos. 280 and 284 to 289, in Special Standing Committee, hon. Members debated the Government's plans for implementing the important provisions in the Bill. It is clear that we must await the conclusion of Parliament's deliberations on those provisions, and Royal Assent, before firm commitments about implementation can be made. However, I was able to give the Committee some idea of our intentions for implementing the provisions, and I am pleased to return to the matter today.

As I made clear in Committee, we expect to bring the Bill's main provisions into force in 2004, but we believe that there is a case for taking earlier action on some of them. In Committee, I proposed to introduce on Report any amendments that may be needed to bring the provisions into force before 2004. The amendments before us deliver on that commitment by enabling the Bill's priority changes to the adoption service to be implemented in advance of the Bill as a whole.

Amendment No. 280 amends clause 126(2), which provides for schedule 4 to have effect. It changes the title of schedule 4 from "Transitional provisions and savings" to "Transitional and transitory provisions and savings". As hon. Members will doubtless be aware, it is necessary to reflect the provisions in schedule 4—which amend the Adoption Act 1976 and the Adoption (Scotland) Act 1978—to allow for early implementation. The provision will be in place for a short time, until the Bill as a whole is fully implemented.

In Committee, I announced the Government's intention to introduce improved adoption support for new adoptive families from April 2003. Better adoption services will be a key means of ensuring the stability of adoptive placements, and of encouraging more families to come forward to adopt. To underpin the arrangements for improved adoption support for adoptive families and prospective adoptive families, which we will put in place from April 2003, amendment No. 286 therefore inserts a new paragraph 2A into schedule 4. In other words, we are inserting into the 1976 legislation the provisions that are necessary to put in place early implementation of the key provisions, which I outlined in Committee, before we begin implementing the Bill's other provisions. They enable regulations to be made setting out the arrangements that local authorities must make for the provision of adoption support services to prescribed persons as part of the adoption service that they currently maintain under section 1(1) of the Adoption Act 1976.

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It is our intention to use those powers to place an explicit duty on local authorities to make arrangements to provide adoption support services to adoptive families and prospective adoptive families. From April 2003, adoption support services will be made available to adopted children, children who are to be adopted, adoptive parents, prospective adoptive parents, adoptive siblings and prospective adoptive siblings, regardless of the local authority area in which they live. As we set out in our adoption White Paper, that is important to ensure the success of adoptive placements and to encourage more people to come forward.

Sub-paragraph (2) of new paragraph 2A provides that the regulations may also require a local authority to carry out an assessment, on request, of the needs of a prescribed person for adoption support services. We will use those powers to require local authorities to assess the needs, on request, of adoptive families and prospective adoptive families for adoption support services as part of this early implementation package. Following such an assessment of needs, regulations will require the local authority to decide whether to provide adoption support services to an individual.

In many cases, when a local authority goes on to provide adoption support services to an adoptive family following an assessment, it will be appropriate for it to draw up a plan to co-ordinate the provision of those services. Regulations will therefore be used to make it clear when a plan is required. It is also our intention to make regulations under new paragraph 2A setting out requirements for the process of assessing needs and for the provision of adoption support services following an assessment. Those regulations will be similar to those which will be made under subsections (6) and (7) of clause 4 on full implementation of the Bill.

We are also keen to make early progress on the independent review mechanism, which will be a key means of improving prospective adopters' confidence in the system of adopter assessment and approval and of encouraging more people to come forward to adopt. New paragraph 2B of schedule 4, as inserted by amendment No. 286, amplifies the general regulation-making power in section 9 of the Adoption Act 1976. The new provision is modelled on clause 12 of the Bill and will enable regulations to be made providing for the operation of the independent review mechanism in advance of implementation of the Bill as a whole. As I have made clear, it is intended that the determinations that the independent review mechanism will review during the initial period will be determinations made by adoption agencies about the suitability of prospective adopters.

Mr. Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight): The Minister mentioned new paragraph 2A in amendment No. 286. One of the difficulties with which prospective adopters and siblings often have to deal is that of movement from one local authority to another. The local authorities do not always act in a joined-up manner when dealing with cases in which some of the people involved live in one local authority and some in another. What regulations can the Minister introduce to ensure that local authorities act together in such cases?

Jacqui Smith: I recognise the hon. Gentleman's concerns, and he may be aware that we had considerable

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discussions in the Special Standing Committee about the process that will be necessary to ensure that the requirement on local authorities to provide adoption support services does not leave a gap between them. The Government have undertaken to work with local government to introduce the necessary regulations to ensure that no gap exists. There will be a clear point at which responsibility for the provision of support to prospective adopters from one local authority ends and at which it begins for another local authority.

We considered whether it was possible to provide an easy cut-off point. For example, the local authority in whose area the child lived might be responsible for adoption support up to the point at which the adoption happened and the local authority in whose area the child went to live would be responsible after that. I am not sure that it is possible to make such a clear distinction. For example, a child might be receiving an intensive package of support—perhaps because of a disability or special educational needs—and it might be necessary for the original local authority to continue to provide that package after adoption. We are aware of the issues and we will ensure that they are covered in the regulations. Given the Government's intention to ensure that adoption support provides support for families and children and adds stability to placements, I agree with the hon. Gentleman that it is important that people do not fall into the gaps in provision of support. I recognise that that sometimes happens now.

Regulations will be used to require adoption agencies to offer prospective adopters an independent review of their case where the agency has indicated that it is minded to turn down their application to adopt. It is intended that an independent body will convene a review panel to re-examine the evidence and make a fresh recommendation to the adoption agency. The agency will then be required to consider both its original determination and the determination of the review panel before making its final decision.

I will now turn to inter-country adoption. We believe that there are strong reasons for giving early effect to the restrictions on bringing children into the United Kingdom. We ordered an urgent review of the law in that area in January 2001 and believe that it would not be right to wait until 2004 to bring the new measures into force. Amendment No. 287 therefore inserts a new paragraph 7A into schedule 4 to the Bill. This paragraph inserts a new section 56A into the Adoption Act 1976, which reflects clause 81 of the Bill, which we discussed earlier today. This will enable the more extensive restrictions on bringing children into the United Kingdom included in clause 81 to be brought into force before the Bill is fully implemented.

As hon. Members will remember from a few hours ago, under new section 56A, it will be a criminal offence for a British resident to bring a child into the UK for the purposes of adoption unless they comply with prescribed requirements. It is intended that the requirements prescribed in the regulations will, as under the current system, make it a requirement that prospective adopters apply to a local authority or a voluntary adoption agency to be assessed and approved under procedures similar to those followed in domestic adoptions, and then to have a certificate of eligibility issued by the Secretary of State.

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Like clause 81, new section 56A also extends the restrictions to include British residents bringing into the UK a child whom they have adopted outside the British Isles within the preceding six months.

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